This weekend AIU let loose 200 international students to wander around Akita’s neighboring town, Kakunodate. Our itinerary also included a stop by Lake Tazawa, which has an interesting history, and a couple other commercial stops at a herbal garden and a timeless family owned miso brewery.
Samurai Mansions, Kakunodate
Kakunodate is about an hour drive from Akita, heading East. The bus ride was a scenic one, with our driver taking efficient expressways that provided a view of Akita’s beautiful mountainous landscapes.
The town itself was just as scenic, with our bus parking near a river that stretched as far as the eye could see. Heading the opposite direction, I made a left and immediately encountered the heart of Kakunodate’s tourist area: the samurai mansions.
Picking a house at random, my friends and I ended up at the Ishiguro residence; which happened to be oldest and highest samurai class house in Kakunodate! We later found out that those in the highest samurai class held responsibilities similar to those of modern day accountants. Go figure. To make things even better, the house was still inhabited by direct blood descendants of the Ishiguro family. Visitors were allowed to tour a portion of the house and see their permanent exhibit for only 400 YEN.
We were lead through two separate reception rooms, as well as a living room, front garden, and the permanent exhibits. Not only were the ground extremely well preserved, but it was so cool to see how proud our guides were of being descendants of a samurai.
We wandered around for a couple hours going into shops, other homes, and stopping by a few vendors. My favorite vendor was an one elderly woman who makes rose shaped ice cream cones right in front of you – for only 200 YEN.
A little after noon, we got back onto our buses and headed for Lake Tazawa.
Tatsuko, Lady of Lake Tazawa
Legend has it that Tatsuko was a very beautiful young woman, well known for her beauty. Tatsuko knew her beauty would eventually fade, so every night she prayed to the gods to make her beauty eternal. On the 100th night, she finally received an answer (from the god of mercy) and was told to find a certain holy spring and to drink from it. Following the instructions given to her, Tatsuko found this spring and drank from it. Instead of immortalizing her beauty, however, Tatsuko found herself transformed into a dragon. From then on, Tatsuko became the dragon guardian of Lake Tazawa.
To this day, Tatsuko’s statue stands at the shore of Lake Tazawa. The lake itself is beautiful. Known as a crater lake, Tazawa is the deepest lake in Japan at about 420 meters. The water is a gorgeous clear greenish blue and is full of little fish. Right on the bank of the water is Ukiki Shrine, a local Shinto shrine. This stop was brief but lovely as the area has a calming, almost serene atmosphere that was much appreciated.
Gardens and Miso
Our last two stops for the day were Herb Garden and Ando Jozo. Herb Garden was essentially a gigantic garden, specializing in herbs. The make their own products and use herbs in everything – and I mean everything. The gift shop had everything from herbal teas and perfumes, to herbal cooking oils and syrups! Here, I hiked up to their observation tower, where I was treated to another gorgeous view of Lake Tazawa. I was also able to play with bunnies, purchase tea, and wander around their greenhouse.
The last stop was Ando Jozo, an old-time miso brewery. Jozo has been producing miso and soy sauce, using the same ingredients and methods since about 1730. That’s almost 300 years of tradition, and miso and soy sauce excellence. A delicacy I was able to sample here was soy sauce soft serve. Yes – soy sauce flavored ice cream.
Japan never ceases to amaze me.