Kakunodate is a verdant district of Senboku City in central-eastern Akita Prefecture that was once a castle town in its own right. Kakunodate's appeal is both historical and scenic, featuring well-preserved samurai houses, many of them centuries old, and shidarezakura weeping cherry trees every spring.
This little district of about 14,000 people was founded in 1620 and ruled by the Satake clan in the Edo period of Japanese history. The local daimyo to whom authority was delegated, Ashiya Yoshikatsu, built a small castle on the summit of nearby Mt. Furushiroyama. The town quickly moved down from the hill to its present location. The castle is no longer there.
The Uchimachi samurai quarter is Kakunodate's main place of interest, and is a 15-20 minute stroll north west from Kakunodate 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.
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.
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, lacquerware 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 buildings may be under renovation or being re-thatched when you visit. The Matsumoto samurai house has a large moss-covered thatched gate, and is now a souvenir store.
South of the samurai area is the merchant district which was separated from the samurai district by a wide square called the Hiyoke (fire shield), where the City Office now stands.
Cherry trees line the streets of Kakunodate and-the 2km-long avenue along the Hinokinai River, making a spectacular sight in spring, when the town is thronged with sightseers there for the blossom. The original weeping cherry trees were brought all the way from Kyoto and now there are over 400 of them.
Even if you miss the springtime spectacle of the blossoming weeping cherry trees, the town's cherry-bark crafts make beautiful keepsakes of this town that is one of Japan's many so-called "little Kyotos."
Kakunodate is beautiful in fall, too, and has a more than 350-year-old autumn festival in early September, the Kakunodate Matsuri no Yama Gyoji (角館祭りのやま行事), 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.
The Kakunodate Tourist Information Center (Tel: 0187 52 1170) is opposite Kakunodate Station, housed in a traditional-styled warehouse building and has bicycles for hire.
Kakunodate Arts and Crafts
Kakunodate's most famous local craft is kabazaiku - polished cherry bark. Visitors can find kabazaiku geta, shoehorns, even lampshades.
The red brick Denshokan Museum (Tel: 0187 54 1700) 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 nearby Hirafuku Memorial Art Museum (Tel: 0187 54 3888) with its collection of Japanese and foreign art including local artists Suian Hirafuku and Naotake Odano.
Nightlife & Eating Out in Kakunodate
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.
Hotels in Kakunodate
Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate is superbly located, right next to Kakunodate Station, and only 15 minutes on foot to the samurai house district. Clean, comfortable, and with very helpful staff, a good breakfast spread, and facilities such as washing machines and microwaves for guests.
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.
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