Akita City is a charmingly small prefectural capital, with museums, parks, restaurants, shrines and temples all within comfortable walking distance. Surrounded by the natural beauty for which the Tohoku region is famed, the city makes for a refreshing contrast to Japan’s mega metropolises. Akita is fond of festivals, and its pride and joy is the annual Kanto Matsuri, where poles strung with paper lanterns are hoisted into the air in thrilling acts of balance. Pour out a glass of the prized local sake and enjoy.
Senshu Park is the main green space located in the city center, and it’s an easy walk from the station. You’ll cross the bridge over a moat brimming with picturesque lotus flowers as far as the eye can see.
Look out for the smiling “babahera” ice cream vendors, who sell cones of pink and yellow ice cream sculpted to look like flowers.
The park was formerly the site of the Satake clan’s castle, and still contains ruins and a reconstructed gate that can be visited. You’ll also find small, peaceful shrines and temples.
There are a number of museums on offer, including the exceptionally stylish Akita Museum of Art. Designed by the visionary architect Tadao Ando, this museum offers a beautiful view of Senshu Park from over a pool of water on the second floor. The museum is mostly dedicated to the works of Akitan artist Fujita Tsuguharu, with temporary exhibitions often showcasing the talents of other local artists. The Akita Prefectural Museum and Akarenga Folk Museum provide insight into the region’s history.
Take the elevator up to the observation deck of the Port Tower Selion for a panoramic view of the city, the Sea of Japan and Mt. Chokai beyond. When you get hungry, skip the chain restaurants and head straight to the Akita Citizens Market (shimin ichiba). Treat your taste buds to fresh seafood and regional specialties like kiritanpo, a kind of rice dumpling often added to nabe.
The best time to visit Akita is in August, when the unparalleled Kanto Matsuri is held. A kanto is a long bamboo pole with 46 paper lanterns hung from it to resemble an ear of rice. The lanterns are fitted with lit candles, and then hoisted in the air by teams of men, who take turns balancing the poles on their hands, shoulders, hips, and even foreheads. The performance is incredibly gripping, and it’s hard to tear your eyes away until the poles come down again at the end of the parade.