It was the ‘Obon’ holidays. I, along with a couple of my friends, had planned a trip to the western coastal area of the Tohoku region to experience the beautiful mountains where they meet the sea. On the day of departure, I woke up in the morning feeling drowsy, looking around my bed. I saw my phone lying down a slight distance from my bed, and my bag half packed. I looked at the clock on the wall and was like…’What?!‘ We were supposed to leave at 6 o’clock in the morning and it was already 7:30 o’clock…! I checked my phone and sure enough, dozens of phone calls and messages!! My friends have been calling me since morning. We had planned to drive and I was the potential driver. I was supposed to pick them up from their apartments…oops.
It so happened that the night before, I lay down to take a short nap but instantly drifted off into REM – I hadn’t even set the morning alarm! Panicked, I quickly rushed out of bed, grabbed some apples and muffins to appease my friends and to my expectation, the idea worked! They were amused, more than anything! Waking up late in the summer holidays is pretty common among friends. Staying up late till morning sure makes getting up the next day very difficult!
I live in the Yagiyama area of Sendai, whereas my friends live in different areas of Sanjo-Machi, Sendai. After finally picking up my friends, we packed up the car with the tent, bags, barbeque and all the stuff required for our adventure. After setting up the GPS for our first destination, we set out on our journey. The weather was not so favorable. Our first destination was Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka, famous for its huge jellyfish display. The GPS was showing a distance of 350 km and the estimated arrival duration was 3 hours and 45 minutes from Sendai City. Obviously, using highway would take much less time, but we chose to take the local back roads. As the time went by, the weather got better. We came across nice and beautiful places. The scenery was breathtaking! Given the limited time, we could not make too many stops. We had three days of travel planned, and each day was allocated a mission! Nonetheless, my friends were persistent despite my hesitance that a sojourn would make it difficult to reach our destination on time. Still, we managed a quick stop at a few awe-inspiring sites! On our way to Kamo aquarium, we stopped in the Sagae area. We had the opportunity to see the lush, green rice fields of summer. The landscape was astounding.
Our next stop was Mazawa, a small village that is your typical image of country side Tohoku. Given the time and parking issues, we could not stay for a long time. We rushed back to the car.
While driving, we came across a very beautiful valley. There were few houses, crop fields and a very beautiful stream flowing between the houses, surrounded by the stunning green mountains. We couldn’t help but stay there for a while. The road was paved through the mountains at a very considerable height which provided us with a great view of the village, the valley, the mountains etc.
After savoring the scenery for some time, we resumed our journey. Not far had we traveled when we came across a mesmerizing lake called Tsukiyama Lake, surrounded by mountains and a beautiful fountain spouting from the middle.
The scenery, mountains, streams that we witnessed, cannot be expressed in a single blog! One needs an entire book or maybe several blogs to fully do it justice. However, just to give the readers an idea, I shall highlight the main spots that we visited. Effectively we were driving from the East coast of Japan, all the way to the beaches of the West coast. As such, we traveled through several different mountain ranges, valleys and traditional Japanese villages. We experienced the true, authentic countryside of Japan, so stunning that one cannot help but fall in love with it.
When we reached Kamo Aquarium, a large number of people were already queuing to get in. Kamo Aquarium is very famous in the region and people from different parts of the country come to take in the delights of the aquarium (and being a public holiday, there were even more visitors than usual!). Everything in Japan is so well organized that it didn’t take us much time to get in. There was a charming lady standing at the reception. We wondered if there was a discount for students. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. There was one single standard price for adults: 1000¥ (children: 500¥ ).
The aquarium itself is a beautiful piece of Japanese architecture not only from outside but the interior as well. It’s really a very large building. At one point, we were bewildered to see large number of people coming from another floor in the opposite direction but then, to our surprise, we discovered that the aquarium in fact consists of three large floors. Inside the aquarium, there are different shops and cafes to buy souvenirs for friends and families. Built right on the coast, it gives the sensation of marine life in their natural habitat. The aquarium has a huge collection of jellyfish with different shapes, colors and sizes.
