This post is continued from Trip to Tohoku and Nagano in 2013 winter – Part 3, from Ueno to Akita by Akebono
After I got off Akebono at Akita, I was going to ride Resort Shirakami. But it would depart at 8:38 am. I had almost 2 hours. I was looking for somewhere to stay for 2 hours near Akita station in early morning.
Akita Shimin Ichiba (Akita public market)
Akita Shimin Ichiba (Akita public market) is for local Akita people. There are lots of private shops, like seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables, dry stuff, bakery and some restaurant. The most important things for me is that some restaurants are open in early morning. This was perfect for my breakfast.
I supposed to eat noodles but it was not open yet at 7:00. I gave up noodles and entered the next door. It was Japanese eatery, Ajitoshi Shokudo (味利食堂). I wanted to eat heavy food in such an early morning. Because I had jet lag.
There were so many items on the menu, probably more than 100. I chose Tendon (tempura on the rice). Taste is not super tasty but it was good. I was very happy to eat regular menu in early morning. This eatery open at 5:30. People who work in the market start to work in super early morning. So they need a power breakfast.
After I finished a breakfast, I walked around in the market. I did not intend to buy something to eat. But I found some pastries sold at half price. It was one day old, but quality was completely no problem.
I got two pastries at less than 100 yen. I would eat it in Resort Shirakami.
This market is originally for local people but it is very interesting for tourists too. If you look for somewhere to visit near Akita station for a couple of hours, I recommend you to visit this market. It is just 10 minutes away from Akita station west exit.
This station is the biggest station in Akita. But it is not a big terminal station, like Tokyo or Osaka. You can get English station map at JR East official site.
There are 4 platforms and two different types of trains, conventional line trains and Akita Shinkansen’s train share these platforms. The trains do not run very often at Akita station. So as long as you follow the sign, you cannot miss it.
There are three ticket gates. But two of these threes, Metropolitan gate and Topico gate connect to hotel (Metropolitan hotel) and shopping complex (Topico). These two gates are used basically for local passengers. You can use main ticket gate (east and west exit).
Trip to Hirosaki from Akita by Resort Shirakami
Resort Shirakami is one of the trains on my wish list. I wanted to take the newest hybrid fleet HB-E300 series. But this time, I could take regular KIHA-40 series Kumagera formation. It consists of 4 cars. One of these four cars are semi-compartment seat. Seat layout is perfect for family and group. I had an ordinary seat. Seat layout is 2+2 as usual. But leg space is huge. It is 1200 mm seat pitch. It is much bigger than Shinkansen! My height is 184cm (6’2″). It was much space left in my leg room! I put several pictures of interior and exterior below. You can find more info about Resort Shirakami at Rail cruising in UNESCO World Heritage Shirakami mountains by Rapid train Resort Shirakami.
Even though I travelled in shoulder season, I expected many passengers on Resort Shirakami. But it was almost empty. When the train departed from Akita station at 8:25, there were another 4 passengers in car #4. But they did not look like travellers obviously. As I expected, they got off at Moritake station before this train went through Gono line with one of the best scenery. Since then, I was only passenger until train arrived at Goshogawara station.
It was sunny and beautiful day. I could not find anything to complain. I expected stormy weather, grey sky and angry Sea of Japan. I chatted with on board sales clerk. he said that day was one of the best day in the winter. He also said that Resort Shirakami is almost full in summer time but almost empty in winter time. This train runs on weekend only in winter time. But I could not find any reason that this train need to be operated in winter time. I checked other 3 cars. I could find only five more passengers in 4 cars formation.
Resort Shirakami run very slowly at two locations with nice view. We cannot get off the train, but we can see the beautiful seashore lines and very interesting shape rocks.
Unfortunately I did not have any time to get off or stay on Gono line in this trip. But there are some hot springs, Wespa Tsubakiyama station and Furofushi onsen near Fukaura station. They have nice hot springs with gorgeous Sea of Japan view and tasty local seafood. If you have an opportunity to travel in this area, consider these places to stay.
