Trek through primeval forests of beech. Test your mettle as you climb your way up roaring waterfalls. Paddle out across the cobalt waters of Japan’s deepest lake with the setting sun at the horizon. Join us as we explore a few of the ways to experience Akita’s natural splendor.
By Alec Jordan
Put Your Best Foot forward—Trekking in Akita
Blessed with a variety of landscapes that includes pristine beech forests, rushing waterways, and mountain peaks with stunning views, the length and breadth of Akita were made for trekking. Whatever region you visit, you can be certain that you will find opportunities to set foot on paths that will lead to a fuller experience of the natural beauty of Akita.
In the northwestern part of the prefecture you can find many of Akita’s renowned buna (beech) forests, including routes through the heart of the Shirakami Mountains, a sprawl of 130,000 hectares (321,237 acres) of primeval beech that has been listed as a World Natural Heritage Site since 1993. A light climb to the summit of Futatsumori Mountain gives you the chance to be surrounded by an undisturbed ecosystem, followed by a vantage point that allows you to look out across an unobstructed vista of this ancient forest. Of course, as the months grow colder, these beech forests change their raiment to gold, orange, and red, making this region well worth a repeat visit during different times of the year.
To the southeast, not far from the Oyasu Gorges hot springs area, lies Showako, a lake that was created by volcanic activity in 1944. The cobalt blue of this young body of water contrasts beautifully with the fall foliage, and a trekking course through this region passes near Mount Kurikoma, and the spectacularly colored Nagori Field, where several different species of flora change their leaves on a different schedule, creating a dappled landscape that must be seen to be believed.
These are just two of the many routes you can find for trekking in Akita, and while you’ll be doing most of your exploring on your feet, we recommend that you rent a car to get you from place to place—public transportation to more remote trail heads can be tough to come by, and you’ll find that your drives around the prefecture offer a distinct pleasure of their own, as you wend your way past plains and mountains, and by streams and forests. And wherever your adventures take you, you can be sure that one of the region’s many onsen will be waiting for you at the end of the day, to soothe tired muscles and sore feet.
Shower Climbing—Going against the Flow
Ever watched a salmon flinging itself up against the current of a swiftly moving river and said to yourself, “That’s something that I’d like to try,” then the daredevil activity known as shower climbing might just be the sport for you. Shower climbing is also known as sawanobori, or “river climbing,” and simply explained, it involves everything that you would imagine “climbing” a river might: ascending waterfalls, swimming through river gorges, hiking, and whatever else you’d need to do in order to reach a stream’s source. Japan’s combination of rocky terrain and agreeable climate were part of the reason that shower climbing developed in the country, and has grown in popularity over the years. Still, it must have taken an individual with a penchant for thinking differently—or paying very close attention to salmon.
The first river climbers took a minimalist approach to their gear, choosing to perform their ascents with nothing but a pair of straw sandals, but current practitioners use climbing harnesses, helmets, and neoprene suits, making the experience far safer overall. One place where you can try your hands and feet at this adventure sport is in the area near Tazawako, in the south of Akita. And while sawanobori taken to its extreme has a high element of danger, the introduction to shower climbing that is run through Tazawako Outdoor Tour is as much about cooling down and going along with the current as it is about pitting yourself against the forces of gravity and your own sense of fear.
Canoeing on Cobalt Blue
If you’re in the mood for a slightly slower-paced opportunity to commune with the elements, we recommend a canoe tour on Lake Tazawa. With a depth of 423 meters (1,388 feet), Tazawa-ko is the deepest lake in the country, and it is known for the striking color of its cobalt blue waters, as well as the legends that its great depths have inspired. The same group that offers the sawanobori experience on the nearby mountain streams also runs a series of canoe (and kayak) excursions on the lake. From the eastern shore of Tazawa-ko you can take a half-day tour or an evening “sunset tour” across the lake’s limpid waters.
Even people who have never taken oar in hand should quickly find themselves at ease as they learn how to control their crafts, either by themselves or as part of a two-person team. Spending a half day on the water truly puts you in touch with the rhythms of placid Tazawa-ko, and at times you’ll feel as if you were not only hundreds of miles away from Tokyo, but at least a hundred years back in time. On a clear evening, the sunset canoe tour is a magical experience, and one that you won’t quickly forget. As the sun lowers over the opposite shore of Tazawa-ko, the darkening waters of the lake contrast brilliantly with the reds of the end of the day, fading to grey as you make your way back to dry land. But you shouldn’t be forced to choose between one of the two tours: If you’re in the area for more than a day—and we recommend it, as the area also offers plenty of hiking and trekking courses—you should try both the half-day and the sunset tour.
For more information about trekking courses around Akita:
www.akitafan.com/special/trekking/ (in Japanese)
The Tazawako Shizen Taiken Center offers a sawanobori course (June 28 to September 15), as well as canoe/kayak tours of Tazawa-ko. Half-day tours are available from April 26 to November 3, and the sunset tours are led from June 28 to September 14. For more information, visit:
Akita’s official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/discover.akita
Main Image courtesy of Koutaro Ogi