Semboku, the name of the region which includes Kakunodate – one of the stations on the Shinkansen line – really does comprise the best of Akita. Kakunodate Town itself is considered by many to be the “Little Kyoto of Tohoku;”, and nearby is Tazawako – Japan’s deepest, clearest, purist, bluest lake. Also close is Nyuto Onsen, a collection of traditional ryokan in a remote cedar forest, famous across Japan for the medicinal qualities of their onsen.
The area is most especially beautiful during the Spring cherry blossom season and also during the changing colours of Autumn. During these peak seasons places such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kanazawa are ridiculously busy and the experience is therefore diminished, whereas Kakunodate Town remains far quieter- an alternative experience all the more beautiful and without the crowds. Also, because the sakura (cherry blossom) blooms later in Tohoku (end of April, in to early May) it offers an opportunity for travellers to get the “hanami” experience outside of high season. See below for more information on the locations, experiences and accommodation in Semboku.
Little Kyoto of the North
A former castle town famous for its samurai tradition and its hundreds of weeping cherry trees (shidarezakura). Kakunodate remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620, the town built with two distinct areas - the samurai district and the merchant district.
Staying here affords the traveller a small-town atmosphere, with cafes, bars and restaurants on your doorstep. It is easy to explore with or without a local guide.
Kakunodate is very famous and beautiful place during the cherry blossom season. During the Edo Period weeping cherry trees were imported from distant Kyoto by the local samurai families in an attempt to outperform each other in cultivating the most beautiful trees. Their efforts are still visible in the samurai district, where dozens of sakura line the streets. Also, several hundred cherry trees were later planted along Hinokinai River, which runs through Kakunodate and makes for one of Japan’s premier Hanami revelling spots.
The ultimate Onsen experience
Historic, very traditional and authentic ryokans, set in a beautiful forest. The onsen waters here (there are 10 varieties) are famous across Japan for their healing and beautifying properties. The bathing experience is not limited to your ryokan only – there are several remote outdoor onsen offering the ultimate ‘Japanese’ experience.
Due to the rare opacity colour of the water it is one of the places where modesty is protected to such an extent that mixed gender nude bathing is possible in some of the onsen. When in Nyuto…
Crystal clear, folkloric
Japan’s deepest lake and clearest lake (due to its naturally occurring acidity) is as photogenic as it gets. Said by Akita folklore to be the living place of a beautiful local girl who transformed into a dragon (long story), it now serves as a centre for many outdoor adventures, with activities such as cycling, electric-scootering, kayaking, and innovative excursions such as lakeshore saunas and ‘beer tents’ in the middle of the lake.
Just a short train ride from Kakunodate town it is possible to take a full day trip exploring the lake and its surrounding villages (with or without a guide) before heading back to town. Or perhaps you may choose to base yourself in one of the characterful hotels on the lakeshore, for a more remote experience.
Discover the most untouched, idiosyncratic, natural Japan in the farthest reaches of the country. Formed by volcanic activity in ancient times, Oga peninsula flourished as a key trading port in medieval Japan. The move away from maritime transport in modern times and its increased isolation contributed greatly to the preservation of the peninsula's unique culture and natural coastline scenery. Such was the extent of its distinct character and escape from modernization that it sometimes referred to as Japan’s Galapagos.
Best known (in Japan) as home to the Namahage mythological demons and its Godzilla shaped rock formation, Oga is now emerging as a gastronomical hub due to its outstanding seafood, clean air and water, and fertile land. The recent addition of a burgeoning hipster sake brewery is testament to this. With no single ’stand out’ attraction, this area suits more intrepid cultural travellers who want a deeper dive in to a remote region of Japan, away from all other tourists, who are seeking the ‘real’ rural Japan.
A deep discovery of the area is best achieved by car; drive yourself along the volcanic landscapes and meandering coastal roads to experience the local culture and finest organic cuisine. See a side of Japan that is truly at one with its pristine natural environment and traditional way of life.
Japan's Divine Forest
Remote, pristine and exceptionally beautiful....
Shirakami Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a mountainous area extending across Aomori and Akita. It is home to one of the world’s largest primeval beech forests stretching over 130,000 hectares, 17,000 hectares of which are designated Natural Heritage. Although much of the designated area is unexplored, there are various hiking trails available through the pristine natural surroundings of Shirakami Sanchi.
A few decades ago, there was a plan to build a road across the Shirakami mountain range, but all the inhabitants were against it and the plan was scrapped. The reason for the residents' opposition is that the Shirakami-Sanchi is considered a "divine forest", rich in folklore and spiritual significance. All the guides who take visitors to Shirakami Sanchi perform a ceremony once a year to give thanks to the divine. Shirakami has also been a life-giving region, providing food for the local population since long ago. There are plants, mushrooms, fish and wild game.