Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Oga is a really cool city with lots to do. I decided to spend a day driving around and checking out all of the sites. I didn't get to it all - but that means I'll just have to come back!
I was coming from Northern Akita, so this was my route around Oga for the day.
Namahage Museum -> Shinzan Shrine -> Unshoji -> GAO Oga Aquarium -> Akigami Shrine Goshado Yohaiden -> Godzilla Rock
I love Namahage. They are the mountain ogres of Oga. There are a couple of legends about them, depending on the village where the story originates, but the Namahage in general are seen a symbol of Akita. The Namahage festival is in February. I had a the pleasure of going last year, and I can assure you that yes, small children are most definitely scared of Namahage. But then again, they are screaming at the kids, asking if they are good kids.
The museum is small but reasonably priced. You can purchase admission, along with a ticket to see a show in the house. The museum has a fair amount of English in it that allows for visitors who aren't nearly as fluent in Japanese to also enjoy learning about the history of the mountain ogre. There is a room with all the masks of the different small villages that makes up modern Oga city. That alone, in my opinion, is worth the admission fee.
The show is an example of what the Namahage festival used to be. People dressed like Namahage would go to people's houses, where the master of the house would speak about his family and how well they are behaving. One legend is that the Namahage will take away bad children. A traditional meal is served to the Namahage, who speak in loud voices that are deep and fill the room. (Think kind of like a Batman voice.) It's really neat experience to be almost like a fly on the wall watching a Namahage visitation.
I got the "Woman's English Explanation" of what was going on, and I'm very curious to see if the "Man's English Explanation" is different.
Afterwards, you can walk around grounds, which has a cute little cafe and shop run by a sweet woman. It's located right next to the bottom of the Shinzan Shrine grounds, where the Namahage festival is held.
I got a goushuin here, after a quick prayer at the shrine. They had a Namahage goushuin book here that I was extremely tempted to purchase, but I told myself that I must fill the other two books I have. (I did fill one!)
The shrine is located on a large grounds that have a hiking trail up the mountain. If you go hiking, you can find lots of other little shrines on the way up, and maybe one day, I'll finish the hike. It's the mountain that the Namahage descend from during the Namahage festival, so it was really cool to be able to walk the paths that the Namahage do.
I spent a while here, just enjoying the beauty of the nature and the absence of modern sounds.
While driving to my next destination, I saw a little building. Pulling over to check it out, I found it to be Mantai (10,000) Buddha Statues of Shinzan. It has a bilingual sign at the bottom of it. The story is that it was built by a Buddhist priest in 1794. The Buddha statues inside are to appease the spirits of disciples and children who had passed away.
Unshoji is famous for the hydrangeas that bloom in the spring. While I was not there during hydrangea season. I could see how it is extraordinarily beautiful during the peak. There was a small bamboo grove you could walk through as well.
I didn't spend a whole lot of time there, but it was well worth a visit, even not in peak season.
Akigami Shrine Goshado Yohaiden
One of the legends of the Namahage is that they were mountain ogres that would descend down and take women and supplies by force. The villagers made an agreement with the Namahage that if the Namahage could build 1,000 steps by sunrise, they could stay, but if not, then they have to go.
The Namahage built 999 steps up the mountain, but as they laid the last stone, a villager made the sound of a rooster. Infuriated that they had failed, the Namahage threw away the last step before leaving and never coming back.
These are the shrines at the top of the 999 steps. I cannot confirm if there are 999 steps, because I got to say, I was not counting while huffing my way up the side the mountain, but I can confirm, it's a really cool place to see.
So cool that I was too enraptured by the beauty of it to remember to take photos.
GAO Oga Aquarium
When you go to an aquarium (or zoo) in Japan, do not expect the same type of experience as you would find in America at all. Things are generally smaller and have more animals in it. But the GAO Aquarium was very educational for children, and since I was there on the Weekend, it made sense that it was filled with families and children. (My favorite kid was one who was very insistent that all the fish were very scary. His mother asked him why, and all he would say is that they were very scary.)
I spent time looking at the Japan Sea aquatic creatures, but walked very quickly past the polar bear. They didn't look too well, and with how hot it was outside that day, it kind of turned my stomach to see them outside with no way of escaping the heat.
I wasn't too thrilled to see how many penguins were in the penguin enclosure, but they at least seemed to have more enrichment and hiding spots.
Godzilla Rock is pretty self-explanatory. Also worth a quick stop to check out and a nice finish to my day in Oga.
If you get a chance to check out Oga in Akita prefecture, I recommend any or all of the places I went. It was amazingly cool to feel the history and culture of Akita in a city I hadn't spent a lot of time in before.