In part one of my Akita journey, I discovered the brilliant red and gold colours of this autumnal prefecture. On my second day of cycling in Akita, the palette expanded to the cool blues and greens of Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake.
At a depth of 423 metres, Lake Tazawa would easily swallow up Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower. It was created almost 1.4 million years ago by an explosive volcanic eruption. Nowadays, the lake is a much more serene place, its tranquil waters lying beneath snow-capped hills.
The beautiful lake is an obvious tourist attraction, but it’s the loop road around it that interested us. The local governments want to promote this part of Akita Prefecture to visiting cyclists, and they invited us to sample this section of the route.
Unfortunately, we awoke to dark skies and steady rain. Due to media obligations, our tour group took the bus to Lake Tazawa from our accommodation in Kakunodate. On another day, we could’ve easily ridden the 20-kilometre distance. On that gloomy morning, we didn’t mind the bus ride.
Thankfully, the cold rain began to dissipate as we lunched at ORAE, a Japanese-Western fusion restaurant overlooking the lake. The grey clouds dispersed, leaving us with crisp autumn temperatures and occasional pockets of warm sunshine. The weather was improving, as if inviting us to hop on our bikes and explore. We were happy to oblige.
Circumnavigating Lake Tazawa
The 20-kilometre road around Lake Tazawa is an idyllic cycling route. It’s virtually flat, aside from a small berg in the south-eastern corner. It could be easily ridden even by people with no cycling experience at all. Indeed, on our trip, a group of travel agents navigated the road on rental bikes.
Much of the road is lined with tall, pencil-like trees wreathed in lush green leaves. The first time we emerged from those trees, one word passed the lips of all my riding companions:
After that grey morning, the views across the lake were spectacular. Azure waters stretched across my vision, separated from the blue sky only by an equally beautiful line of mountains. Atop those mountains were the white whispers of early-season snowfall. Framing the whole landscape were those soothing green trees we’d just ridden through.
Not for the first time while cycling in Akita, I enjoyed a view like nothing I’d ever seen from a bicycle saddle.
Despite the relaxing surrounds, I couldn’t help but think how perfect this road was for flatland training. By yourself, it’d be great for time trial efforts. With others, it’d suit a hard group chop-off. Bring your power meter and do your pre-season FTP test here. Sydney lacks a safe, legal and flat venue for time-trial training. I’d love to have an uninterrupted loop like Lake Tazawa in my neighbourhood. (There is one intersection to deal with, but with such little traffic, it’ll hardly be a problem).
Statue and myth of Tatsuko
The most famous landmark around Lake Tazawa is the golden statue of Tatsuko. According to legend, Tatsuko was a beautiful maiden from the local area who prayed to retain her youth and beauty forever. Instead, the gods cursed her by turning her into a dragon. Horrified, the dragon-form Tatsuko jumped into the lake and became its guardian.
Dragon or not, the statue of Tatsuko is a lovely place for a rest. Beside the statue, a traditional wooden shrine stands over the water. I wandered around the shrine, peering directly down into the lake from above.
A lady stood on the shore feeding fish with a bag of grain. Through the crystal-clear water, I watched hundreds of small black fish – Japanese dace, apparently – schooling amid the scattered grain. That was another special moment in a very special place.
Perfect riding afternoons
Instead of returning to the bus, we rode back to Kakunodate via the fun little descent of Mount Katamae Forest Park and the flat rice paddies that characterise the prefecture.
The sun had well and truly come out by now, and it typified our daily experience of Akita’s autumn weather patterns. It’d be dreary in the mornings, with cold rain falling, but then clear up and warm up attractively in the afternoons.
Indeed, it had been pouring with rain on the morning of our ride. We’d attended the formal opening ceremony for the Akita Prefecture bicycle route, which the local governments have named ‘NorthTime Bikeway’. The media and city mayors were in attendance, and they’d wanted to make the most of the photo-op with us foreign cyclists. Instead, they were only able to get a few shots of us circling the carpark, teeth frozen into forced smiles.
I’m not sure how typical this rainy morning/sunny afternoon experience was, but if you’re cycling in Akita, be prepared to wait until after lunch before setting off. If you do, however, you’ll be amply rewarded by these stunning views and wonderful roads.
Click to read Part Three: Climbing Ski Slopes.
Strava: Click the link to view my Strava activity for Lake Tazawa to Kakunodate.
Feature photo by Damian Breach. The author travelled to Akita as a guest of Jams.TV Pty Ltd.