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Ride a railbike, slurp some soba, and spend time with Akita dogs in northern Japan

If you’re a dog lover or are interested in riding a rail bike, then Odate City in Akita prefecture should be on your must-visit list. Noodle lovers, too, will likely warm to the city’s charms – soba noodles are a major part of the food culture here.

Make your own soba noodles or tanpo at The Cheerful Mother shop

The Cheerful Mother

Drive approximately 10 kilometers south of Odate Station and you’ll find Youkina Okaasan (Cheerful Mother), a shop that specializes in local produce and fruits. With prominent signage and an endearing logo, you can’t miss it. The shop is divided into two sections: the product-selling area, and a smaller building that serves as a classroom for teaching visitors how to make soba noodles and tanpo (a kind of sausage-shaped rice snack). As you enter the main building, you’ll notice a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The bright colors of the different vegetables conjure a fresh, visually striking image.

Cheerful Mother proprietor Kazuko Ishigaki

The Cheerful Mother moniker takes its inspiration from Kazuko Ishigaki, the ever-smiling proprietor. “These pears are the northernmost pears grown in Japan that maintain their sweetness,” she says, pointing toward a heaving pile of Japanese pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) near the entrance. After taking a bite, it’s hard to disagree. The shop also sells ready-made tanpo, takeout lunch boxes, and assorted fruit juices, including a delicious 100% apple juice made with fruit from local orchards. The difference in taste between the locally produced product and well-known commercial brands is striking.

100% apple juice made in Odate

In addition to kiritanpo and Akita Komachi rice, the Odate area is also famous for soba (buckwheat) noodles. Kazuko explains that making soba noodles requires a delicate hand to ensure an even texture when cooked. Guests can try their hand at making their own noodles under Kazuko’s tutelage, which is both informative and fun.

Enjoying both cold and hot varieties of soba at The Cheerful Mother

It’s customary to eat the cold noodles first, testing a strand for taste before slurping the rest with dipping sauce. Unlike the store-bought versions of soba available in supermarkets, the soba created here has a much chewier texture and brims with freshness.

Homemade soba noodles

The noodles are served with several pieces of tempura, which help balance the noodles’ consistency. The hot version includes a delicious broth with soy sauce flavoring that warms the heart and is perfect for eating on a cold day.

Youkina Okaasan (Cheerful Mother)
97-1 Aza Ienoushiro, Magata, Odate, Akita
Business hours:9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Closed:Tuesdays (January and February only)
Fees:2,200 yen for soba-making; 2,750 yen for kiritanpo-making (tax included)
Requirements:Reservations must be made in advance by email (groups of four or more only)
Email:[email protected]
Languages available:Japanese

Youkina Okaasan (Cheerful Mother)

See the local area on a railbike

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