Akita Prefecture is located 450 kilometers north of Tokyo.
American actor Charles Glover visits the northern land in late
autumn when local people are busy preparing for the long winter.
They cover garden trees and buildings in straw sheets, in a practice known as "yuki-tsuri" and "yuki-gakoi," to protect them against the heavy snow and strong winds. These elaborate landscape wrappings are entirely functional, but look like works of art.
Women make large batches of "gakko" pickles with locally harvested vegetables. People developed the pickling style hundreds of years ago to help them survive the long, harsh winters.
Late autumn to early winter is the peak season for fishing sailfin sandfish, or "hatahata" in Japanese. People in Akita love the fish, which was long a traditional source of protein during the winter. They especially enjoy it as the main ingredient in a "nabemono" hotpot that is also seasoned with a hatahata by-product, "shotsuru." Shotsuru is unique to Akita and is made from aged, fermented sailfin sandfish. The hotpot dish is called "shotsuru nabe" and "hatahata nabe."
Being one of Japan's snowiest regions and one of the top production centers of sake, Akita has developed a tradition of enjoying the long winter nights with friends in neighborhood bars and restaurants. Evenings are warmed with the camaraderie, fine sake, and cuisine that is heavy on the blessings of the sea. Fish from the waters off Akita taste the best in winter, because the colder the water is, the richer their flavor...
Our traveler Charles Glover enjoys to his heart's content the singular culture of the land of snow, Akita, which unfolds in late autumn.
Address: 1-1 Senshu Koen, Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Tel: 81 (0) 18-832-5893
Contact: Happo Town Tourism Association
Address: 57-2 Aza Honkoyachi, Minehama Numata, Happo-cho, Yamamoto-gun, Akita Prefecture
Tel: 81 (0) 185-76-4100
Fax: 81 (0) 185-76-3248
Address: 269 Aza Hachimori, Hachimori, Happo-cho,Yamamoto-gun, Akita Prefecture
Tel: 81 (0) 185-77-2311
Tel: 81 (0) 18-827-3241
Cell: 81 (0) 70-5058-3241
Address: 4-1-16 Omachi, Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Tel: 81 (0) 18-862-2729
Address: Kokuyurin 50, Sendatsu Zawa, Tazawa Ko, Senboku City, Akita Prefecture
Tel: 81 (0) 187-46-2139
By train, it takes four hours from Tokyo Station to Akita Station on the Shinkansen bullet train. From Akita City, local trains take you to Hachimori in about 90 minutes.
Traveler: Charles Glover > More Info
Length of residence in Japan:25years.
Reason: First came after being a Peace Corps volunteer (in Micronesia) as an English teacher. Thought I would stay for a year or two...
I love going to new places and maybe even more places I've been to and learning something new. I have been to Akita before but for this edition of Journeys I was able to see and learn and taste many new things.
Akita on the northwest side of Honshu, the largest island in Japan, is scenically beautiful, boasting both alpine and ocean vistas. The region is advanced, with a bullet train line from Tokyo, but in many ways it is among the most traditional areas of Japan. Akita is famous for having large amounts of snow. I saw people preparing for winter in many ways. Fuyu Gakoi is one way of protecting trees from heavy snow by covering them with hand made mats spread around spiraling ropes, a very traditional practice. I also was struck by how many houses had large stocks of fire wood outside, piled very neatly in tidy stacks, this is Japan after all.
I am often surprised how linguistically varied Japan is and Akita is no exception. One village is called Hachi-mori, ( or 8 forests), eight here is pronounced ha-chi in standard Japanese, yet in Akita, the chi sound comes out as tsu. A few times it actually had a different meaning, ha-chi to ha-tsu, went from meaning eight to meaning the first time, or departure. No missed trains but it took a bit of getting used to.
One thing that needs no interpretation is delicious food and Akita certainly has lots of that. The timing was perfect as the season for hata hata, a small type of sandfish that is tremendously important there. As winter comes heaps of them are caught in the Japan sea, full of delicious eggs and tender meat. I was also able to see some traditional pickles being made, particularly gakko, made from daikon radish. Delicious. Maybe the most delicious parts were the Akita-Bijin, beauties of Akita.The ladies there are truly sublime. I saw a great many, but was I able to talk to any of them? Watch Journeys in Japan to find out!
If you have a chance to come to Japan, I strongly recommend you take the time to visit the countryside and get out to meet the people. You will discover some true beauty that is very different from what you see at high-end tourist spots. In this edition of Journeys in Japan, you will get a glimpse of ordinary life in the snow country of Akita and discover its charms with Charles Glover.