Akita prefecture is located in Northwest Tohoku, stretching along the coast facing the Sea of Japan.
The name may sound familiar to dog lovers, but Akita has much more going for it besides its association with the famous dog breed. Beneath the surface, Akita promises a range of discoveries to delight visitors to the region.
From the ancient customs of the Namahage beasts to the old samurai town of Kakunodate, Akita's culture is diverse. For festival fans, Akita can promise some true highlights – witness the giant bamboo pole lanterns of the Kanto festival in summer, or the 'kamakura' snow igloos of Yokote during the colder months.
Here are the top 10 things to do in Akita, in no particular order:
1. Kakunodate Samurai District
Explore traditional samurai architecture in the ancient samurai district of Kakunodate, where you'll follow long, wide roads banked by tall weeping trees – popular in the cherry blossom season.
Popular stops include the Aoyagi Samurai Manor – which is perhaps the most well preserved across Japan.
The estate features the Main House, an Armory, several galleries, the Akita Folk Museum, the Samurai Tool Museum and a beautiful garden connecting everything together.
As well as well-maintained premises, a range of interactive activities will be sure to make your visit a memorable one. Try handling a samurai sword, wearing a helmet and even lifting a traditional Kago carriage used in the Edo period.
Along the road, you can also drop by the Denshokan Museum, which exhibits traditional crafts and even allows you to witness demonstrations by master craftsmen. Here you can see Kaba-zaiku – craftwork that uses the bark of wild cherry trees to create distinctive patterns unique to this area of Japan.
2. Ando Jozo Brewery
This traditional brewery has been making miso and soy sauce for hundreds of years in the southern part of Kakunodate.
Traditional techniques honed through the ages, as well as taking inspiration from Ibaraki's Hitachi region, have made Ando Jozo a regional favorite.
Visitors can enjoy touring the historical premises as well tasting the miso/soy sauce samples.
3. Oga Namahage Museum
The Namahage are a traditional folklore symbol for the Oga region of Akita. While visually demonic-like in appearance, they are considered messengers of the mountain gods.
February's Namahage Sendo Festival sees a kagura-like performance take place at Shinzan Shrine, whilst the New Year sees them visit local villages in a tradition that continues to this day.
Throughout the rest of the year, the Namahage Museum in central Oga is the best place to witness and learn all about this local custom – and even try on the costumes for yourself.
The neighboring Oga Mayama Denshokan offers the chance to observe a live reenactment of the New Year custom. Well worth the entry to see the drama unfold!
4. Dakigaeri Gorge
Dakigaeri Gorge offers majestic scenery to those who make the effort to visit this area a little further out of Kakunodate.
Follow the old logging trail through tunnels and across bridges as it hugs the cliffs edge, high above an iridescent blue river.
Autumn is the busiest season but the rest of the warmer-weather months provide fantastic views with very few crowds.
5. Tazawako Lake
Lake Tazawa in Akita is a stunning example of the natural beauty of northern Japan. With a rich history and variety of activities for tourists, whether you like hiking, swimming, boating, eating, or even just a relaxing stay at a hot springs inn, Lake Tazawa has all of that and much more.
Surrounding the lake is beautiful mountain scenery, and the relaxing atmosphere will help you wind down the second you arrive.
6. Nyuto Onsen
Located in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park in Akita Prefecture, everything about Nyuto Onsen oozes style and sophistication. Beautifully set within a peaceful mountain valley covered with acres of virgin beech forest, this is one place where you can find real seclusion and an escape from the often suffocating pace of city life.
Interestingly enough, the name Nyuto Onsen actually refers to a conglomerate of seven different spas located around the same mountain.
Although all of them are relatively close to each other, you will either need your own transport or be prepared to walk several kilometers if you wish to see more than one of them.
7. Akita Festival Center
Akita's Kanto Festival, held annually every August, is a daunting spectacle and one of Tohoku's best.
Kanto refers to the giant bamboo poles decorated with bamboo lanterns. They are hoisted up high along the parade routes by dexterous dancers performing all manner of techniques – no small feat when you consider the largest weigh up to 50 kg.
Find out for yourself at Akita's Festival Center – handily open all year round. As well as learning a plethora of information about kanto and other local festivals, those who book in advance can try out the art of kanto themselves, under the instruction of a trained supervisor.
8. Kubota Castle
Located at Senshu Park, Kubota Castle was built when the Satake clan, back in 1600, was forced to move north following defeat at the Battle of Sekigahara.
From the top floor of the castle, you can see the Akita downtown and central business district areas, all the way out to the Oga peninsula and the ocean beyond.
The castle grounds offer great scenery year around, especially during the cherry blossom bloom in Spring. In summer, lotus flowers dominate the surrounding moat.
9. Akita Dog Museum
Learn about the Akita dog through the photos, information and exhibits at the Akita Dog Museum.
The museum was founded by the Akita Dog Preservation Society, which aims to breed and maintain the pure full blooded Akita dog amidst widespread cross breeding.
The Akita dog is designated as a Japanese Natural Treasure and the museum was constructed on the 50th anniversary of the Society's foundation.
One of the most famous Akita dogs is perhaps Hachiko, whose memorial statue near Shibuya Crossing continually draws crowds.
10. Akita Gourmet Highlights
A trip to Akita prefecture is not all about sightseeing, with the region home to many local dishes well-known across Japan.
Kiritanpo are pounded-rice skewers, which go great with miso and are often served in a hotpot, alongside maitake mushroom and Hinai chicken. This breed of chicken is native to Akita and tastes great in any number of dishes, including yakitori.
Inaniwa udon is a thin and chewy variant of this well-known noodle and considered one of the top 3 for udon brands across Japan.