Some of them also emit luminescence that brightens the whole aquarium in blue. These are probably my favorite jellyfish.
I am normally kind of frightened of jellyfish as I had a bad experience of jellyfish sting! However, it was so fascinating to watch the jellyfish moving around their tanks. Kamo aquarium is considered to be the biggest collection of jellyfish in the entire world! It has more than 30 species of jellyfish. Some were huge and some were so small that you almost need a microscope to see them. Unfortunately, the thirst of photography could not be quenched as photography is prohibited inside the aquarium. Here’s a short video to give you an idea:
Alongside jellyfishes, there were seals, turtles, octopus and different species of fish and many other sea animals.
We spent a lot of time at Kamo Aquarium! We were already running late, so once again we rushed to the car and resumed our journey to a camping site called Nishihama which we had discovered on the internet. While driving to the camp site, the road runs beside the sea, giving you an immense feeling of bliss and ecstasy. We were intrigued to see wind turbines built over the sea to generate electricity. After about an hours journey we arrived at Nishihama camping site. Prior reservation is required but fortunately we had managed to reserve our space two days before the trip. You can reserve both space and tent as well, if you like! There are also slightly more luxurious bungalows available to be reserved at a proportionate cost. Nishihama camping site is actually a garden on the beach! It has a lot of facilities like hot spring baths, tennis courts and grounds for other sports. I have had experience of several camping trips but this one was extremely busy, dynamic and lively. People from all walks of life come here with their families. Kids get a chance to play freely in the grounds. The atmosphere was lovely.
We arrived at the reception, received our instructions, got the number of our site, payed the fee, dumped our stuff in the tent and jumped straight into the sea! It was almost 5 pm by now. The sun was setting. We had to take advantage of the time left before it got completely dark.
The beach was almost empty by then as people were tired having been swimming all day long. We had a lot of fun exploiting the uninhabited beach, we could do whatever we wanted. We swam in different styles, here and there, over one another. There were no life guards, as they call it a day at 17:00. At one time, we also went up to the stand to play the role of the safety guards. We stayed there till it got completely dark.
After taking showers, we went back to the camp for a barbeque as we were super hungry! Cooking a barbeque over a fire can be a cumbersome task, as you have to fan it vigorously, particularly when you are hungry! Thankfully my friends took the initiative to set the coal on fire. Japanese people are extremely friendly and helpful. We were lucky to have so many Japanese alongside us. They gave us their own burning coal which helped us a great deal into setting our other coals alight and thus start the barbeque process! Responding to their courtesy, we also offered them some of the steak that we had grilled.
After dinner, we were hanging out when at exactly 10 pm, all the lights in the camp were switched off and silence fell over the entire camp – you could hear a pin drop! The hundreds of people that were staying there fell asleep instantly, it seemed. This also proves just how well organized Japanese people are! They perform everything in a systematic manner. We did not want to sleep that early. So, we decided to watch a movie in the tent. However, I was extremely tired too. I had had a very long day, driving all day long. I was soon asleep. I could hardly remember ten minutes. I was like a dead man – proven the next day when I saw the pictures taken by my friends…!
The next morning, the weather was surprisingly pleasant. It was a sunny and refreshing morning.
Taking full advantage of the weather, we decided to visit as many beaches as possible. Road-tripping sure makes you hungry though, so our first challenge was to prepare breakfast! We made superb Pakistani style tea and had it with butter and breads.
Our next destination was the coastal area of Akita Prefecture. As usual and as expected, it is impossible to drive straight to Akita when you are traveling through such enthralling scenery. The beautiful rivers, mountains, field crops always compel you to stop. The first thing we encountered was the large Aka River. It’s a beautiful river flowing all the way, between the dense forests, to the sea. One simply cannot explain the feeling while watching it over the Aka Bridge.
