Just one train station away from JR Tazawako Station, there lies this former castle town and samurai stronghold – Kakunodate. Although Kakunodate Castle is no longer there, you can still visit the old street lined with sakura trees and samurai mansions. This small town is actually a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing in Japan. In spring time, over 150 weeping cherry trees bloom in the samurai district and not so far away, you will find two kilometers of Somei Yoshino cherry trees lined along the Hinokinai-gawa River, perfect for a hanami picnic.
We visited Kakunodate at the end of October as the first stop before travelling to Nyuto Onsen, so the cherry trees and maple trees were starting to change color from green to red. The town is small and charming and you can stroll around from one end to another within half a day.
Kakunodate’s samurai district is regarded as one of the best examples of samurai architecture and housing in Japan. There are 6 samurai houses that are open to public. We visited the Aoyagi House which is a large complex completed with beautiful court yards, a torii shrine, museum collections and gift shops. The museum displays are in both English and Japanese and include interesting artifacts from the samurai era. Wooden goods such as small mirrors or jewelry boxes crafted from cherry tree barks are famous souvenir from this region. This is known as kabazaiku and dates back from the samurai era.
Running along the banks of the Tamagawa River, Dakigaeri Valley is reputed to be one of the most beautiful valleys in Japan and is our main reason for visiting Kakunodate in the fall. As a famous autumn foliage spot, this place can be crowded with visitors around October to November.
From the car park entrance, we crossed the red suspension bridge to the beginning of the trail. The path along the river was a railway used for transportation of cedar logs to Jindai. The trail runs twelve-kilometer long and is easy enough for all family members. It was a lovely stroll through the fall forests along the azure river.
We went in for about four kilometers crossing a bridge and through a tunnel just to reach the beautiful waterfall. We had to turn back at the waterfall because the trail was closed. You walk in and take the same way out so better time your journey with the bus schedule or you will be waiting for the next one.
Getting to Dakigaeri Valley
You can take a bus or a taxi from Kakunodate town to Dakigaeri Valley. The shuttle bus runs hourly during the fall foliage season so check with the hotel when you are there. The 15-minute taxi ride costs around 3,000 yen one way.
Time to Visit
Spring – late April – early May is the best time for cherry blossom viewing
Autumn – the leaves start to turn colour in late October and probably will reach their peak in November. When we were there at the end of October the gorge was multi colour but the town was still pretty green.
Getting There and Around
From Tokyo – Kakunodate is also a Shinkansen station, right after JR Tazawako Station. The Shinkansen ride from Tokyo Station is about 3 hours.
From JR Tazawako Station – Just one station away from JR Tazawako Station. This is a perfect day trip or a stop over.