Akitas are calm and steady around the home. They are a utility breed, and are used for guide dogs and most of the things that working dogs are used for.
Historically, they were kept as farm dogs. They were not herding dogs, but they guarded property. They were also used to hunt and tree bears, or corner boars. They would hold them until hunters could reach them. They did this in pairs.
As mentioned above, they are prized for their loyalty.
Akitas were introduced to the US when Helen Keller was gifted an Akita.
There is a crucial split between Japanese and American Akitas, along with several other changes that makes distinguishing them fairly easy, but are less important (in my mind). The Japanese and the American lines are recognized as separate breeds world wide, except for in the United States. The American Akita has a denser bone structure and is a more solid dog. They can be much larger, although that is not the breed standard. The US AKC standard also allows color variations that the Japanese standard does not (such as black on the face, or black anywhere).
Most importantly, the AKC standard allows and even encourages dog aggression in the American Akita. This is a tragedy for the breed. They are wonderful dogs in almost all respects, but a large proportion of them cannot be trusted around other animals. When you consider that dogs are 100 lbs or more, the AKC is actively promoting a dangerous situation for absolutely no reason.
The Japanese Akitas, in contrast, will never have black on their faces, and black coloring is not allowed on the body. The colors are red (such as Akiko - little fox that she is), white, and brindle. The body and build is slimmer. If you meet one that looks like a very tall Shiba Inu, the odds are that you are looking at a Japanese Akita. The Japanese consider dog aggression a disallowable fault. This means that dog cannot be bred. Aggression is not part of the breed standard.
Both versions of the breed are large - bigger than German Shepherds and heavier set. With any large dog, owners need to socialize and train. I’ve already started with Akiko. She goes with me almost everywhere and meets as many people as possible. We practice handling ears, opening her mouth, touching her toes, rubbing her all over. We’re starting sit, leave it and so on. In 4 weeks, I can take her to the dog park, and then she will meet new dogs every day.
If you meet an Akita in public, they are likely to be trained. However, I would start the same way you would with a Rottweiler or other large breed. Observe them. If they look calm and mannered, ask their owner if you can meet the dog. I would recommend allowing a sniff before petting, and then a cheek scratch rather than a head pet.
tl;dr Akitas are like most other large dogs. If properly socialized, they are wonderful, calm, almost zen dogs. If they have not been socialized, you should avoid them.