Unwillingly, we had to resume our journey for our next destination, which was Yunohama Beach. Yunohama Beach is one of the largest and busiest beaches of Japan. It is the biggest and most famous beach in Yamagata Prefecture. Thousands of tourists including families, couples and young people come to enjoy this beach every day. It is the best place to play volleyball, tightrope walking and play with inflatables or enjoy your own beach toys.
Being too hasty, we could not spend too much time there. We again set on our journey. On our way to Akita, we saw several other beaches however, given the two-day trip; time did not allow us to stop. The next destination that we stopped at was Yura coast or ‘Yurakaigan’. This coastal area is on the verge of a small village but it has everything that you need; a harbor, a beach and a coast. Some people were fishing, others were swimming, and other groups were scuba diving and snorkeling. I actually stopped to watch some kids who were trying to catch fish using goggles and big forks. Luckily, one did catch a big fish with his fork. It would be easy to spend a whole day here doing activities like these. We also wanted to spend at least a day there but unfortunately, it was not part of the plan!
The next beach that we came across was, Honjo Marina Beach. The beach was so calm and lovely that we could not resist getting into the water for a swim. This beach has breakwater and huge wind turbines on the side. One of the windmills was so close to the beach – it was so big. This single windmill adds so much to the beauty of the beach. Sharing scenery like this with good friends makes the journey even more fantastic. We played around a lot and had so much fun at this beach…maybe a little too much! We also ended up injuring ourselves. Swimming and diving in the water, one must take care so as not to hit the ground at the bottom. Unfortunately, we hit it a few times. Nonetheless, with slight pain, everything was fine in the end. We spent the whole evening there.
We wanted to camp at the beach, as we saw some families doing the same but in the end we decided to camp at a beach a little closer to Akita, so as to give more time in Akita the next day. We agreed to have dinner in Akita City. There were so many beautiful restaurants in Akita. We chose one close to Akita Station. It was a typical Japanese traditional restaurant, with individual rooms and ground tables with floor cushions for resting. We chose Kiritanpo Nabe for our dinner, the specialty of the Akita region. Kiritanpo Nabe is made from mashed rice cooked and given cylindrical shapes. Apart from rice, it has other ingredients too and is served like a hot-pot dish. Service in Japanese restaurants is always outstanding and this was no exception. The idea of serving the food over a burning stove fascinated us very much.
After dinner, we walked through the streets of Akita, got tired and took a rest in a beautiful garden. It was already midnight by then. Time flies when you are having fun!
The nearest beach to the Akita City is Katsurahama Beach about 10 km from the station. We drove there to set up our tent for the night. Being post-midnight, we were not expecting anyone else to be there, but to our surprise, the beach had a considerable number of visitors camping and playing. We unpacked the tent and started setting it up. Japanese tents are also sometimes very difficult to set up. Thanks to the fast internet everywhere, everything was fine in the end. You feel even better when you have all the camping tools. The best things about beaches in Japan is that you will always find basic life facilities like restrooms, showers, vending machines and sometimes, shops to buy other necessities. The fees for camping and car parking are very reasonable at all the beaches. It is always around 1000 yen for almost all the beaches both for parking and for camping.
Instead of sleeping, we decided to hang out for a while and surf the beach. After a small tour of the beach, we went to sleep. We got a good rest that night. Finally, comes final day of our memorable trip. We woke up early, prepared breakfast. Eating breakfast in front of the sea and enjoying the morning breeze is truly the feeling of being in heaven.
After breakfast was done, our goal was to cover as many places as possible but given the beauty of Akita City, we decided to go back into town for a day view of the city. We immediately packed our belongings and headed towards the city. Akita city has a very beautiful downtown area. It is not too crowded so the traffic was smooth, too.
As students, we always ask where the station and the university is. So we also stopped by Akita University. It has many departments like Engineering Science, Education and Human Studies and International Resource Sciences. The university is not as big as Tohoku University but its quality of education is good and the campus is beautiful. It has many facilities and is close to downtown. The biggest campus of Akita University is Taga Campus. We also explored that campus.
