Solo Travel to the Japanese Countryside


"NOT SO SOLO TRAVEL" IN AKITA

I am not experienced at solo travel. Some facts about me: 1) My Japanese conversational skills are more or less limited to that of a five-year-old. 2) I am absolutely horrible with directions, even with the help of Google Maps. 3) Prior to this trip, I had never been to the inaka (Japanese countryside). Given this, I'm sure you can imagine how worried my parents and close friends were when they heard I was travelling to Akita Prefecture by myself!

I Went to Akita Prefecture Courtesy of Odigo -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
I was heading out on my first solo trip – just me, my phone, and my backpack for five days and four nights. The night before I left, I could not help but toss and turn at the thought of all the things that could possibly go wrong. What if I miss my train? What if I can’t find my hotel? What if I can’t get a working WiFi connection? What if I get lost? These thoughts raced through my mind all night long, keeping me from sleep, until the skies pinkened, the sun was up, and the time had come for me to leave.
As it turned out, I did make some travel mistakes. I got lost a few times, missed my stop on the Shinkansen (bullet train), ran out of phone battery, and even ran out of cash at one point during my trip. But despite my poor sense of direction, lack of attentiveness, and unpreparedness, all was daijoubu (okay), and at the end of each day I found myself back in my hotel room, safe and sound.
Another solo travel fan? The Golden Statue of Tatsuko by Lake Tawaza-ko -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
For that, I must thank the people of Akita. Every person I met was kind, helpful, and generous in welcoming me to their beautiful region. Locals helped me through each challenge, pointed the way to an ATM I could use and got me back on track when I was lost. I found kindness everywhere I went: on the bus, at the onsen (hot spring), at local restaurants, and in the middle of absolute nowhere.
Seen at Samurai Village: Two Women Kind Enough to Model While I Snapped a Picture -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
One particular act of kindness stands out. It occurred during my last night in Akita.  I was tired from my trip to Oga that afternoon and wanted to eat a quick dinner. I was walking, or more like dragging my feet from hunger and exhaustion, toward the Kawabata District when I came across Amimoto. The restaurant seemed to be a good choice with local food and affordable prices. As I entered, I noticed a group of students who were having an otsukare party, a custom of Japanese student life celebrating the completion of some task or challenge. Immediately, it made me think of my own friends. Wishing I could share my Akita solo travel experience with them, I sat on the stool by the bar counter, feeling a little homesick.
One of Akita's Many Specialty Dishes, Nabe (Hotpot) -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
Doko kara? (Where are you from?)” I turned to the side and realized that the Japanese woman sitting to my right was talking to me.
Firipin desu (The Philippines),” I replied with a shy smile.
Akita de nani shiteru? (What are you doing in Akita?)” The salaryman sitting further down the bar counter popped his head out from behind the woman and joined our conversation.
I explained how I was visiting Akita in partnership with a travel site called Odigo, to which they replied sugoi (wow) and other Japanese expressions of praise. They seemed to think of it as a brave act for a young foreign student to travel to the countryside alone, and continued asking me about my life and aspirations. Offering their own expert local advice, they stated that Akita is most beautiful during spring and summer when the seasonal changes are more apparent and told me to come back then and introduce the region to my foreign friends. The woman and the salaryman were obviously full of pride for their city. They insisted that I try specialties from Akita and shared their food with me. We ate kiritanpo (miso-glazed grilled rice on a stick), Akita beef steak and inaniwa udon (thinner than the usual udon noodles). They even treated me to a cup of Niteko Cider, only available in Akita. Gradually, more people joined the conversation – even the restaurant owner and server took time off work to offer their own suggestions for travelling around town.
Flower-shaped Ice Cream for Just ¥200; I Had to Try It! -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
What I thought would be a dinner for one turned out to be much more than I expected. Not only did I have the opportunity to taste some of Akita’s delicious specialty dishes, but also to learn more about the region in ways I could not have from any ordinary travel guidebook. I also had a chance to make new friends. I'm giving just one example of Akita hospitality; trust me when I say that there were more. Big and small, the various acts of kindness I was blessed with while travelling around the prefecture made my trip an unforgettable one. Even though I came on a solo trip, I never felt lonely because of the company and guidance of the people of Akita.
Solo Travel Doesn't Mean You are Alone -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
 Follow in Angeline's footsteps and check out her favorite Akita spots in Odigo!

Angeline Elopre