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Discover a Land of Contrasts in Japan’s diverse Tohoku region

May 2019


ABTA Miyagi

Hokkaido (300 miles)



Miyagi Osaki Miyagi





(150 miles) 2

May 2019


Need to know Only 90 minutes north of Tokyo, yet worlds apart, a trip to Miyagi Prefecture in the heart of Japan’s Tohoku region treats visitors to stunning mountain scenery, rugged coastline, healing waters and much more.



In winter, go for the ski slopes of Mount Zao. In summer, escape the heat and humidity that hits Tokyo with a hike along the breezy Michinoku coastal trail or a boat trip around the picturesque islets of Matsushima Bay. At any time of year, the hot springs and inns of Naruko and Akiu afford the opportunity to immerse yourself in the most calming of Japanese traditions. And year-round, Miyagi’s regional flavours – as found in Ishinomaki yakisoba noodles and fresh seafood such as the oysters from Matsushima – make it a great destination for foodies. While a large part of Miyagi’s appeal is its nature and the slower way of life, unwinding isn’t the only reason to visit. Home to just over one million people, the capital Sendai is a vibrant regional city that’s always good for a night out and is a great base for exploring the region. It hosts plenty of major annual events, too, such as the Aoba festival in May, when 2,000 dancers perform traditional sparrow dances in the streets, and the Tanabata festival in August, when the legend of two star-crossed lovers is celebrated with fireworks and festivities. GETTING THERE Sendai is 90 minutes from Tokyo on the bullet train, with trains leaving at least four or five times an hour and costing between ¥10,890 and ¥11,200 (about £75) oneway. Low-cost long-distance buses also make the journey in about five hours, although one of the most economical ways to get around Miyagi is with the JR East Pass. Available only to non-Japanese visiting the country for fewer than 90 days, it can be bought at multiple locations for ¥20,000 (£136), including at Narita Airport, and allows unlimited rides for a 14-day period on all JR East lines – bullet train included – covering all of Miyagi and the wider Tohoku area.

May 2019


Guide to Miyagi

Out for adventure W

hen winter turns much of the Tohoku region white, skiers and snowboarders look to 1,841-metre Mount Zao, straddling the border of Miyagi and Yamagata Prefectures. The ski resorts in operation here from early December through March have somehow managed to go under the international radar – as has so much of Miyagi and Tohoku. This is despite boasting some of the best powder snow in the world, runs that can cater to skiers and boarders of all abilities, and magnificent natural backdrops. Stop to take in the views and alongside some slopes you’ll see a natural winter phenomenon called juhyo, caused when airborne water droplets freeze to the mountain trees, creating what look like giant snow monsters. Not that Zao is


May 2019

only a winter destination. Just on the Miyagi side – and accessible from spring to autumn – Zao’s Okama Crater is a photogenic caldera lake, about one kilometre in circumference, that is famous for the changeable colour of its water, which varies from deep blue to a vivid emerald depending on the intensity of the daylight. For another slice of Miyagi’s natural beauty, head to the Sanriku Coast. Here, Miyagi faces the Pacific, and you’ll understand why the wandering haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-94) became so enamoured of the region while writing the now classic The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In Matsushima, which is an easy day trip from Sendai, hundreds of pine-clad islets dot the bay, a sight that has been designated as

one of Japan’s three most scenic locations. You can soak up these views on gentle bay cruises, or you could get more active along the coast by cycling the Michinoku coastal trail, which stretches from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture in the far north of Tohoku almost 700 kilometres south to Soma in Fukushima Prefecture. Split into dozens of sections manageable in one- or two-day hikes, the Michinoku winds through craggy coves, steep cliffs and seaside towns. The sections just north of Matsushima Bay are as varied as the Michinoku gets, taking in vast oyster and seaweed beds in the calm waters of Mangokura and part of an old pilgrimage route that was used by worshippers to reach the tiny temples and shrines of holy Kinkasan Island just offshore. Rob Goss

Soothe the soul A

fter a day on the slopes or hiking along the coast, there’s nothing better than the soothing heat of an onsen. The Japanese have been enjoying these natural hot-spring baths for both health and pleasure for more than a thousand years, the mineral-rich waters being said not just to relax the mind and ease tired muscles, but also help with a diverse range of illnesses and ailments. In Miyagi, there are magical old onsen towns for travellers to discover. In Akiu, 30 minutes from Sendai, you can experience bathing culture in the classic way with a night at one of the town’s many ryokan, or traditional inns, where guests stay in private tatami mat rooms and have access to communal indoor and outdoor public baths. Quiet and calming, a night at a ryokan typically also includes a multi-course kaiseki dinner, which goes deep into

