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The old boundaries of Ani Town
Flag of former Ani Town
Sewer covers for Ani Town featuring their famous bears

Ani (阿仁町; -machi) was a town in north-central Akita prefecture which merged with three other towns in March of 2005 to form Kitaakita.

Hamlets in Ani (阿仁):

Despite the merge into Kitaakita, Ani still maintains a local atmosphere as well as its own festivals and charms. Ani Town (阿仁町) itself was formed in 1955 as the merger of Aniai Town (阿仁合町) and Ōani Village (大阿仁村), and the same can be said of both of these areas.

There are several small hamlets across Aniai and Ōani; most are simply a collection of houses and nothing else to speak of.

History

Ani, itself, was the result of a merge between Aniai Town and Ōani Village in 1955. The area had thriving gold, silver, copper, and coal mining industries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but in 1970 the last of these mines closed and as a result, much of the town's economy has disappeared. In 2005, the town disappeared as well in the form of an independent municipality.

Location and Population

Ani is located in the southern part of Kitaakita. The area of Ani is roughly 372km². The population in 2005 was 4,026, giving the former town a population density of only 10.8 persons per km². Ani is rapidly shrinking community as more than 40 percent of the town's residents are over 65 years of age. Between 2000 and 2005, Ani's population decreased 12.4 percent. This was the largest population decrease among all former and current municipalities in Akita prefecture.

Background

In Kitaakita, Ani is the largest of four towns in area, yet the least populated. Ani is the 'backdoor' to Kitaakita as the only way south of Ani is a nauseating and sometimes dangerous drive on Route 105, or a lengthy and costly train ride on the Akita Nairiku Line. Ani has the most nature of any of the towns in Kitaakita, be it mountains, rivers, and wildlife! Indeed, Ani's symbol and claim to fame is the Asiatic Black Bear and the locals who hunt these bears, known as matagi. The name 'Ani,' which is used for the town and nearby river, is rooted in the name of the town's central hamlet, 'Aniai.' 'Aniai' is a word of Ainu origin which was the name used for the area for many centuries.

In southern Ani, around the Hitachinai hamlet and beyond, the Matagi tradition is alive and well even today. Adjacent to the Utto Onsen is the Matagi Museum, a small collection of tools used by the matagi and some bear skins for good measure. Within the onsen is a cafe where one can enjoy some rare, yet costly bear meat raman soup. Further south and away from civilization in southern Ani is the Bear Ranch. Animal rights activists should avoid this place at all costs as you'll find dozens of black bears stuffed together in pins of pure concrete, but do reflect on it a bit and you'll realize that's not much different than living in a apartment complex in central Tokyo. The bear ranch is in a beautiful area and closed in winter. If you're lucky and so desire, you might get the chance to hold and have your photo with a cub, given you can bear the stench and you can keep ahold of the rambunctious critter.

Festivals

Snow Monsters as seen from Ani Ski Resort

Ani Frozen Tree Festival (阿仁の樹氷まつり): mid-January through mid-March

People come from all over the prefecture (particularly from Akita City) to view the snow-blown trees on the peak of Mt. Moriyoshi. With the winds and the snow build-up throughout the winter, snow is cast and stuck onto the trees, making them into snow monsters. To view the trees, on has to take the gondola at Ani Ski Resort. A roundtrip ticket is ¥1,500 for adults. However, the trees can easily be seen if you're at the resort just for skiing or snowboarding.
Floating of the lanterns at the Ani Fireworks festival

Ani Fireworks: August 16

The Ani Fireworks festival is the largest festival in Ani. While the Omagari Fireworks may be the largest fireworks festival in the prefecture by volume, the sheer proximity of the fireworks along the Kasen River in Aniai is unrivaled. Just before dark, as an Obon tradition, lanterns are floated down the river in front of the audience. After the lantern floating is concluded, and the sun firmly sets, the fireworks begin. You are almost better off lying than sitting, because the fireworks explode almost directly overhead! They are launched from behind the trees across the river, and their reverberations through Ani's many mountains make this a fireworks display that's second to none.
The Akita Nairiku Line runs extra trains on this day, so you can make it back safely and expediently to Takanosu. If you are drinking (or even if you aren't), I recommend the bear-meat stew and the minced croquette as snacks!

Foreigner House Festival (異人館フェスティバル): August 16

This oddly named festival is indeed, an odd festival. The festival isn't celebrating the house of the ALT. Rather, they celebrate the house of German engineers who lived in Aniai during the 19th century. The festival includes German flag decorations around Aniai, German lager beer, children sending lanterns along the Ani River, and fireworks. It brings in a lot of people to an otherwise sleepy hamlet.

Sightseeing Destinations

Foreigner House (異人館; Ijinkan):
Official Homepage (Japanese)

The relics of the mining era can be seen in an old house where German mining engineers once lived. The museum contains several old maps and diagrams, but mildly interesting unless you're really into mining history. The museum is open 10:00-18:00 (until 17:00 from December to February), and is closed on holidays and Mondays. The entry fee is ¥300 for adults.

