By Ben Bloch
When most travelers arrive into Japan their first port of call is Tokyo, followed immediately by Kyoto to the south.
Sure going south from Tokyo has its merits; otherwise no one would do it. But if you truly want to see rural Japan in all its beauty, you shouldn’t even consider going south… instead you should head directly to the north.
I suppose one good thing about everyone and her aunt travelling south is that you’ll have the whole of the northern Japan (i.e. northern Honshu) to yourself.
OK, so now you’ve decided to not be a sheep, and head north where should you go?
Well, you can’t go wrong by heading to Akita. Honestly, the area surrounding Akita is a fantastic place to backpack. Akita City itself, in my opinion, is a place to visit for only one day. If you’re thinking about heading to Hokkaido, Akita is conveniently the location of one of the few ferry ports that connect Honshu (northern Japan to Hokkaido. If you’re thinking of using Akita as an inexpensive way to get to Hokkaido you should spend one day here checking it out first before you get on the ferry.
Top 3 things to do in Akita City for a day
1. Senshu Park
About 5 mins walk from the station, Senshu Park is most beautiful in Spring when the park is filled with blooming cherry trees. It’s also the site of Kubota Castle where the Satake Clan lords resided until 1875. Even though it is a replica it’s worth visiting.
2. Aoyagi Samurai House
Aoyagi Samurai House is one of the best preserved samurai manor houses of its kind in Japan. The estate features the Main House, the Armory, the Seiryu-an Gallery, the Akita Folk Museum, the Samurai Tools & Utensils Museum and a beautiful garden. If I were you I would definitely give yourself at least an hour to explore the entire estate—it’s well worth it.
This is one of the best and most relaxing onsens I have ever been to. I’m not even joking… when I tell you that it was so relaxing I must have fallen asleep 3 times in 3 different areas. It was amazing and I must have spent at least 4 hours here just chilling out. It’s cheap and has everything you need. A must, must, must for any weary traveler!
Top 3 things to do around Akita City
1. Lake Tazawa
Lake Tazawa is the deepest lake in Japan, and because of its depth it never freezes! Local legend has it, that the lake doesn’t freeze because it is home to 2 serpent gods whose continuous movement keeps the water churned up. This is a great place to visit any time of year but is particularly magic in the summer when the sun is out and the water is warm. It’s a place that you can really relax and forget about all your worries.
2. Dakigaeri Gorge
The Dakigaeri Gorge is definitely on my top 5 list of things to do in Japan! The water is simply out of this world—it’s the color of cobalt and will take your breath away. This water feeds the rice fields in the valley below and is the reason that Akita rice is famous for its taste throughout Japan. If you don’t go to check this out, you will regret it, trust me! More than that, this place really comes into its own in winter.
Kakunodate is a former castle town and samurai stronghold. Unfortunately, the castle no longer exists but the town has pretty much remained unchanged since it was founded in 1620. Kakunodate is famous for its samurai architecture and its hundreds of weeping cherry trees. The best time to come is around late April and early May when the blossoms are out. The best thing about this place is that there are still families living in all the samurai homes… which only adds to its authenticity and mass appeal.
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Born in England and raised in Oman I have always had a love for travelling. After backpacking, living, volunteering and working in over 50 countries I don’t mean to stop my adventures now. My next escapade is Tokyo, Japan and after that who knows… My intention is not to brag but to demonstrate that the travelling lifestyle is not a fantasy but a reality, with the hope that I can somehow encourage you to go out there, do the same and become the person you always wanted to be.