|Ugo in Akita|
|Population||16,298 (as of 2012-04-01)|
|Tree||Japanese Apricot (梅)|
|Flower||Pheasant's Eye (福寿草)|
|Bird||Japanese Bush Warbler (うぐいす)|
|Mayor||Naoyuki Ooe (大江 尚征)|
Ugo (羽後町; -machi) is a town in the south of Akita Prefecture.
During Japan's Meiji era the former Dewa province (出羽国) was realigned into two provinces. Ugo Province (羽後国), which contained some of the northern parts of Yamagata Prefecture as well as all of Akita prefecture, with the exception of Kosaka and Kazuno, and Uzen Province (羽前国), which contained the Majority of Yamagata. The small town of Ugo (羽後町) in Southern Akita is the only remaining municipality bearing the Meiji period name of Akita, although some prefecture-wide companies, parks, shrines, and stations still bear the name Ugo. Ugo is mainly a rice farming town with an estimated population of 17,351 and a density of 75.2 persons per km². The total area is 230.75 km². The town is located in the Ogachi Plain (雄勝野) which is bordered by the Dewa Mountains(出羽山脈) in the west, and the Ou mountains (奥羽山脈) in the East. Ugo, together with Higashinaruse, makes up part of Ogachi County (雄勝郡) (separate from both Yuzawa and Yokote,) although they both maintain their own municipal independence. Ugo is well known in Akita for the annual Bon Dance in Nishimonai. Obligatory "famous" local foods are watermelon, soba, and beef.
Ugo has no train station and is not on the freeway. From Daisen/Semboku/Yokote, you can take the expressway to Yuzawa, and then a right onto Route 398 will take you straight in. Or you can take Route 13 down and save yourself a few hundred yen. If you're coming from Yurihonjō you can enjoy mountains roads the whole way there. Take Route 7 to Route 107 for quite a while then right onto Route 398 at the statue of a man made with old tires, which will take you right into Nishimonai. From Akita City you can take the expressway, go through Honjō, or take Route 13 the whole way down (expressway recommended).
Buses are also available from Yuzawa to Ugo. Simply go to the bus stop in front of Yuzawa Station and take the bus headed to Motonishi Shogakkou (元西小学校) which passes through Miwa and Nishimonai before terminating at Motonishi (¥700 for the whole trip). There are also a few buses a day from Nishimonai to Sendo.
The Nishimonai Bon Odori (西馬音内盆踊り) is a dance held every year August 16-18. It is a symbolic dance to show proper respect and gratefulness to ones deceased ancestors. It is ranked as one of the top 3 bon dances in Japan.
The dance began as a harvest dance in Nishimonai in about 1280. In 1601 the lord of Nishimonai burned his castle after a defeat and the people danced among the ruins to remember their lord. These 2 dances were merged in the late 1700's to form the dance's last incarnation, which, despite attempts to stop it in the early 1900's, continues to this day. It is the biggest festival of the year, drawing people from all over Tohoku. A poorly translated quote from Wikipedia informs us that Nishimonai's bon dance is one of three bon dances in Tohoku, all of which are "important intangible ethnic custom cultural assets."
The week before the festival all of the shops on the Bon Odori street open up and display the traditional Hanui (端縫) Patchwork Kimonos, the Amigasa (あみがさ) hats and the Hikosa Zukin (彦三頭巾) masks.
The shops and food stands open at around 5. The dance begins as the sun goes down and continues until about 11. Make sure to ask the local beer and sake vendors if they have any samples of homemade sake (濁酒; doboroku) and they are usually more than willing to share with foreigners.
The annual Yukitopia Festival (ゆきとぴあ七曲) takes places on the last Saturday and Sunday of January. A horse drawn carriage follows set course through Nishimonai, Motonishi, and all the way up the Nana Magari mountain road, crossing into Tashiro. The Road is lined with small lanterns made from snow. Very atmospheric, if a little bit boring.
Ugo's Moe Campaign
After many long hours of brain storming and planning Ugo came up with an idea to boost the towns slowly dwindling revenue stream. What seemed like a last ditch hair-brained scheme more than a solid plan, from a financial point of view has has been paying off in the short term. Ugo hired several well known Japanese manga artists to design logos for various agricultural products, and local traditions/shops.
It started with an illustration contest to decide who would design the logo on a bag of Ugo Akita Komachi. The contest brought thousands of people to Ugo in hopes of having their illustrations on a widely distributed agricultural product. After all of the submissions were in, the town decided to contract graphic novelist Aoi Nishimata (西又葵). After the initial success, illustrations were planned spread to posters and ads for the yearly Bon Odori, then shochu, strawberries, watermelon, and even freezer packs of Ugo Beef Curry.
