Deep inside the mountains of Akita prefecture there is a hidden treasure, the Akita Nairiku line. This railway connects Semboku city with Kitaakita city, or better said, Kakunodate with Takanosu, covering 94.2 km. Also knows as smile rail, the route doesn’t offer new or trendy points of interest, but pure nature and joy. There are amazing nature spots, onsen and small museums, but most important heart welcoming people at every step. So what you’re waiting for?
Akita Nairiku train
The train itself is lovely. It only has one wagon which makes it even more charming, as you’re always in the middle of the action, looking forward and backwards simultaneously. As the Akita Nairiku line is operating in Akita prefecture, you may know that the region is famous for the Akita dogs. That’s why the train is decorated in a dog theme, from benches, tables and the walls. That’s why this train will be even more appreciated by the dog lovers. But apart from the train itself, let’s see what you can do around.
Make a full trip
One of the things you can simply do is to take the train from an end to another and enjoy the view. As each season is different, you can go 4 times a year as the view will be changed completely. I went during the winter and the surroundings were charming. I wouldn’t say there is any breathtaking landscape you’ll see, but it’s peaceful and serene. Is just a great way to detach from the big cities and daily life.
If you love onsen stop at Animaeda Onsen station as you’ll find one inside the station. It’s extremely convenient and cheap, only 500¥ per adult. There is only an inside onsen, with one big pool for adults and a smaller one for kids. It can comfortable accommodate 30 people at once, but when I went we were only 3 ladies – so it was almost private. If you’re interested to convert this trip into an onsen trip, there is one more called Matagi no Yu that you can go to, but requires an additional taxi or bus ride from the train station.
The main reason I chose Akita Nairiku line in winter was to see the snow monsters – called juhyo in Japanese. Basically, there are three places in Japan where this rare phenomenon is occurring: the first one is at Mount Moriyoshi (Akita prefecture), the second in Zao (Yamagata prefecture) and the third one at Hakkoda (Aomori prefecture). It doesn’t even matter where you go as long as you do, as the trees are lovely no matter the place.
How to get there
If you use the Akita Nairiku line you can reach the first place, Mount Moriyoshi. You have to first reach Aniai station, then, you have to take a taxi to Ani ski resort. It is a 20-25 minutes drive and it costs 1100¥ one way per person if you use a shared taxi. You have to book it with at least one hour in advance, but the easiest way is to ask the Akita Nairiku stuff to call and book for you while you buy the train ticket. That’s how I done and it worked perfectly. For the return, you can manage with the driver directly. Personally, I got an amazing taxi driver, a lady called Fukushima and she made my journey even more beautiful with her thoughtful hospitality.
The first thing you’ll probably notice once you get to the ski resort is Hokuto, a beautiful Akita dog waiting for the tourists at the entrance. It was born on 30th of November 2016 and he seems like the guardian of the resort or one of the main attractions of the place. You can see him through the window or you can open the door from the outside and see him better. I thank my driver for the tip as I got some nicer pictures.
Your second stop should be at the restaurant if you’re hungry. Nothing fancy, as you’ll have to use the machine to get your order, but very tasty and cheap. And it’s better to not go up on an empty stomach, as there are no restaurants up there. There is also a nice souvenir shop selling not only souvenirs but also some snacks and drinks. The ladies out there was so nice, that they offered me two beautiful postcards after I bought a coffee and some sweets.
In the waiting room you will find two fluffy friends, a brown bear and a… I have no clue what the white one is. However, it’s better to know what you can find on the way, especially if you’re planning to do some trekking on good weather.
If you’re planning to ski, the rental office is in the same building. The prices seems decent, similar to other places in Japan – like full rental equipment for 5000-6000¥ for a full day. For the chair lift or for the gondola, you’ll need a different ticket. If you’re only doing sightseeing, then you’ll have to purchase a return ticket for the gondola, 1800¥ per adult. The ride is quite a long one, almost 40 minutes if it’s windy. However, you will be taken all way up to the top of the mountain, which is a long way itself, so totally worth in the money.
Once you get to the top after admiring the beautiful scenery around, you’ll start seeing the snow mountains. If it’s first time you’ll see them, they will probably take your breath away. If they won’t, the cold temperature will probably do it alone. In order to really enjoy the experience I encourage you to put the warmest clothes you have and come prepared for a minimum of -5C with wind, which would probably feel like -10C. You can borrow for free a pair of snow boots and poles before starting the trekking, which will really make a difference and improve your overall experience.
I was extremely lucky to meet Miki, a great lady working there who came with me for half of the tour. The visibility was quite poor so I was fortunate she showed me the way, by taking me to the start of the official route. I also got some great pictures thanks to her.
The route itself is basically a circle and it takes about 20 minutes till completion. You are literally going near the snow mountains and the experience is mesmerizing. You can see exactly how the snow got stick on the trees and better understand this unique phenomena. Unfortunately I didn’t had a sunny day and the wind was very powerful, so I was struggling between keeping myself alive and taking some pictures to better admire them later. Without any exaggeration my sunglasses got frozen, the snow stick to my neck flow and my skin was purple (I noticed this on the photos after!). So it’s not a joke, it’s super cold and even if I thought I came very well prepared, I would had appreciated some ski goggles and a better mask to cover my face.
Even if are many things to see around the Akita Nairiku line and you should spend a few days around, you can also opt in for a day trip from Tokyo – just to start with. In order to maximize your time, take the first shinkansen to Kakunodate and the last one back to Tokyo. From Kakunodate shinkansen station, the Akita Nairiku line is only 2 minutes away. Just exit the station, take a right and you’ll see the entrance.
No matter if you’re planning to use regular trains or express trains, the price for one day pass stays the same, 1700¥ per adult. Sometimes, the company is even providing discounts. For example, from 5th of January until 28th of February the price was reduced with 25%. That’s why I personally paid 1130¥ only. If you’re not planning to go too far or from an end to another, you can always opt in for regular tickets. It is purely based on your plan and to check if a ticket or pass would be more convenient.
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and one day you’ll ride the Akita Nairiku train by yourself. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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