Kakunodate was a small town located in the Semboku District of Akita Prefecture in Japan. Although it was merged with the town of Tazawako and Nishiki to create the city of Semboku in 2005, the area still remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620.
The town originated as a castle town with two distinct areas, the samurai district and the merchant district. Although Kakunodate Castle no longer exists, the city still has some of the best examples of samurai architecture in Japan. The samurai houses are located along Bukeyashiki Street (Samurai House Street) and some are open to the public for viewing. Among the houses open to the public are the Aoyagi House, the Ishiguro House, the Odano House, the Kawarada House, the Iwahashi House and the Matsumoto House. These houses are free to tour with the exception of the Aoyagi House and the Ishiguro House which charges a nominal entrance fee. Touring these homes is fascinating as doing so gives the visitor a fascinating insight into the life of the samurai.
Kakunodate is also famous for the hundreds of weeping shidarezakura (cherry trees) which attract large crowds to the city around late April and early May. These trees were imported from Kyoto and as a result the town was sometimes referred to as the little Kyoto of Tohoku.
The town plays host to several festivals as well. In February there is the Kamifuusen Age (the Paper Balloon Festival). Dating back to more than a century, the festival features large decorated paper balloons that are lit and allowed to float off into the evening sky. Also in February, the Fire and Snow Festival takes place during the course of two days. It is a purification ritual of types where people twirl flaming pieces of straw on a string above their heads.
If you yearn to get a glimpse of feudal Japan, please do make a note of visiting Kakunodate. It is relatively easy to reach Kakunodate using the Akita Shinkansen Komachi from Tokyo. The journey takes roughly 4 hours but please note that seats on the Komachi trains are all reserved and must be booked in advance.