And also Gono line goes along UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakani Mountains. It is not accessible to the core of Shirakami Mountains from Gono line’s stations. But if you get off at Juniko station, you can see deep blue pond, Aoike. This place is not in Shirakami mountains but it may be considerable to stop and see when you travel on Gono line by Resort Shirakami.
In Resort Shirakami, you may have an experience of Tsugaru Shamisen (three-stringed Japanese guitar) and Tsugaru Kataribe (Local storyteller). Shamisen is performed in Resort Shirakami #1 and #2 between Ajigasawa and Goshogawara when I took this train. Kataribe is performed in Resort Shirakami #1 between Mutsu-Tsuruta and Kawabe on Sat, Sun and holidays. I think it is very hard to understand storyteller. But you can enjoy Shamisen performance. When I was on Resort Shirakami, they played shamisen in my car. When they started to play, some passengers came from other cars. But when they finished to play second song, I was only audience. I joined them to sing it with their shamisen perfomance. 🙂
At Goshogawara station, other passenger got into car #1. It had been for a long time to see other passenger on my car, #1. I din not have a time to get off at Goshogawara station. There is local private line, Tsugaru Railway. They operate Stove train during winter time. It is so popular for the tourist. I was very interesting in it. But it is still on my wish list.
When weather is good, Mt. Iwaki can be seen at right side from Akita to Hirosaki/Aomori. When we travel by this train from Akita, beautiful seashore line is always left side. Only Mt. Iwaki is that we need to see on right side. When you book this train, seat A or B is ocean side. It is same for either way to Aomori/Hirosaki or Akita.
Resort Shirakami arrive at Hirosaki on time. It was 12:45 and I was on board more than 4 hours trip from Akita. But weather was perfect and I really enjoyed that train.
Continue to Trip to Tohoku and Nagano in 2013 winter – Part 5, from Hirosaki to Kakunodate by Tsugaru and Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway
I will be staying in Sendai from 18 – 26 Dec and I would like to take the Resort Shirokami during this period.
It seems that the earliest Komachi shinkansen departs Sendai at 6.40am and only reaches Akita at 9.32am. If that is the case, am I right to say that there is no way to take the morning (~8am) Resort Shirakami trains, barring an overnight stay in Akita? I noticed that you had to take the overnight Akebono to be able to board the morning train in this article, but that is of course not an option for me. Still, I would like to avoid taking the afternoon (~2pm) trains if possible, as I am afraid that it would become dark halfway through the ride, leaving me unable to enjoy the sights of the Gono line.
I am prepared to stay overnight in Akita. However you also mentioned in another comment that inclement weather causes frequent disruptions on the Gono line, which makes it risky for me to pick a set date in advance to take Resort Shirakami. My original plan was to mitigate the risk by simply looking at the weather forecast while I am in Sendai and pick a nice, clear day to take a day trip to Akita.
You also mentioned that Resort Shirakami is almost empty during the winter months and full in the summer, is there a particular reason for this?
Unfortunately there is no ways to take a morning departure Resort Shirakami as day trip from Sendai. As you think, you have to stay overnight in Akita or taking an afternoon departure. Even if you take Resort Shirakami from Aomori, you cannot get there by morning departure time either.
You can book a hotel after you arrive in Sendai. Check the forecast and pick a good weather day, and make a booking hotel and a ticket for Resort Shirakami.
Summer season is better weather and risk is very low. However winter season has been busier than before because number of foreign tourists has been significantly increasing. I haven’t taken Resort Shirakami since I took 5 years ago. But I heard it’s much busier than before now.
Just for your info, overnight train Akebono was discontinued. Most of overnight trains were discontinued in Japan due to low demand.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
Thanks for your detailed information about Resort Shirakami. About my experience aboard the Resort Shirakami today, I would like to share it with you.
23rd Dec, Sunday was the day I planned to take the train. I reserved my seat on 19th Dec, 5 days in advance. Actually, the counter staff informed me that Resort Shirokami is extremely popular at this time of the year. The most scenic ‘A’ seats were unfortunately already reserved, leaving only the ‘B’ seats.
