All you need to know... Akita

Looking to add somewhere a little off-the-beaten-path to your Japanese adventure? 
Akita Prefecture in northwestern Tohoku has lots to offer, from samurai villages to super posh chickens and even—so they say—the most beautiful women in Japan.
S'up, samurai-san?

Kakunodate Samurai Residences and Rickshaws -- photo from Flickr cc by Wei Hao Tsai
One of the most visually arresting places to visit is the castle town of Kakunodate, where many 17th-century samurai residences have been preserved and are open to the public. The whole town has gotten behind the preservation program. You'll find historic buildings all over town now housing restaurants, shops, and inns. The best time to visit is late April/early May, when the weeping cherry trees lining the samurai street turn it into a fluffy pink tunnel, or February, when the raucous fire-flinging Hifuri-Kamakura Festival takes place.
Snow makes you crazy

A Namahage Demon Threatens the Crowd at the Namahage Sedo Festival -- Photo by Jessica Kozuka
In the old days, I suppose there wasn't much to do when the snow stood as high as your door, so Akitans seems to have competed to come up with the craziest ideas possible for winter festivals. In Oga, you can voluntarily go toe-to-toe with grotesque demons at the Namahage Sedo Festival. In Yuzawa, they have a whole festival devoted to building snow dogs. In Yokote, you can make like an Eskimo and snack in an igloo made of snow at the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival. While in Misato, the town splits into two teams to whack each other with huge bamboo poles at the Takeuchi Festival. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Who you calling chicken?

Kiritanpo Hotpot Dinner -- from Flickr cc by Hajime NAKANO
Akita has one of the highest food self-sufficiency ratios in Japan, so you'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to locally produced nibbles. Iburi-gakko smoked pickles, Akita komachi rice and inaniwa udon noodles are must-tries, but perhaps the most famous food is hinai jidori, sometimes described as the Kobe beef of chickens. These broilers are a cross between a rare protected Japanese species called hinaidori and a Rhode Island Red. They are raised free-range in clover fields, taking significantly longer to reach full size, and are fed apples and tomatoes to produce a sweet, chewy meat. Try it as part of a kiritanpo hotpot for the ultimate Akita culinary experience. 
Beauty bound

The women of the prefecture are renowned for their good looks and are known as Akita biijin or Akita beauties. The legendary beauty and waka poet Ono-no-Komachi, for example, was supposedly from Akita and is celebrated at the Komachi Festival in Yuzawa each year. Others say Akitans' good looks come from their climate, hot springs, and diet, things even the casual tourist can also enjoy. For a little skin-beautifying boost, you could try soap made from the lees of Akita's famous sake.
Make like an Akitan

Kaba-zaiku Vases on Display in Kakunodate -- Photo by Jessica Kozuka
Although far from the cultural hubs of Tokyo and Osaka, Akita has a strong connection to the art world and boasts a lively community of artists and artisans.  The prefecture is home to the Akita-ranga school of painting and birthplace of master metalworker Sekiya Shiro and print artist Katsuhira Tokushi. At the Akita Museum of Art, you can see some excellent examples of local artworks, including Leonard Foujita's massive mural Events of Akita. Further afield, seek out examples of surviving traditional crafts, such as kaba-zaiku woodworking in Kakunodate, Kawatsura lacquerware in Yuzawa, and naraoka-yaki pottery in Daisen. Some places will even teach you how to create an original yourself. 
Say aeushhhh

The regional dialects of Akita are broadly known as Akita-ben, although they differ significantly from place to place. Even other Japanese consider Akita-ben nearly unintelligible, so don't be surprised if your Japanese 101 skills don't quite suffice. If you want to give Akita-ben a try, consider starting with a greeting I can only transliterate as "aeushhhh." Or say your farewells with the jaunty seba! And while cute things are kawaii in the rest of Japan, here they're menke.

Butt-mounted lanterns. Yeah, you read that right!

Akita Kanto Festival -- photo courtesy of JNTO
Akita City's Kanto Festival is a sight to see. Massive lantern-decked bamboo poles called kanto are paraded around town while locals compete to balance them on their foreheads, shoulders or butts. That's no easy task when the kanto can weigh up to 50 kilos and reach 12 meters. If you visit, you can try it yourself, either at the festival August 3rd-6th or at the Folk Traditions Hall year-round.
 Check out our prefectural page and start to plan your trip! 

Jessica Kozuka