Is Kakunodate worth visiting? For a long time I wasn’t sure, even after going there myself.
You see, I made my first trip to the semi-famous Samurai village in the middle of winter, months before the first buds would appear on the weeping shidarezakura trees that are at least as famous as its historical homes. Although there was something haunting about traipsing through the emtpy town, amid snowbanks almost as high as its buildings, the entire experience felt off.
However, having now been to Kakunodate during cherry blossom season, I’ve changed my tune. Kakunodate is absolutely worth a trip, though there are some caveats.
How to Get to Kakunodate
Before I explain why I think Kakunodate is worth visiting, let’s discuss precisely how you get there, whether you come for the day or stay overnight—more on the latter option in a second. Kakunodate sits on the Akita Shinkansen line between Morioka and Akita, both of which are popular setting-off points for day trips here.
Obviously, this means that if you plan to start your day in Tokyo, you’ll need to get to one of these two cities. Note that while it’s theoretically possible to do Akita on a day trip from Tokyo, this would be a very long journey, with at least as long spent in transit as on the ground, enjoying the city. I wouldn’t recommend this under any circumstances.
What to Do in Kakunodate
Explore Samurai houses
Not surprisingly if you’ve so much as heard of Kakunodate is the fact that the town’s Samurai houses are its most famous draw. I usually like to wander around the center somewhat aimlessly, although the Aoyagi House is always a good place to start.
Enjoy cherry blossoms
Let me be clear: You don’t absolutely have to come in spring to make Kakunodate worth visiting. At the same time, the weeping cherry (aka shidarezakura) trees whose droopy fronds perfectly frame Samurai homes allowed you to enjoy the most iconic visuals while walking through the town.
(Or Japan’s other seasons)
As of this writing, I’ve only been to Kakunodate in spring and winter so far. While winter is quieter than spring to the point that it almost feels dead, there is something to be said about the strange beauty of the town at this time. Next, I’ll probably come during the Japanese autumn.
Chill out along the Hinokinai River
Indeed, the Hinokinai River is at its most beautiful during spring, when sakura (normal, somei yoshino) trees shade tulips and daffodils coming up along the glacier-fed stream. Being so close to pristine nature, for me, is a big part of what makes Kakunodate worth visiting.
Scale the Kakunodate Castle viewpoint
I love a good panorama, and Kakunodate is home to a whopper of one. Like everything else I’ve highlighted here, the view from here is the most spectacular in spring, when the town beneath appears covered in cotton candy. But it’s worth scaling anytime of year, so long as the path isn’t icy or snowy.
Should I Spend the Night in Kakunodate?
Kakunodate is charming, but small. If you’re fine having very little to do at night (including restaurants—most of the ones here close pretty early), apart from visiting the local Lawson convenience store, it could be a welcome diversion from the rest of your trip, particularly if it’s a busy one. Being able to have a “home” in Kakunodate, especially if you’re able to score one during cherry blossom season, could be amazing.
Specifically, I’d probably recommend that you book Hotel Folkloro or Wanoi, although there are some other properties in the city that may do if those are full. Again, however, I want to emphasize that I believe Kakunodate is worth visiting even if you can’t stay overnight. A day trip here from a larger city is perfectly enjoyable!
Other FAQ About Visiting Kakunodate
Are there any Samurai villages left?
Japan is home to many Samurai villages, although they vary in size, scope and authenticity. One of my favorites is Kakunodate, located in the mountains of rural Akita prefecture on the Shinkansen line between Morioka and Akita cities.
When is the best time to visit Kakunodate?
The best time to visit Kakunodate is in late April, when the cherry blossoms are at full bloom. While Kakunodate is beautiful all year, never is this more the case then amid the billows of weeping shidarezakura.
How many days do you need in Kakunodate?
Most travelers visit Kakunodate as a day trip, either from Akita or Morioka. However, if you so choose, you can easily spend 1-2 days in Kakunodate just enjoying the samurai houses (as well as various other sites).
The Bottom Line
Is Kakunodate worth visiting? Yes, although I’d recommend trying to plan your trip to coincide with the bloom of cherry blossoms if you want to enjoy it to the fullest extent. The splendor of the town’s well-preserved Samurai homes just hits differently when weeping shidarezakura billows are unfurling all around them. Kakunodate is even more enjoyable when you see it not as a standalone trip, but as one of many destinations in Akita prefecture. Sound confusing? Hire me to plan your next Japan trip, and allow me to sweat all the difficult details.