Step into the sporting life of this northern prefecture.
By Alec Jordan
With its lofty mountain ranges, rolling hills, and expansive plains, Akita is a land of great variety. And with the changing of the seasons, this northern prefecture decks itself in a changing coat of many colors—from green to gold, red, and white. It’s a landscape that is meant to be savored, explored, and enjoyed. But there are some travelers who like to add a bit more adventure to their journey, and those visitors won’t find themselves disappointed with what this multifaceted terrain has to offer. The following are just a few of the ways that you can get your heart pumping in this sporting paradise that offers opportunities to get you moving on land, sea, and air.
A Triathlon with a Haiku Heart
Haiku might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about athletic pursuits, but Akita Prefecture’s triathlon begins and ends at an important location for fans of Japanese literature. The beloved poet, Matsuo Basho, while traveling on the 2,400-kilometer journey to and from Tokyo that would be immortalized in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, reached the northernmost point on his journey at the seaside town of Kisakata. Before he headed back south, he spent a day or two taking in the sights.
Competitors who take part in the Kisakata Triathlon may not have quite the same chance to sit back and be inspired, but this challenge of endurance does navigate through some impressive scenery. It’s an Olympic Triathlon course, so that means a 1.5-km swim, a 40-km bike race, and a 10-km run—all launching off close to the site where Basho stayed. This triathlon is held in July, which would mean a very difficult go farther south, but Akita’s comparatively mild summers make the experience less painful than would be expected.
Despite its formidable reputation, the Kisakata Triathlon appeals to athletes of all ages, and you can find ardent competitors ranging from their teens into their 60s, made up of Akita natives and those from outside of the prefecture. More than 1500 volunteers help during the event, and local residents actively cheer on the runners and cyclists as they make their way through the scenic course route, passing by the impressive profile of Mount Chokai and through historical areas as they eventually make their way back to the beach. For those just earning their triathlon stripes, there is also a shorter version of the event available.
Mountain Biking at the Base of Akita’s Celebrated Peak
Known as Akita’s Mt. Fuji, Mt. Chokai is an active volcano that last erupted in 1974. (In fact, a major eruption in 1804 actually caused the seabed near Kisakata to rise, drastically changing the landscape of Basho’s celebrated stopping-off point.) When looked at from the Sea of Japan, the mountain has a cone-like, symmetrical shape that inspires the comparison to its more famous sibling to the south. Chokai-san is one of Tohoku’s most celebrated mountains, and a favorite of hikers, but in October, it becomes the site of a 130-km mountain bike event (as well as a 100-km “short course”) that runs around the base of this famous summit and also heads into Yamagata prefecture.
The event is held just before the temperatures begin to drop in October, on the day before the Sports Day holiday, making it a perfect getaway activity for the long weekend. Now in its 13th year, one of the things that makes the MTB at Mt. Chokai event a memorable occasion is that it is an entirely non-competitive event. Riders of all experience levels are welcome on a ride that goes through the day and well into the evening, as the pack makes its way through a challenging but rewarding course that affords views of the many faces of Mt. Chokai and the Sea of Japan.
Speeding down a hill or a trail on two wheels might be exhilarating, but there’s not much that can compare with seeing the landscape of Akita from the sky itself. Paragliding is a popular activity that gives its followers the ultimate rush—borne aloft on air currents in a specially designed parachute, you can feel the wind blowing in your face, and as you develop in skill, the ability to control your flight. One of the more popular locations for paragliding in Akita is at Kanpuzan, where director and head teacher of Kanpu Paragliding school, Hisanori Onodera, has been training people to head off into the wild blue yonder for more than 25 years.
Courses are available for all experience levels, and even first time paragliders can have a chance to get airborne in a tandem flight with the instructor. It’s an unparalleled way to get out and see Akita’s splendor from a new perspective. And while the experience can be exhilarating, the focus is always on safety. More experienced paragliders can learn more about how to read the weather, practice various techniques, and even get advice about selecting new gear. Paragliding flights are available year-round, from March to November, weather conditions permitting.
Almost all young adventurers got their start by climbing a tree and seeing just how high up they could go. This feeling is the inspiration behind the Tree Climbing Japan organization, which has been helping adventurers young and old reach new heights in locations around the country. Using specialized harnesses and climbing techniques that ensure safety, participants on Tree Climbing Japan’s activities scale higher than they ever could with hands and feet alone. Tree Climbing Japan’s event in Akita celebrates winter, perhaps the region’s most picturesque season, giving its climbers a chance to get a bird’s-eye view of the world around them, decked in its finest whites. Adventurers from 3 to 88 are all welcome to this chance to challenge themselves and see things from a new perspective.
The next Mt. Chokai Mountain Bike Race will be held on October 12, 2014. For more information, visit: www.nikaho-kanko.jp/mtb/top.html
Tree Climbing Japan’s next Hachimantai event will be held in March 2015. For more information, visit www.akitafan.com/events/detail.html?event_id=9724.
For more information about Tree Climbing Japan, visit
The next Kisakata Triathlon will next be held on July 19, 2015. For more information, visit: www.nikaho-kanko.jp/triathlon
Paragliding at Kanpuzan:
Akita’s official Facebook page: