Akita is a prefecture (and a city) that sits along the east coast of the Tohoku Region (which consists of the six incredible prefectures located in the north of Japan’s main Honshu island). It’s usually not included in most traveler’s itinerary, possibly due to its location, but mainly because there might not be enough light or attention shed on this wonderful area.
For those unaware, Akita is home to a plethora of beautiful natural attractions, unique traditional festivals throughout the year, and plenty of food to discover (for all the foodies out there). It’s got an amazing coastline to be explored, and if you’re happy to rent a car, we can guarantee that the drives you will be doing around this area will be some of the most scenic in the entire country.
If you’re visiting Aomori or Iwate in the Tohoku region, consider doing some side trips in Akita, as they are quite close together. In fact, many activities sit on the borderline of these three regions.
How to get to Akita
The quickest way to get to Akita would be by plane. You can catch a flight from Haneda Airport to Akita Airport in 70-minutes. The one-way flight can cost anywhere between 6,500 yen to 18,000 yen.
However, the easiest way and the method that we recommend would be by train. There are direct Shinkansens from Tokyo to Akita – the JR Akita Shinkansen. It will take just over 4-hours, and cost around 18,000 yen, but is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
If you’re trying to save money, booking an overnight bus with Kosoku Bus will only cost you anything upwards of 4,500 yen, but will take around 9-10 hours. However, if you manage to sleep your way through the night, it will all work out in your favour.
Where to stay in Akita
Guesthouse – AnBeeeNa
If you’re looking to save some money but also want an accommodation that’s comfortable and relaxing, look no further than AnBeeena guesthouse. This place is almost like a home away from home, however, should you need anything, the host is all hands on deck and will be able to help you with whatever you need. You can even request lifts to nearby places if you’d like!
It’s a cozy and quaint house with spacious rooms and comfortable bedding, and you’re free to use the lounge room, dining, and kitchen as you please. Bonus points for the free coffee, snacks and beer!
Why Guests Love It: Despite the affordable costs, most guests were pleasantly surprised with how comfortable and spacious the house was. Getting transported around Akita made life a lot easier for many, and having the host there to assist with the little things just made their trip.
Book It Now: AnBeeena
Hotel – Hotel Metropolitan
Location is key with this beautiful modern hotel, so if convenience is what you’re after, then book away! Aside from the fact that it’s literally connected to JR Akita Station, its amenities list goes above and beyond what you’d expect, with free Wi-Fi access throughout the property, two restaurants onsite, and private bathrooms with free toiletries. Wake up to an amazing buffet breakfast and then head out to the shops located literally minutes away on foot.
Why Guests Love It: Honestly, no one can stop raving on about the location. If you’ve got a large family in tow, or want to walk as little as possible, then this is the hotel for you. Guests absolutely love the Starbucks on the first floor, how large the rooms were, and how the beds were “made of dreams”.
Book It Now: Hotel Metropolitan Akita
Ryokan – Akita Onsen Satomi
Akita Onsen Satomi ryokan is pretty much as authentic as they get. If definitely more along the lines of a traditional accommodation experience, so if you’re looking for something more modern, this may not be the one for you. It’s got a bar onsite, a gorgeous manicured garden to stroll through, and guests can enjoy stunning mountain views from the rooms. There’s an onsen onsite for you to visit as you please.
Why Guests Love It: There’s not one ounce of artificiality at this ryokan, and the guests can see it with their eyes and feel it in the air – everything is just wonderfully authentic. The food is good, the service is great, and the outdoor onsen is utter perfection.
Book It Now: Akita Onsen Satomi
Taste the Local Region’s Specialty, Kiritanpo
Kiritanpo is basically mashed rice on a skewer, toasted, and then added to delicious hot pot dishes alongside seasonal vegetables and meat (especially chicken). This dish is incredibly popular in winter. It originated as a snack option for hunters and woodcutters, but it’s now a staple for residents in Akita, and you will be able to find it on the menu across most of the restaurants in Akita. If you’re attending a festival in Akita, you’ll most likely see it served across the food stalls as well.
Visit the Namahage Museum
You will notice around Akita that there are often images of demon-like masks hanging in shops, on flags, on souvenirs in merchandise shops, and this is because Akita is famous for its Namahage legend. Namahage is a word for the scary looking being who wears an orge mask and straw cape, who visits children at night to make sure they’re behaving.
At the museum, you will be able to learn more about the legend and be able to visually appreciate how the Namahage is depicted. There’s even a performance put on for all visitors! And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try on the Namahage costume yourself and take some photos!
- Address: Mizukuisawa Kitaurashinzan, Oga, Akita 010-0685, Japan
- Hours: 830am – 5:00pm
- Price: Adults: 540 yen, Children: 270 yen
- Access: Take the JR Oga Line for 1 hour to Hadachi station. From there, take a taxi to the museum (20-minutes).
Related Post: Read this if you want to discover more traditional Japanese masks.
Hike Mount Akita-Komagatake
Visiting Akita without paying a mountain a visit is like visiting Okinawa and not experiencing a beach. It’s an integral part of an Akita visit, and we highly recommend Mount Akita-Komagotake. Whilst it’s a bit of a trek, once you get there and manage to make your way to the top, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. You see, Mount Akita-Komagotake is actually classified as an active volcano!
Most people will start their trek from the 8th station of the mountain. There are a few trails from there that lead to the top, and most will take 1-2 hours to complete.
