Driving Around Akita: Locally Recommended Places

Mar 11 2020
Nov 26 2020
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Akita has the sixth-largest area of any prefecture in Japan and is about the same size as Qatar in the Middle East. This area is located about four hours from Tokyo on the Akita Shinkansen. In addition to the World Heritage Site of Shiragamisanchi, there are numerous well-known nature spots including unusual rock formations that can be seen at Oga Peninsula and Tazawako Lake, which is Japan's deepest lake. There is also Kakunodate that is crowded with tourists throughout the year with its main attraction being samurai houses. This area is called "little Kyoto of Tohoku.” Kakunodate is also well known for its cherry blossoms, and 1.4 million tourists from across Japan will visit this area every spring.

There is public transportation in the prefecture such as trains and buses. However, depending on the location and time, did you know that it would be quicker and more convenient to go by car? Cars are not just a way to move from place to place; the drive itself can become one of the memories of your trip. On the way to your destination, you can stop by to visit stores or check out the scenery. This will surely make your trip even more enjoyable. Here is an introduction to a travel plan via rental car in time to see the cherry blossoms that will be blooming soon.

Just One Hour by Car from the Akita City: Enjoy Two Kinds of Cherry Blossoms at Senboku.

kakunodate cherry blossoms

Akita Prefecture is well known for its cherry blossoms, but you should definitely visit Senboku, Akita. It takes one hour by car from the city of Akita.
There are said to be about 600 kinds of cherry blossoms in Japan including wild species and cultivars. In Senboku, you can enjoy the Yoshino cherry as one of the most famous types of cherry blossoms, along with the weeping cherry.

Kakunodate in Senboku, Akita is a place that still looks like it did when Ashina Moriuji built it about 390 years ago. This town is located right in the center of Akita, and the area is well known for the Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Festival and the samurai houses. From late April to early May, the light pink coloring from the cherry blossoms along with the traditional ambiance that still remains produces scenery that feels somewhat nostalgic to many Japanese people. There are about 400 weeping cherry blossom trees lined up along Bukeyashiki-Dori, the street with the samurai houses, and there are about 1,500 cherry blossom trees throughout the whole town. The samurai houses feature noble families with over 400 years of history, and the "Kakunodate Historical Village of Aoyagi Manor" has been turned into a museum where you can learn about Kakunodate's history. Many of the houses have elegant gardens, and a lot of people come to visit to see the beauty of nature's transformation as one of the highlights.

Kakuondate Cherry blossoms

Once you have enjoyed the cherry blossoms around the elegant samurai houses, head over to the bank of Hinokinai River. Starting from Kakunodate it takes about 30 minutes to drive Hinokinai's roughly two-kilometer-long riverbank, and it is lined with stunning Yoshino cherry blossoms. These were planted in 1934 to celebrate the birth of the 125th Emperor of Japan, and it was designated a national place of scenic beauty in 1975. There are a lot of large trees that spread out comfortably, and during the period of full bloom it features a view appropriately called the “cherry blossom tunnel.” There are also food stalls that are open throughout the season, so you can enjoy a festive feeling. This is one of the most famous cherry blossom locations in Japan.

You can also get to Kakunodate by train, but it takes about 40-50 minutes to get there from Akita city, and it takes another 30 minutes from there to Hinokinai. Since it is hard to get there by walking or going by train, there is an advantage to driving here by car.

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Kakunodate Samurai District Akita
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After Enjoying the Cherry Blossoms at Kakunodate, Make a Side Trip and Head Over to the Nyuto Onsen Village

cherry blossoms

"After enjoying the cherry blossoms at Kakunodate, I want you to go to the Nyuto Onsen Village and enjoy the hot springs. Tazawako Lake is on the way to the Nyuto Onsen Village, so you should go to the hot springs while viewing the scenery. There's still snow when the cherry blossoms bloom, so you can enjoy both spring and winter." A local man in his 50s said that, and this is a spot highly recommended by the locals.

