One of the few large cities on the northwest coast of Japan, modern AKITA (秋田) is an important port and industrial centre with access to some of the country’s few domestic oil reserves. Though it was founded in the eighth century, almost nothing of the old city remains and Akita’s few central sites – three contrasting museums – can easily be covered on foot in half a day. With its airport and Shinkansen services, however, Akita makes a convenient base for the region. The small town of Kakunodate, a short train ride to the east, has a preserved street of two-hundred-year-old samurai houses, while you can soak in luxury at Nyūtō Onsen, a group of hot springs at the end of the Sendatsu-gawa valley, 10km northeast of Japan’s deepest lake, Tazawa-ko.

The city of Akita is also home to the last of the great Tōhoku summer festivals, the Kantō Matsuri (Aug 3–6) – though it’s a pleasantly low-key affair compared to events in Sendai and Aomori. During the festival, men parade through the streets balancing tall bamboo poles strung with paper lanterns, which they transfer from their hip to head, hand or shoulder while somehow managing to keep the swaying, top-heavy structure upright.

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