From the university, we went to Kubota Caste. This is must-visit historical site of Akita. The castle is situated in a middle of a park called Senshu-koen. Sesnhu-koen itself is a very beautiful park. It’s close to Akita Station. At the entrance, you have this big gate for the castle.
The park also includes a couple of beautiful shrines. You will see people worshiping and praying, and others just visiting.
The park also holds a statue for the Satake clan; an important historical monument. This clan has an interesting story. It is interesting to see how the clan made allies and fought wars during different eras in the history of Japan. There is also a Satake Historical Material Museum in the park for the people interested to know more about Satake Clan.
While walking from the station to the park, we saw two stunning ponds with lots of beautiful lotus flowers. We stopped by to enjoy them.
We liked the city very much but unwillingly, we had to leave this city and move on to our next destination, Detohama Beach. It’s 19 km away from Akita City and took us about 35 minutes to get to the beach. The water was shining blue. The sand of the beach was very soft. The water is so clean that you can easily see the bottom while swimming with goggles. The weather was very pleasant! We swam a lot in that crystal-clear water. The guards at the beach are extremely attentive. They monitor the beach and visitors swimming, round the clock, to avoid any untoward situation. The calmness of the sea and the presence of the guards gave me the confidence to venture farther out to sea. Our enjoyment had no limits. The beach has a large and beautiful restaurant, too. Calm music was being played inside the restaurant that takes away all your tiredness.
Finally, the time had come to say good bye to this beautiful beach! None of us wanted to go back to Sendai. We were even more annoyed to find out that there would be Hanabi (Fireworks Display) in Oga City, which is the next adjacent city to Akita. All of us wanted to spend at least one more day there and enjoy the fireworks, too! However, with so many commitments, it was not possible this time. Our laboratories and study were waiting for us…
We had a great trip. We enjoyed a lot in the space of just three days! The Tohoku region is the most beautiful part of Japan. We enjoyed all the countryside beaches, forests, beautiful mountains and everything, you name it! Just one trip for this region is surely not enough. We decided to keep visiting this place periodically and explore more and more places and beaches. I highly recommend a visit to the Tohoku Region for all visitors that come to Japan. As long as you have all the camping equipment you need, the world is your oyster! You can create your own trail and discover other unseen beautiful places. Enjoyment is guaranteed.
Video about our trip:
Beaches, blue water and bromance…what more do you need to enjoy summer? Take in the views with Hamza (Algeria) and his mates as they road-trip along the west coast of Tohoku! More info coming soon…
Go Go Tohokuさんの投稿 2017年8月19日土曜日
Kamo aquarium: 〒997-1206 Yamagata-ken, Tsuruoka-shi, Imaizumi, Okubo−６５７−１
Nishinohama campsite: Nishinohama-2-62 Fukura, Yuza, Akumi District, Yamagata Prefecture 999-8521
Yunohama beach: 〒997-1201 Yamagata Prefecture, Tsuruoka, 湯野浜浜泉
Yura coast: 2 Chome-14-53 Yura, Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata-ken 999-7464
Honjo Marina Beach: Tajiri Ishiwaki, Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture 015-0011
Akita city: 7 Chome-1-2 Nakadōri, Akita-shi, Akita-ken 010-0001
Senshu-koen: 1 Senshūkōen, Akita-shi, Akita-ken 010-0876
Katsurahama beach: 〒010-1654 Akita-ken, Akita-shi, Hamada, Takinoura, 秋田県秋田市浜田境川
Detohama beach: 〒010-0201 Akita Prefecture, Katagami, 天王下浜山
Kamo aquarium website: http://kamo-kurage.jp/
Nishinohama campsite website: ishihama-cottage.com
Yunohama beach website: yunohamaonsen.com
Honjo Marina Beach website: yurihonjo-kanko.jp
Senshu-koen park website: city.akita.lg.jp