Japan City Guides: Kakunodate
- population 14,000.
- another town with the title of "little Kyoto" .
- located in Akita Prefecture.
- Uchimachi is a well- preserved area of samurai houses.
- town founded in 1620.
- ruled by the Satake clan in the Edo Period.
- town has merged with Tazawa-ko.
- known for its beautiful cherry trees and cherry-bark crafts.
- main festival is the 350-year old Autumn Festival in early September.
Things to see and do in Kakunodate
Kakunodate's main place of interest is the Uchimachi samurai quarter a 15-20 minute stroll north west from the station. A number of wooden samurai houses and gardens are preserved and open as small museums or craft shops and cafes.
Kakunodate's samurai quarter has wide avenues and the thatched residences are hidden behind black fences and grand entrance gates. Some of the residences have entrance fees, others are free.
South of the samurai area is the merchant district which was separated from the samurai district by the Hiyoke (fire shield), a wide square where the City Office now stands.
The town's streets and the banks of the Hinokinai River are lined with cherry trees, which are a spectacular sight in spring. The original weeping cherry trees were brought from Kyoto and now there are over 400 of them. A walk through this avenue of trees is pleasant even when the trees are not in blossom.
Kakunodate samurai housing district
Kakunodate's famous cherry trees line the river
Kakunodate grew up in 1620 when local daimyo Ashiya Yoshikatsu built a small castle on the summit of nearby Furushiroyama. The town quickly moving down from the hill to its present location. The castle is no longer there.
The Ishiguro Samurai House (Tel: 0187 55 1496) known as Bukeyashiki is one of the most impressive samurai residences in Kakunodate. Built in the early 19th century it was home to the Ishiguro family, retainers of the dominant Satake clan. Visitors are shown around the main rooms by a guide and can view the garden at the front and storehouses at the back of the house.
On display are old maps of Kakunodate, books, pottery, tools and swords from a large collection that changes seasonally. Like all the residences in the Bukeyashiki area, the Ishiguro Samurai House is surrounded by a black, wooden fence and has an impressive gate. A direct descendant of the original Ishiguro family continues to live in part of the house.
Stones on a traditional roof in Kakunodate samurai housing area
Next door is the Aoyagi Samurai House (Tel: 0187 55 3257) which has an eclectic collection of the Aoyagi family's heirlooms, folk art and even a display of antique cameras and gramophones.
Walking south down the wide Bukeyashiki Street on your left is the Omura Art Museum (Tel: 0187 55 5111) with a collection of glass ware. Next up is the Edo Period Iwahashi Samurai House (Tel: 0187 43 3384), the Samurai House Museum, Kawarada Samurai House (Tel: 0187 43 3384) and the Odano Samurai House (Tel: 0187 43 3384).
Just off Tamachi Kamicho is the free to enter Nishinomiya House. The two storey building has tansu chests, sake flasks, laquerware and other items on display. Next door is a popular restaurant set in a spacious garden. Across the street is the Shinchosha Memorial Literature Museum.
Some of the buidings maybe under renovation or being re-thatched when you visit, don't worry pass on to the next one. The Matsumoto samurai house has a large moss-covered thatched gate and now acts as a souvenir store.
On your right is the red brick Denshokan Museum (Tel: 0187 54 1700) which exhibits various regional crafts and has demonstrations of kabazaiku (cherry-bark art) in which boxes, tea implements and pieces of furniture are coated with a veneer of cherry bark. The entrance ticket also admits the visitor to the Hirafuku Memorial Art Museum (Tel: 0187 54 3888) at the top of the street with its collection of Japanese and foreign art including local artists Suian Hirafuku and Naotake Odano.
Kakunodate Bukeyashiki district
Many of the drooping cherry trees (shidarezakura) which line the 2km long avenue along the Hinokinai River are said to have been brought from Kyoto and make for a pictureque stroll in season.
From September 7-9 Kakunodate hosts its Autumn Festival when 18 massive, 7-ton floats are pulled through the town accompanied by traditional dancers and music. The festival procession culminates at Yakushido Temple - the town's oldest Buddhist temple.
Kakunodate's specialties are pickles, miso, natto (fermented soybeans) and sake. There are a number of restaurants near the station or close to the samurai quarter including Washoku Shibuya (Tel: 0187 53 2600), 1F Shinmachi Bldg., Sakura Tei (Tel: 01t87 53 2970) and soba at Maruzen (Tel: 0187 54 1104). Soba and udon are a speciality of Kakunodate. For miso tasting head to the old merchant area and the historic Ando Miso Sauce Brewery. The distinctive brick building has a the tatami-mat interior full of period piece wooden furniture and hand-painted fusuma sliding doors.
Kakunodate Tourist Information Center (Tel: 0187 52 1170) is opposite the station housed in a traditional-styled warehouse building and has bicycles for hire.
Black and white store house in Kakunodate Bukeyashiki district
Kakunodate's most famous local craft is kabazaiku - covering items with polished cherry bark. Visitors can find kabazaiku geta, shoehorns, even lampshades.
Kakunodate Bukeyashiki district garden
Kakunodate is on the Akita Shinkansen Line from Tokyo. The Komachi shinkansen stops at Tazawa-ko (14 minutes), Morioka (54 minutes) and Akita (43 minutes). The journey from Tokyo to Akita is around 4 hours. The Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway is a local 94km railway running from Kakunodate Station north to Takanosu through some amazing countryside.
There are buses from Akita to Shinjuku in Tokyo (8 hours, 30 mins) and Sendai (3 hours, 40 mins). From Kakunodate bus station, a 10 minute walk north from the station, there are buses to Akita (90 mins) and Tazawa-ko (35 minutes). National highways 105 and 46 converge on Kakunodate.
Autumn leaves on a traditional roof in Kakunodate Bukeyashiki district