Akita, in my opinion, is the untouched land of beauty. The prefecture is quite elusive, hidden right in the middle of Tohoku region. This is the home of ‘Akita-bijin‘ and the scary namahage folklore. I had the most amazing chance to embark on a trip partly sponsored by Go!Go!Tohoku!!!, a program launched by Sendai TV to boost the tourism in Tohoku via foreigners correspondence, to actually take photos and make a solid video to convey the beauty of Akita. And of course, at the same time while doing work, enjoyed myself.
In this trip I went for 2 days 1 night with my usual hiking buddies and we chose especially four locations within Senboku area, Akita:
On the first day we took first inter-city bus from Sendai to Morioka in neighboring Iwate prefecture. From there we took the Shinkansen to Kakunodate. Train timetable is a bit tricky here so we chose to take the bullet train instead of relying on local train. In hindsight we should have taken the Shinkansen all the way from Sendai instead, which saves a lot of travel time (and cheaper).
Kakunodate is a town known for its traditionally strong connection with samurai. It is especially beautiful during springtime as portrayed by local tourism board, but in autumn the town is pretty in a different flavor. I was welcomed by an unexpected traditional dance performance in the station, so that was a great start for the trip!
The small town is pretty much known to foreign tourists as we saw some people from neighboring countries flocking here, all desiring to visit the samurai street, a straight patch of road from which there are numerous former samurai residences. The one that we chose to enter, Aoyama mansion, belonged to an upper-ranked samurai, evident from the sheer size of the mansion.
Satisfied with the quaint little Kakunodate, we embarked back to Tazawako station, the closest station to Lake Tazawa. Now we originally wanted to hike to Mt. Akita-Komagatake, to see the sweet, sweet autumn leaves at the top of the mountain. But alas, it was already snowing when we got there and thus all access was closed off. Instead, we went to Lake Tazawa’s lakeshore by bus and from across bus stop in Lake Tazawa we rented bicycles to go around.
And for some reason our bad luck turned to be the best luck ever. The afternoon view in Lake Tazawa was just amazing. There were hardly anybody cycling there aside from us, the whole road was ours to have. As it was getting darker quite fast, we could only go as far as Gozanoishi, a Shinto shrine with its torii gate facing the lake, very reminiscent of Miyajima in Hiroshima.
But when we got back to return the bicycle, the best sunset I have ever seen in Japan happened. We were just standing in awe at the lakeside, as the golden sun pierced through the dark clouds amid the crashing lake waves. It was chill, it was serene, it was mind-blowing. Never have I thought the sunset in a lake would look like so much a sunset in the beach.
Unfortunately we could not enjoy the view a bit longer since the day is regrettably short in autumn and around 5PM it the sun has already sunk and the shops closed down. We waited for the bus that took us to Nyuto Onsen, a collective name used to mention several onsen ryokan, mostly old and rustic and charming, in the base of Mt. Akita-Komagatake. These traditional Japanese inns are immensely famous and would always be full-booked in peak season. I was lucky to be able to book a room in Ganiba, the onsen located at the end of the bus ride, route Tazawako station – Nyuto Onsen.
Ganiba Onsen looks quite small from the entrance, but once you get inside you will feel its charm and warmness. This humble establishment feels more like your own home compared to an inn. The food served in dinner was especially spectacular, with lots and lots of lavished side dishes to chomp on.
But the highlight of this onsen is, of course, its onsen (insert a smirk here)! While it has the normal indoor bath for males and females alike, its best feature as depicted in its page is the outdoor bath. The marvelous outdoor bath is located separately about 50 meters from the main building. In the chill of autumn I had to endure the cold wind blowing in order to reach the bath, but once I got inside it was just the very thing I needed at the end of the day. I loved the experience of having to go through the forest just to dip into the hot water.
Our second day of the trip started with going back to Tazawako station to ride a taxi to a place called Dakigaeri Valley. Supposedly in day 2 we wanted to hike in the mountain, yet we switched to this place instead. Dakigaeri Valley’s name stems from the literal translation of ‘hugging’ and ‘going back’, because the path that goes alongside the river in the valley is so narrow that someone traveling on that path has to somehow ‘hug while stepping back a bit’ other traveler when they cross path.
While it was unfortunate for me that the actual, original path that goes all the way through the river and ends in a small lake, that path is closed due to safety reasons. Visitors could only traverse a mere 1/3 part of the original path, which ends with the sight of a cool waterfall called Migaeri–taki. The meaning means ‘looking back’ as if the waterfall beckons at us even when we are leaving, prompting us to look back through our shoulders for one last glimpse of it. Nevertheless with the waterfall being the last stop, Dakigaeri Valley is still an enjoyable place to visit. It is by no means one of the best spots to view autumn leaves in Akita.
As Dakigaeri being our last destination in our trip, we had to say goodbye to Akita once the sun started to come down and we had to be back on our way to Sendai. Be that as it may, the experience in Senboku area in Akita was one of the greatest trips I had so far, and if time permits I may embark on another trip to Akita!
For a closing remark, here’s a Senboku promotion video made by my talented friend Theodorus Permana. It really ends our trip with such a happy note.
- Senboku City official site (English). Includes information for Kakunodate, Tazawa Lake, Nyuto area and Dakigaeri Valley.
- Nyuuto Onsen official site (English). Use this to review ryokan and book a room.
- More information about Tazawa Lake area.