Japan’s culinary traditions with a succession of small dishes featuring seasonal produce and artistic arrangements on rustic ceramics and fine lacquerware. In Akiu, you can recharge and unwind beyond the baths and inns with a trip to the local winery or craft centre, or a 15-km bike ride through nature to Akiu Otaki, a 55-metre-high waterfall that is especially attractive when engulfed by summer greens or the red and yellow foliage of autumn. Elsewhere in Miyagi, Naruko does autumnal colours just as well. About an hour from Sendai, Naruko is a pretty onsen town wedged between dense forest and the meandering Oyagawa River, and not far from the spectacular Naruko Gorge, which in October burns a fiery red and gold as the leaves reflect the changing season. Stay at one of the inns in town and you can do like local travellers,

changing into a yukata cotton gown and wooden sandals to stroll between the craft shops, cafés and galleries that line Naruko’s narrow streets, or trying the different baths at the many inns and hotels that open to non-guests. Whichever, it’s an extremely relaxing and very Japanese way to spend a day or two. However, if you’re feeling more active, from Naruko Onsen Station you can get a sweat on hiking the Oku no Hosomichi trail, retracing the nine-kilometre route through the woods that Edo-period poet and haiku master Matsuo Basho is said to have walked on his trek around Tohoku in the late 1680s. Or hop on a bus to see nature in action at Jigokudani (“Hell Valley”) in Naruko’s Onikobe area, where steam jets shoot through rock faces and the stream bubbles with geothermal activity in what is otherwise a serene forest. Rob Goss

Pictured left to right: Uba no Yu, one of the most authentic and affordable inns in Naruko Onsen; Hotel Ubudo, in Matsushima

May 2019


Guide to Miyagi


Day one… Hop on a bullet train from Tokyo for a whirlwind 24 hours in Sendai


our hundred years ago, the feudal warlord Date Masamune founded Sendai as a castle town from where the powerful Date clan could rule the north. Today, it is the largest city in the Tohoku region, home to one million people and displaying all the vibrancy one would expect from a Japanese city, as well as many historic sites that recall Masamune’s influence on Miyagi Prefecture. Morning To absorb as much of that as possible in a day, start at Sendai Station by picking up a ¥620 (£4) day pass for the Loople bus network and then hop on a Loople for the 15-minute ride to Zuihoden, Masamune’s mausoleum. The Zuihoden is surrounded by towering pines that contrast with the vivid reds, greens, blues and golds of the ornate wood carvings that

decorate Masamune’s resting place. Unlike the more famous Toshogu Shrine complex in Nikko, the Zuihoden doesn’t heave with hordes of tourists; you can still feel the tranquillity the builders had in mind when they chose this setting. Afternoon Back on the Loople, head for the remains of Sendai Castle (aka Aoba Castle), where Sendai’s development under the Date clan began. Today, an imposing statue of Masamune on horseback stands beside the stone castle walls, overlooking Sendai’s urban sprawl. Nearby, you could visit Sendai City Museum to learn about the city’s roots and growth. Its collection includes arts and crafts, as well as weaponry and armour connected to legendary warlords such as Masamune and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Then take the Loople

again to Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, which was constructed in the early 1600s and has a striking main hall covered in black lacquer, gold leaf and boldly coloured carvings. Alternatively, the mountainside temple of Yamadera, complete with stunning vistas of the surrounding forests, is an hour away by train. Evening Back in Sendai, explore the city’s modern side with a night out in the Kokubuncho area, sandwiched by two major avenues, Jozenji-dori and Hirose-dori. There are almost 3,000 restaurants and bars here, catering to all tastes, but especially Miyagi Prefecture’s regional flavours: grilled beef tongue, kaisen don – bowls of rice topped with fresh, raw seafood such as scallops, fish roe, sea urchin and tuna – and a hotpot of duck, chicken and parsley called seri nabe. Rob Goss

Pictured left to right: Aoba Festival; Zuihoden mausoleum complex; sake bar Hatago