Ani Ski Resort (阿仁スキー場):

Located on the south side of Mt. Moriyoshi is Ani Ski Resort, one of the best and most easily accessible ski resorts in Akita. Currently, Ani Ski Resort is the only operating Ski Resort on Mt. Moriyoshi, although there used to be Moriyoshi Ski Resort on the opposite side of the mountain. The resort has two lifts and one long, slow gondola. Using the resort's gondola, one can climb to the top of Mt. Moriyoshi in an hour or two. From Ani Ski Resort's gondola, one can also take the Frozen Tree Tour[1] in the winter months, an activity popular among the locals. A one day pass at Ani is ¥3,300 and a four hour pass is ¥2,500 for adults. If you want to take the gondola for mountain climbing or viewing the frozen trees, it is ¥1,500 roundtrip for adults. The resort includes a ski rental shop and cafe.
Your Ani lift tickets are good for a ¥100 discount at Utto Onsen. This is a great way to avoid those sore muscles in the morning!
Yasu Falls

Yasu Falls (安の滝):
See: Yasu-no-Taki Falls

Located past Utto Onsen, this waterfall is located on a hiking course deep in the mountains of Ani. It is one of three famous waterfalls in Kitaakita City, along with Sankai Falls and Doudou Falls. Of these three, Yasu Falls alone was selected as one of the top 100 waterfalls in all Japan. It is one of the must-see nature spots in Kitaakita City. The colors in autumn are splendid, but be careful, because the hiking path to the falls closes in winter!

Kumakuma-en Bear Zoo (くまくまえん):

Located next door to Utto Onsen, this zoo houses many Asian black bears and brown bears. Come see them frolicking in the park (and feed them) in the warmer months. The facility is open from late April to early November, 9:00-16:00. Entrance fees are ¥700 for adults, ¥200 for elementary and junior high school students, and free for toddlers and under.

Onsens

The outdoor bath at Utto Onsen
  • Uttō Onsen (打当温泉)
    秋田県北秋田市阿仁打当字仙北渡道上67
    Open 9:00-22:00, cost ¥400 (¥300 with same-day Ani Ski Resort lift ticket)
    ☎ 0186-84-2612
    website
    Affectionately known as the マタギの湯 ("Bear-hunting Onsen"), this onsen offers two indoor hot pools, with bubble jets in the floor. Additionally, there is a sauna and a cold water bath. The outdoor bath overlooks a nice valley of trees with a river running through the valley bed. Water flows from the mouths of stone bear heads. Soap and shampoo are provided. Strawberry milk is sold at this onsen. You can't drink the strawberry milk inside the actual onsen.

    There are also two small private baths, each reservable for ¥1000 an hour.

    Uttō offers reasonably priced accommodations for anyone who chooses to spend the night. There is also a restaurant that offers breakfast for guests and noodles, tempura and curry for non-guests.

    To get to Uttō Onsen by car, follow Route 105 South from Takanosu about an hour and 10 minutes (if driving the speed limit) to the town of Hitachinai or north from Kakunodate for about an hour. On the southern limits of the town of Hitachinai just south of the Eneos, there is a T-intersection. turn here and follow this road for 7 kilometers. Matagi no Yu will be on your right. If going by Nairikusen, get off at Ani Matagi Station - it's an unmanned station. If you call ahead of time, they will pick you up from the station for free (or you could walk for a while... good luck with that).
    The latest pickup from Ani Matagi is 17:42.
    The latest drop-off back at Ani Matagi is 18:33 for customers bound for Takanosu, and 18:01 for customers bound for Kakunodate.

    The locals are friendly and many of them are named Suzuki.

Restaurants

Kogumatei (こぐま亭)

This restaurant is located in the Aniai Station building. They pride themselves in their rice bowls topped with horse meat and their soy-sauce-flavored ramen. Other menu items include omelette rice, horse meat stew, etc.
Address: 秋田県北秋田市阿仁銀山字下新町119 (inside the Nairikusen station)
Hours: 8:00~16:00
TEL: 0186-82-3666

Takada Shokudo (高田食堂)

This is a local Showa-style Kissaten (Cafe) which offers your standard fare. You can get ramen, udon, tonkatsu, katsudon, curry, etc.
Address: 秋田県北秋田市阿仁銀山字上新町66-1
Hours: 11:30~18:00 (closed Sundays)
TEL: 0186-82-2108

Banrai Sushi (万来寿し)

A sushi restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere, tucked away in a corner of downtown Aniai, that has been in operation for over 50 years. They take pride in their exclusive use of Akita Komachi brand rice. While billed as a sushi restaurant, they also offer horse meat stew, fried chicken, and other izakaya-style menu items. Try the tuna! They also offer take-out sushi platters.
Address: 秋田県北秋田市阿仁銀山字上新町78
Hours: 17:00~23:30 (closed Mondays)
(11:00~14:00 lunch hours on Wednesdays and Fridays)
TEL: 0186-82-3129

Heihachi (平八)

This is an izakaya in front of Aniai Station on the Nairikusen (the Nairikusen HQ). The owners are friendly and will gladly serve you drinks. They offer a selection of mushrooms and mountain vegetables as snacks, although you may have to call ahead of time if you want them to prepare a full meal. They brew their own doburoku, which they may bring out if the night is progressing smoothly.
Address: 秋田県北秋田市阿仁銀山字下新町119
Hours: 17:00~23:00
TEL: 0186-82-3600

Yayoe (やよえ)

The lone karaoke in Ani (or at least in Aniai)! Ani Junior High School often holds parties at this izakaya. They have alcohol but, as with Heihachi, if you don't book ahead of time they may have trouble serving you more than snacks.
Address: 北秋田市阿仁銀山字上新町68

Shopping

Be advised that there are no convenience stores in Ani. The nearest convenience store is Sunkus in Maeda, Moriyoshi.

Ani does have local supermarkets, such as the friendly Minasama no Marui in Aniai, however prices at these local supermarkets are considerably higher than convenience stores and chain supermarkets. Moreover, selection and operating hours are limited.

The closest chain grocery store is the Nicot in Maeda, Moriyoshi, just across the street from the Sunkus.

In Hitachinai, there is a Michi no Eki(road station/rest area) along Route 105. It makes for an excellent stop if passing through on a long road trip. The Michi no Eki has a cafe, local exhibits, and local products for sale (including bear meat).


See also


Kitaakita City
Takanosu • Moriyoshi • Ani • Aikawa