Escape to Tohoku's friendly hub
With vibrant Sendai at its core, Miyagi makes the ideal base for exploring the remote corners of Tohoku.
Miyagi prefecture is about as close to a regional hub as you’ll get in remote Tohoku and makes a great base for exploring the surrounding, less accessible prefectures. Colorful Sendai is the prefectural capital; it’s tree-lined avenues are packed with lots of great shops and restaurants frequented by friendly locals happy to strike up conversation with an unfamiliar face. The popular Tanabata Matsuri means they’re certainly used to visitors, who usually combine a trip to nearby Matsushima to witness one of Japan’s top three scenic views. There’s hiking around Kinkasan’s Golden Mountain, onsen at Naruko and Akiu, and skiing at Onikobe. Grilled cow-tongue is the definitive dish – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
It’s less than two hours on the bullet train from Tokyo to Sendai, from where you can easily access the rest of Miyagi’s attractions. Stay awhile in the city to explore the monuments to the legendary feudal lord Date Masamune, nicknamed the One-Eyed Dragon, who transformed Sendai from a small village into a major stronghold. After dark, head to the lively Kokubuncho area, affectionately seen as the little brother to Tokyo’s Kabukicho red-light district. In early August, Sendai becomes a riot of color during the Tanabata Matsuri when streets are decorated with thousands of giant handmade paper streamers. It’s a beautiful sight, though you’ll have to jostle with the two million or so spectators for a good view.
Matsushima is a collection of around 260 islands scattered through the bay. Shaped by wind and waves into gnarled formations, the islands are known as one of Japan’s most stunning views. You can catch a cruise around the bay or take photos from one of the lookout points in the temples along the coast.
In the northeast of Miyagi, Naruko onsen resort is home to five hot spring areas renowned for their skin-softening sulfur waters. Naruko is also the birthplace of traditional handpainted kokeshi dolls which you can watch being made in the various shops along the main street. At the opposite end of the prefecture, Akiu onsen deep in the mountains was the fave pick of the Date clan. It’s on the way to the Golden Mountain of Kinkasan which is a gorgeous spot for hiking. For a bit of stoic R&R, you can stay overnight in the simple Buddhist lodging at Koganeyama shrine.