I was determined to take the 8.20 morning Resort Shirokami #1 train. I stayed one night in Morioka, took the Tazawako line to Omagiri at 5am, then transferred to the Ou line to Akita. Many people boarded the Resort Shirakami at Akita. When the train departed, I walked down the length and saw that about half the seats were already filled, including the ‘C’ and ‘D’ seats. Many of the passengers did not alight proper until around the stops before Ajigasawa.
23rd Dec was a cloudy, overcast day. The the route was mostly devoid of ground snow until Kita-Kanegasawa. But the visibility was very good. Even though I was in a ‘B’ seat and it was not a very bright day, I could still see the distant bays, rock formations and cliffs, and also Mount Iwaki very clearly, with its brilliant white peak rising through a sea of clouds, making it look very majestic.
At a few stops, the Resort Shirakami would stop for about 2 – 3 minutes, at which point many people would get off. I learnt that they were sightseeing the stations themselves, taking pictures of the surroundings and getting their commemorative stamp pads filled. The train conductor would signal with a whistle when it was time to get back inside. There were some interesting stations, such as one full of basketball paraphernalia.
At Ajigasawa station, a pair of shamisen players boarded and started playing at car #1, where I was seated. A big crowd converged at the gallery where they were playing, although they soon dispersed after taking pictures.
As I was relaxing in my seat, listening to the shamisen players, with their emotive strumming contrasting against the rhythmic mechanical percussion of the train rumbling across the tracks, I gazed out at the rolling backdrop of the Sea of Japan on the left and the white winter landscape of Aomori, with Mount Iwaki towering over the clouds in the distance on the right. It was quite an experience. I imagine that it would be even more immersive had I had the entire car to myself, like you had. To be honest, I was a little envious that you had the opportunity to take the Resort Shirokami when it was devoid of passengers.
I did not end up taking many pictures of the scenery, mainly because it was difficult to do so from a ‘B’ seat and I did not want to bother my seating partner. The viewing galleries at the ends of the trains were packed with people and so was the bar at the centre. Because I did not expect the Resort Shirakami to be so popular, I did not make proper preparations. Next time, if I had the opportunity to take Resort Shirakami again at this time of the year, I would definitely try to reserve much earlier and strive for an ‘A’ seat.
This concludes my report of my ride on the Resort Shirakami. I hope this information was useful to you.
Thanks for sharing your experience. I have never taken this train in this season. So it is very valuable information for me. I think Resort Shirakami is much more popular than when I rided.
I will suggest a reader to make a booking as soon as possible.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
Thank you Paul for sharing your detailed experience on board the Resort Shirakami! Your additional information is much appreciated!
I needed some help. I am travelling with my parents and children. Total 7 of us and travelling mid December (15-17). We are looking at staying in between the Gono line before leaving for Aomori and Hakodate. Any good recomendations for a nice walkabout in the town or nearby? I plan to take the afternoon train so we would be reaching the hotel in the afternoon.
Actually I do not recommend you to stay somewhere on Gono line. Because in winter time, trains on Gono line are suspended very often due to high wind or heavy snow. In case that Gono line is closed, you may no be able to move anywhere. Some hotels offer the bus to Aomori or Akita but others do not. Even if you get a bus service, you may have to rearrange your trip plan. It may be troublesome.
You may put traveling on Gono line but I recommend you to just travel through on this line.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
Thank you so much Takeshi for your input. In that case I shall take the Gono Line another time. However, can you help suggest another scenic railway for us. Tsugaru line perhaps or any other that has beautiful winter scene from the train with a 1 night stay in, preferably. Thank you
It’s hard to say. Because most scenic lines go along coastline and these have same risk as Gono line. Probably Hachinohe line is considerable. This line goes from Hashinohe to Kuji along the coast of Pacific Ocean. You also can take the train from Kuji to Miyako by Sanriku railway. You can stay in Miyako.
If you stay in Miyako, you can access there from Morioka. It is more accessible than some points on Gono line.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
Thank you for your reply. Really appreciate it. However, I was hoping for some action in the beautiful white winter scenery. It is too bad if our timing is not suitable.