It takes only 12 minutes to go from Hinokinai's riverbank to Tazawako Lake. Tazawako Lake has a beautiful surface and this is where you can learn about the legend of Princess Tatsuko. It is the deepest lake in Japan at 423.4 meters, and it is known for being a beautiful lake that changes appearance from azure to dark blue depending on the amount of sunlight and the season. Be sure to take a drive around Tazawako Lake, which will take about 30 minutes. You can enjoy different scenery on the north side and the south side.

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Tazawako Lake Akita
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Yamano Hachimitsuya

Once you have fully enjoyed Tazawako Lake, how about stopping to try out some local specialty snacks that on the way to Nyuto Onsen Village? Yamano Hachimitsuya (Mountain Honey Shop) is a 15-minute drive from Tazawako Lake, and it features a round brown building that looks like it has come out of a picture book with illustrations that appear hand-drawn emblazoned on its walls. Even throughout Japan, Akita is a leading area for honey production. The area around Tazawako Lake is particularly well known for harvesting high-quality honey. Inside the shop, there is famous homemade honey harvested from around Tazawako Lake, including chestnut honey harvested from trees grown on Mount Hachimantai and "Satoyama honey" made from a blend of several types of flowers. They also have over 10 types of honey from around the world that are difficult to harvest in Japan, such as lemon honey and coffee honey. Also, at the jointly established "Okashi Kobo" (Sweets Workshop), they sell handmade sweets made from honey such as honey pudding and honey Swiss rolls. Their most popular item is their honey cream puff, and they have even sold over 1,200 of them in a single day. One of the joys of going on a trip has to be trying local popular sweets.

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Yamano Hachimitsuya (Mountain Honey Shop) Akita
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Nyuto Onsen Village

Once you have enjoyed some detours, it'll be time to head over to the Nyuto Onsen Village. Northeast of Tazawako Lake, Nyuto Onsen Village boasts tremendous popularity among fans of hot springs for being one of Japan's foremost secluded hot springs, and they have over 10 spring sources along with seven inns spread throughout the area. All of them have that feeling of being a "secluded hot spring." We also recommend the "Seven Hot Spring Tour," where the calming atmosphere will help you forget the bustle of modern Japan. The seven "secret" onsen include Tsurunoyu Onsen, Ganiba Onsen, Kuroyu Onsen, Magoroku Onsen, Okama Onsen, Taenoyu, and Kyukamura. Bathing in any of the hot springs is said to be effective against all kinds of ailments.

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Tsurunoyu Onsen Akita
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Lastly, Return to Aomori to Have Some Drinks While Mingling with the Locals

aramasa

Once you have returned by car to Akita city, park your rental car and head out to enjoy a drink. Akita is said to be Japan's leading sake area, and a lot of famous breweries are located here including Aramasa Brewery and Akita Brewery. Since there is so much delicious sake, Akita has been declared the area in Japan that has the second highest amount of sake consumption per person.

Kawabata Street along the Asahi River is the best downtown area in Akita, and it takes about 15 minutes to walk there from Akita Station. This was once a red-light district that was lined with restaurants, and there were also a lot of geishas. Geishas aren't just in Kyoto. The downtown area along the Asahi River has been called Kawabata Sengen since long ago. It is said to have been given the name "Kawabata," which means "opposite the river," because it is located on the opposite bank of the river from where the warriors would look out from the castle town. Along the downtown area, there are signs and exteriors of shops that give you the feeling of a former age, and the narrow alleys make it feel like you've gone back in time. Starting in the evening and going into the night, the lights from the bars start to turn on, giving it a different feeling than during the day.

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Kawabata Street Akita
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What do you think? If you go by rental car, you can have even more freedom on your trip. Instead of being tied down by train or bus routes, you will have a more fulfilling trip by checking out places you hear about from people you meet wherever you're going or by stopping to check out something that catches your eye. In Akita, the cherry blossoms peak from late April until Golden Week (early May). After that, when the mountains are covered in greenery in the summer, it is said to be the season when you can experience Akita's charm. Why not try visiting Akita during this time of year?

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