Access: No vehicles are allowed on the road to the mountain on the weekends from June to October and everyday from June to mid-August. You can park your car at Arupa Komasuka parking lot and catch a shuttle bus to the 8th station.
Head there for the Akita Kanto Festival
Arguably the most famous attraction in Akita, it’s hard to dispute that the annual Kanto Festival is anything short of amazing. It’s the biggest festival in this region, and one of the most important ones for the Akita residents.
They will practice long and hard so that during the festival, they can show off their skills of balancing kanto (which are basically long bamboo poles adorned with 46 paper lanterns), and pray for a good year of harvest.
Mind you, when we say balance the kanto, it means that they can literally balance it anywhere on their body – from shoulders, chest, face, to their hips, there’s no such thing as impossible! The parade of kanto balancing happens at night, but there’s still plenty of activities and entertainment to check out during the day. This happens every year on the 3-6 of August.
Access: Night parades are held along Chuo Dori street, a 15-minute walk from Akita Station. Daytime events are held at the Agora Plaza, 5-minutes from Akita station.
Stroll Through A Samurai District, Kakunodate
Kakunodate is one of the top attractions in Akita. It’s the former ground to what used to be a castle district hosting up to 80 samurai families. Now, it’s an area that’s been preserved so well, it still looks like it’s come out from Japan in the 1600s. Whilst the castle is no longer standing, it still hosts some gorgeous and amazingly accurate examples of traditional samurai houses.
There are also museums to visit to learn more about the history. If we had to recommend a certain time to visit, it would be during the cherry blossom season, as there are hundreds of weeping cherry blossoms that line a 2km avenue along the Hinokinai River – the perfect spot to picnic.
Access: Catch the train from JR Akita station to JR Kakunodate station. It will take roughly 40 minutes.
Take a Photo with the Famous Godzilla Rock
If you’re thinking of driving along the coast, don’t forget to add the Oga Peninsula onto your list, because it’s there that the famous ‘Godzilla Rock’ sits, and you can even capture a picture with it. Whilst no one knows how or when this particular rock formation came about, it’s now cemented itself as one of the quirkiest ‘must-dos’ of visiting Akita.
While you’re at it, take some time to appreciate the stunning east coastline of Japan. Be careful of climbing down the rocks to take the photo, and make sure that the waves are safe before you do so!
Bathe in Onsen Goodness at Nyuto Onsen
If you’re looking for an authentic onsen experience, include a night at the famous Nyuto Onsen onto your list. It’s located at the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, and costs a smattering of natural hot springs sprinkled along the mountainside of a forest. I mean, how lush does that sound?
Nyuto Onsen waters are slightly different from what you’d expect, with their baths looking rather cloudy and ‘milky’, per se.
Whilst we’d suggest staying overnight at one of the ryokans in this area to really milk the experience, most of them will allow day-trippers access to their onsens during the day for a small fee.
- Address: Komagatake Tazawako Obonai, Semboku, Akita 014-1201, Japan
- Access: Take the train to Tazawako Station. From there, you can catch the Ugo Kotsu bus bound for Nyuto Onsen, and alight at the last stop.
If you want to know more about this area, you can check out this travel guide to Nyuto Onsen.
Experience the Unique Yokote Kamakura Festival
With a history spanning 450 years, how can you expect anything but authenticity and deep-rooted tradition? The Yokote Kamakura Festival is held every year on February 15 and 16 in Yokote, Akita. The festival centres around hundreds of kamakura (snow igloos), built all around the city.
The view is stunning during the day, but at night, the igloos really come alive. Children will invite festival-goers inside their kamakura and offer their rice cakes and amazake (sweet rice wine with zero or very low alcohol content), and the visitor will then make an offering to the water deity.
As the festival spans the city, there is a route that most people take to be able to take in everything, which includes walking on foot as well as hopping on free shuttle buses.
Dates: 15th and 16th February
BONUS – Watch Some Intense and Entertaining Bamboo Fighting at the Rokugo no Takeuchi
Every year, the people of Misoki-cho in Rokugo, Akita, organise an event to pray for a good harvest through ‘exorcising evil spirits’. The festival itself spans over four days (11th to 15th of February), and includes fireworks, food stalls, live entertainment, and lots of alcohol.
However, the pinnacle of the event is on the last day, the 15th. It is on this day that the famous ‘takeuchi’ (bamboo fight) happens. The northerners and southerners of the village come together in a fight, equipped with bamboo sticks around 5m tall.
They don their helmets on their heads, fill themselves with a good amount of alcohol, and take on each other in a fight until one team is victorious. According to tradition, if the south win, the price of their rice will go up, but if the north win, they will have a good harvest. Mind you, this is all going on with a background of a burning fire pit. If you happen to be in Akita during this time, this is not to be missed.
If you are interested in traditional festivals, make sure to read this blog post too: Best Japan Matsuri.
- Address: Rokugo Sembokugun, Mistocho, AKita
- Access: You will need to catch the bus from Akita to Oomagari. From there, a taxi ride will take roughly 20 mins to the venue.
It’s difficult to conclude why Akita isn’t as popular as other areas, especially after this extensive list of attractions the region hosts. We personally love this quaint place along the coast; it offers so much beauty and it’s definitely a place that you’ll need to come back several times throughout the year to really feel satiated. Our pro tip is to organize to do some road tripping’ around this area because the scenic drives are just stunning.