How about lake towada area? Suitable for a 1 night stop before going to Hakodate? Which better scenery? Lake towada or Hachinohe area?
The bus to Lake Towada does not run in winter time. You can see the winter scenery on Hachinohe line and Sanriku railway to Miyako too. The link below is in Japanese but you can find how beautiful Miyako is in winter time.
You can see the winter scenery everywhere in Tohoku region during winter time.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
I’m interested in travelling from Akita to Hirosaki via Gono Line to view the spectacular landscapes as mentioned in your article. Can you advice if I Should stopover at Noshiro or one of the areas along the way for a night? Any recommendations? I’m not sure how long the Gono line train journey is from Akita to Hirosaki. If more than 5 hours it’ll too long I feel. Appreciate your comments! 🙂
It is 5 hours train trip. Please see the link below to find the timetable:
If you make a stopover, Noshiro is not a good place. It is just a small town and not very closed to shoreline. Juniko, Fukaura, Senjojiki are recommended. But once you get off the train, you have to spend at least 2 hours. Train does not run very frequently on Gono line.
Takeshi / JPRail
Thank you so much for the details, they are awesome! Will check out the places you mentioned.
Just to check also, can I hop in/ hop out the Resort Shirakami train or I have to stay on board the same coach throughout the journey? Example if I stop at one of the three places you mentioned and stay a night, am I able to catch a train back to Hirosaki the next day? I have purchased JR pass.
You have to book a seat train by train. All seats are reserved if you take Resort Shirakami. You cannot take this train without reservation. So you need reserved seat tickets for each segment. You have to decide which place you get off in advance. Some stations do not have reservation window. You have to book all seats in advance.
There are some local trains running on Gono line. You can take this train without reservation. But the interior of train is not like Resort Shirakami. If you are interested in a local train, please use hyperdia to find the train schedule:
Takeshi / JPRail.com
Many thanks for the thorough explaination, it really helps!
I will study the schedule.
Thanks a lot again!
No worries, Hui.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
I’m planning to travel Tokyo-Akita, stop overnight in Akita and take the Resort Shirakami the next day to Aomori.
Time of travel : mid March 2017.
My question is does the train run daily or only specific days? This information is important as I’m planning the time and date of travel.
I’ll be using the JR East pass. Is the journey covered as some parts go on the Gono Line.
Operation dates in March, 2017 will be released in late January. In 2016, it ran only weekend. Please see the link below to find 2016 schedule. I think it will run by same pattern as 2016.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
If the dates are the same, I may be able to travel on 18/3/2017 Fri.
Please come back to my site in late January. I will update 2017 spring seasonal train schedule. You will find the exact schedule.
Takeshi / JPRail.com
[…] a rail fan site review (and I recommend jprail.com for research from the fan point of view). https://jprail.com/travel-information…shirakami.html A second train that is nice in Kyushu is the […]
When I went on Resort Shirakami, I was the only person in my car (car 1). There were two other people on the train. As you know, I disembarked at Ajigasawa. It is an interesting town. Supposedly, it is famous for the quality of salt, and a crumbed chicken dish called “Chicken-bo” (チーケンボー) sold from a place across the road from the station. Maybe most travellers intend to go to Shirakami-sanchi, and in winter it is too hard to do.
I like Akita too. There are many tasty restaurants around Akita station area. Last time I was there, I stayed in Toyoko Inn next to the station, and watched for the arrival of Akebono and Twilight Express.
When I went on stove train (Dec 1), I met local Rotary Club chairperson. The Rotary Club is a big sponsor of Tsugaru Railway. He worked in Australia for ten years with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. I learned a lot about Goshogawara/Tsugaru area, and was treated to squid cooked on the stove, local sake and udon at Tsugaru Nakasato Station. I also received a free return trip. With a big gap in time before next Gono Line train, they also drove me back to Aomori in their car. I have very fond memories of the Goshogawara area :).
Sometime, I would like to visit Shirakami-sanchi in full, and Osorezan on Shimokita Peninsula.
I really want to try Chicken-bo! 🙂
Takeshi / JP Rail