Ugo has seen significant economic upturn because of this campaign. The relative limited nature of these products has led to increased internet sales, shipping all over the country from Hokkaido to Okinawa, as well as an upturn in inter-prefecture tourism. The contribution from otaku all over Japan has given Ugo town the funds to finally renovate Ugo Junior High School which has been in desperate need of repairs for about a decade.
At some point the town had an illustrator create a fictional Ugo world called Ugoisu. The main mascot is a little girl named Kayatan whose outfit resembles Ugo's historic Suzuki home. She rides around town on Ugoisu, a large bush warbler (Ugo's town bird). You can even get an Ugoisu world map at Ugo's town hall.
Ugo is split into 7 distinct wards, all of which have their own economic and cultural specializations.
- Nishimonai (西馬音内) is the cultural and economic hub of the town and is home to most of the residents. Nishimonai is also home to the majority of restaurants, shops, drinking establishments, and some small parks. Every August the town's most famous festival, the Nishimonai Bon Odori, is held on the streets in the center of town. Although there are many theories as to the exact origin of the name, the current name "Nishimonai" is thought to come from the Ainu "nippa un nai" meaining "the valley/delta of the gushing/rolling clouds"
- Miwa (三輪) is the second largest district in Ugo and is home to one or two small soba shops. It also houses Miwa Suga Jinjya, the oldest and most important shrine in town, which was said to have been built from the ruins of Ogachi Castle.
- Motonishi (元西) Mostly a residential area, although there are some shops, and some sights to see.
- Niinari (新成) is, much like all of Ugo, heavy with farms. However, it is also the home of Arcadia park as well as the only onsen in Ugo.
- Meiji (明治), Sendō (仙道), and Tashiro (田代) are all pretty much exclusively residential and farming areas, however there are some sights to see like secluded shrines and temples, agricultural co-ops, and lots and lots of rice fields.
- Ugo High School (秋田県立羽後高等学校)
Junior high schools
- Ugo Junior High School (羽後中学校)
- Nishimonai Elementary School (西馬音内小学校)
- Miwa Elementary School (三輪小学校)
- Ugo Meisei Elementary School (羽後明成小学校)
- Takase Elementary School (高瀬小学校) - shares the same name as a former Yurihonjo school
Board of Education The Ugo Board of Education is located on the 5th floor of the Town Hall.
- Nana Magari Mountain Road (七曲峠). A seriously windy Mountain path that leads over the branch of the Dewa mountains that cuts across the western third of Ugo. It leads from Motonishi into Tashiro, and is a popular challenge for cyclists. There are multiple areas to stop and take in the natural beauty as well as spring water.
- Long Life Water (長命水). Ugo's mountain spring water. 3/4 of the way up the Nana Magari mountain road you will see a small stone basin, a few stumps for sitting, and a long bamboo tube that comes down out of the dense trees on the mountain. Apparently this water prolongs life, and one look at the population of Ugo seems to confirm this.
- Suzuki Home (鈴木家). The oldest house in Akita prefecture. The main part of the house was built in the first half of the 17th century. The gate house being finished by 1733.
- Gorinzaka (五輪坂). A beautiful park complex Located in Nishimonai and Niinari. The is a small golf course with driving range (which doubles as a ski slope in the winter,) lots of picnic and party area, and beautiful pond, as well as the Toshitoland spa and restaurant building.
Shrines and temples
- Miwa Suga Jinja (三輪須賀神社). The oldest and most important shrine in Ugo. It was dedicated in 754. The main Building of this shrine was built in the Muromachi era with several others having been added over the following 400 years. Like most shrines in Ugo this shrine is surrounded by many cedar trees.
- Taihei Mountain-top Shrine (太平山神社). A 15 minute car ride and a 25 minute hike over a well worn mountain trail with many wooden stairs will bring you to the shrine at the top of Ugo's tiny Mt. Taihei. The shrine provides a sweeping view of southern Akita from Yuzawa all the way to Daisen. Especially recommended in Fall.
- Nishimonai Ontake Shrine (西馬音内御嶽神社). Located next to the Nishimonai post office, this is Nishimonai's main shrine. It it located in the center of a stand of tall cedars.
Don't expect any nationwide or even regional chains. However, there are plenty of good local places to eat.
- Kitchen House Fukuro no Mori (ふくろの杜). On Highway 398 next to the coin laundry. A family style restaurant. The only real place to go if you want hamburger. They also have curry ... not really recommended.
