Kakunodate is known as the “Little Kyoto” of Akita Prefecture in Japan’s north, or Tohoku. Its preserved Samurai houses exemplify traditional Japanese architecture and its charming village atmosphere makes it a good day trip destination from Tokyo or Sendai.
There is a smattering of predominantly Japanese cafes and eateries between the railway station and the old town approximately twenty minutes walk away, though I would recommend renting a bicycle near the tourism information center for a more enjoyable experience, as the town is fairly flat with little traffic.
Being a small town in rural Tohoku, train frequencies are a bit sparse, with parts of the line being limited to one track shared between the Shinkansen and the local trains. So chances are you may have to wait up to 59 minutes for your next train, and in the meantime, wanting to drop in for a quick meal.
Just one minute’s walk from the station’s west exit across the square is the Yamaya Ryokan Noodle Shop, housed in a non-descript beige building of the same name. There isn’t any English signage outside or inside this eatery, so have a look at the map and pictures in this article to get an idea of how to get here.
This family run eatery serves no nonsense Akita cuisine in a simple setting that is more like your aunt’s kitchen than a temple to fine dining. From the trinkets on the wall to the rectangular blonde wood tables the place is suitable for diners of all ages and budgets.
If you are hungry, iconic Akita dishes such as the Kiritanpo Set Meal is available at 1950 yen. It is an unique way to try Akita’s famous komachi rice on a stick. I tried another iconic local dish called Inaniwa Udon at 950 yen. Until the modern era in the late nineteenth century, Inaniwa Udon was quite rare, being consumed mainly by the Imperial Household and it can be difficult to buy in the markets at that time. Being flat and rectangular, it looks a bit like Vietnamese pho noodles. In summer locals like to have it served cold. As it is cooled with ice, the taste may seem a bit dull to some. The secret to its flavour is in the stock, so if you would like to dial up the flavor, try it served hot with the local Hinaijidori chicken stock. Alternatively both the ramen (600 yen) and Nabeyaki Udon (800 yen) are very flavorsome. The drink menu includes mainstays like Orange Juice, Oolong Tea, Coffee, Sake and Beer, priced from 300 to 900 yen.
While you can find cheaper food at a chain restaurant or take away shop, this place is a good pit stop to enjoy home-made cooking at family friendly prices. The bargains here actually start if you stay at the ryokan, with one night’s stay plus dinner and breakfast at 10,500 yen.