May 2019


Day two… Got an extra day? Matsushima, with its tranquil views, isn’t far away


n easy day trip north of Sendai, Matsushima mixes natural beauty and feudal history. Its bay, dotted with pine-clad islets, has been regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful places since its inclusion in the Nihon Sankei list (Japan’s three most scenic views) compiled by scholar Gaho Hayashi in the 1600s. Turn away from the sea, however, and warlord Date Masamune’s legacy is never far away. Morning From Sendai, the JR Senseki Line makes it to Matsushima Kaigan Station in 40 minutes (¥410/ £2.80 one way), and once there most travellers head for the bay, a ten-minute walk away. Sightseeing boats head out among the islets, where the wind and water have carved the pine tree-tufted rocks into all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Afternoon Back on land, if you want to eat before exploring, fresh oysters and anago (saltwater eels) from the bay dominate the menus in the harbour-side restaurants. A fiveminute walk inland from here, you can retrace Masamune’s influence on Matsushima, starting with Zuiganji Temple. First built in the 800s, Masamune ordered Zuiganji rebuilt in the 1600s to be the official Date family temple, adding a long, cedar-lined approach from the ocean and decorating the interior with wood carvings and paintings on gold leaf. Next to these structures, Zuiganji’s museum traces the temple’s past, as well as that of the Date clan, with a 30,000-piece collection including some of Masamune’s armoury and statues of him in his pomp. Another option is to take the train two hours further north to the

historic city of Hiraizumi and its 1,200-year-old Chuson-Ji Buddhist temple, which holds a spectacular gold-covered hall. Evening Back in Matsushima, stop by Entsuin Temple, the mausoleum for Masamune’s son, Mitsumune, which is especially worth visiting for the traditional garden. You could just stroll the coast to soak up the views but, before heading back to Sendai, visit the Kanrantei tea house. The Date family built this as a place to enjoy tea ceremonies and welcome VIP guests; some rooms feature opulent Edo-era painted screen doors designed to highlight the family’s status. Today anyone can enjoy matcha green tea and sweets in the tea house’s tatami mat rooms, looking out on natural bay views that have changed little since Masamune’s time. Rob Goss

Pictured left to right: Kanrantei tea house; Zuiganji Temple; Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, overlooking the bay

May 2019



MIYAGI Mount Zao

235 km

Elevation: 1,841m Home to the hotspring town of Zao Onsen, the spectacular Okama Crater and, in winter, a leading ski resort with 32 lifts

Matsushima Bay 260 tiny islands covered in pines

1,000 cherry trees At the Hitome Senbon Zakura Festival

Capital city: Sendai Average temperature: 13.5°c August 27.5°c


276 restaurants were recognised in the first edition of the Miyagi Michelin Guide. Sushi Yui, a sushi restaurant in Sendai city, is the only restaurant to be awarded two Michelin stars in the guide. Chimatsushima in Shiogama and Manmi Takahashi in Sendai are two of 11 restaurants in the one-Michelin-star category.


January: 2.4°c Average rainfall: 1,209mm 90-minute bullet train to Tokyo

Sendai Area Pass: One-day unlimited rides on JR trains, subway lines, buses, ¥1,300 ( Sendai Marugoto Pass: Two-day unlimited rides on JR trains, subway lines, buses, ¥2,670 (

Where to stay Royal Park Hotel, Sendai Luxurious hotel set in lush green scenery Hotel Zuiho, Sendai Hot-spring hotel perfect for families Hotel Ubudo, Matsushima Bay Bali-style hot-spring hotel on the bay

Minamisanriku Hotel Kanyo, Sanriku Coast Coastal resort with hot springs Shoan, Matsushima Bay Luxury escape from the busy waterfront

Sunsunkan Lodge, Sanriku coast Rural school converted into guest rooms Chikusenso Mt Zao Onsen Beautiful hotel at the foot of Mt Zao For more, see trip-organizer/accommodation

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Miyagi is created by Waterfront Publishing

Profile for ABTA Magazine

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Miyagi  

Discover a Land of Contrasts in Japan’s diverse Tohoku region. The ABTA Magazine Guide to Miyagi is produced in association with the Visit M...

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Miyagi  

Discover a Land of Contrasts in Japan’s diverse Tohoku region. The ABTA Magazine Guide to Miyagi is produced in association with the Visit M...