- Ohzan (桜山). The high class restaurant in town, and a shining example of southern Akita. The owner and head chef are very particular about the food they serve, and are very creative with the decor, atmosphere and recipes. During each course the chef will come out and explain how each dish is prepared. Ohzan also has a INCREDIBLE sake selection. The food is amazing, and the building is a beautiful old/new fusion. Pricey, but totally worth it. Typical menu: Seaweed salad topped with Hokkaido sea urchin. Fried flounder beer battered using local beer. Okinawa beef soy milk shabu shabu. Mixed salad with fresh yellow tail. Salmon and mushrooms wrapped in two thin sheets of Akita cedar and steamed. Rice with salmon roe and cucumbers, and mushroom miso soup. A single scoop of hand made sherbet.
- Ohzan Cafe de Imane. Owned and run by the same staff as Ohzan restaurant. Same attention to quality and detail as Ohzan, but in a less expensive European style cafe. The cafe is located in the backyard Japanese garden area of the Ohzan restaurant, in a 200 year old Japanese style house. You often see the head chef playing with his 2 German Shepherds in the back yard. The coffees are a welcome respite from the canned and instant nonsense so abound in this country, and the homemade breads and sweets are top notch. (best croissant I've had in Akita.) It's still a bit pricey but you can get a GENEROUS(seriously) amount of coffee and a homemade croissant for about 1000yen. (they also have sandwiches and a good selection of black teas) The atmosphere is very relaxed and the scenery is gorgeous. Here is Ohzan and Ohzan Cafe's baller-ass website: 桜山
Soba is the signature dish of Ugo.
- Yasuke (弥助). The origins of Nishimonai soba began in this restaurant with soba brought up from Osaka. Both the hot and cold soba are amazing. The Hiya Gake set and the Nabeyaki Udon (winter only) are highly recommended. Although it fell out of favorite status about 10 years ago, the ALTs much prefer this soba to the traditional favorite.
- Matsuya (松屋). Widely regarded as the best soba in town.
- Hikosa (彦三). Almost impossible to find due to lack of sign, yet very delicious. If you come to Ugo's bonodori, Hikosa sets up in an old clothing shop for the day, close to the entrance to the festival street. You can watch the master preparing the soba just out front.
- Haseyama (長谷山). Home of Nishyoku soba, which is available only on holidays and weekends, but is quite delicious. The master here is very finicky with his soba and is constantly trying new things. He is also very proud of it so he will be sure to tell you all of the new things he's trying.
- Shinta (信太). Located across from the Miwa branch post office, this is Miwa's premiere soba shop. Tenzaru soba is the top recommendation here.
- Maruni (丸二) Very fresh and generously cut sushi, and killer bentos.
- Kitayama (喜多山).
- Pekin (北京). This place is a kind of hard to find. It's on one of the side streets behind Ugo Hospital.
- Iizuka (飯塚). Located just around the corner from the Bazaar, this small stop has a pretty extensive menu featuring tons of varieties of ramen, soba, and udon, as well as donburi, and some seasonal stuff.
- Maruei (丸栄).
Ugo has no real pubs or bars. There are a number of snack bars in town, if that's what you're into.
- Matsuri (まつり). Typical Izakaya, less than typical space. If you have more than a few people, you'll want to call ahead.
- Tan Tan (淡淡). Izakaya which has an amazing happy hour, 5-7pm ¥200 beers. Very foreigner friendly.
- Kawaradakan (川原田館). Very nice traditional izakaya, which means very expensive.
- Kashiwagi (柏木). Typical small town izakaya. The couple that runs it are very nice.
- Aon (あおん). Another typical izakaya.
- Toshitoland (としとらんど). Ugo's only onsen. It has one main bath, one small rotenburo, and a sauna. It also has a restaurant on the 2nd floor (everyone will tell you to try the Ugo beef). The first floor where you pay for the bath also has an extensive omiyage shop. Its just up the road from Ugo's town hall. Open 8am-10pm, ¥400, (¥300 after 5pm). Toshitoland also has small cabins available for rent as well as a golf driving range that is converted to ski slope in the winter.
- MaxValue large supermarket run by AEON
- Homac home supplies and hardware store
- Bazaar small supermarket in th center of Nishimonai
- Michi no eki built in 2016, the blue building next to Ugo Town hall. Sells locally grown fruit and vegetables, omiyage and Nishimonai Bon Odori memorabilia. Also has a small soba restaurant and gelato store.
- Ugomachi official website (Japanese).
|Northern Akita||Fujisato • Happō • Kamikoani • Kazuno • Kitaakita • Kosaka • Mitane • Noshiro • Ōdate|
|Central Akita||Akita City • Gojōme • Hachirōgata • Ikawa • Katagami • Oga • Ōgata • Semboku|
|Southern Akita||Daisen • Higashinaruse • Misato • Nikaho • Ugo • Yokote • Yurihonjō • Yuzawa|