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Island
Honshu
Largest City
Sendai
Population
9,335,088

Tohoku

Follow the road to the deep north

Japan's most poetic landscape and the gateway to the Buddhist afterlife.

Tohoku is a large region in the northeast of Japan’s main island Honshu; it’s rugged, mountainous terrain and rows of river lowlands make up almost one-fifth of Japan’s total area. Harsh winters keep the resident population low but visitors, among them Japan’s most famous poet Basho, have been enjoying some of the country’s most beautiful scenery for centuries.

Despite the blow to numbers after the Fukushima nuclear accident, tourism to the Tohoku region is starting to thrive as people catch on to the superior skiing, onsen (hot spring baths) and other outdoor activities available.

Find poetic inspiration at Yamadera Mountain Temple in Yamagata

Find poetic inspiration at Yamadera Mountain Temple in Yamagata.

Yamagata is probably the region’s most visited area, known for the remote Zao Onsen ski resort which is one of the only places where you can see Japanese ‘juhyo’ or ‘ice monsters’ – trees at the top of the mountain that look like monsters when covered in snow. Yamagata prefecture is also home to Yamadera temple, a scenic mountain temple where Basho composed one of his most popular haiku: ah this silence / sinking into the rocks / voice of cicada.

Iwate prefecture also boasts a popular ski resort, Appi Kogen, which has excellent off-piste routes and an extended ski season lasting until early May. Iwate is also famous for wanko soba, tiny bowls of soba noodles that are served one after the other (usually about 60 bowls for the biggest eaters).

The miracle pine tree in Iwate remains a symbol of hope for those affected by the 2011 tsunami.

The miracle pine tree in Iwate remains a symbol of hope for those affected by the 2011 tsunami.

Sendai in Miyagi prefecture is the biggest city in the Tohoku region. During the summer, the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri attracts thousands of visitors to see the huge colorful streamers paraded throughout the streets. The Kanto Matsuri in Akita is another impressive festival where performers balance long bamboo poles decorated with paper lanterns on their hips, shoulders or foreheads (no hands allowed).

Autumn Colors of Oirase River, located in Aomori Prefecture Japan

See the autumn tapestry along the Oirase River, Aomori.

Adventurers following Basho’s narrow road to the deep north will eventually reach Aomori prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu. The remote Shimokita Peninsula is the site of Osorezan or ‘Fear Mountain’, a barren, sulfurous landscape pockmarked by steaming holes that is known as the entrance to the Buddhist afterlife.

Destinations in Tohoku

Lake Towada in Autumn, in Aomori and Akita, Japan

Akita

The best way to enjoy Akita is simply to go outside and be among it.

Cherry blossoms along the moat surrounding Hirosaki castle, Aomori.

Aomori

The northern tip of Tohoku, Aomori prefecture is the boundary between the known and unknown Japan.

To-no-hetsuri in Fukushima, Japan

Fukushima

Ignore the bad press or miss out on this boundless, breathtaking natural landscape.

The miracle pine tree in Iwate remains a symbol of hope for those affected by the 2011 tsunami.

Iwate

The local people say that Iwate is a place where you forge your own path. Take their advice and enjoy this re-emerging - and rewarding - destination.

Matsushima, Japan coastal landscape from Mt. Otakamori. Miyagi Prefecture

Miyagi

With vibrant Sendai at its core, Miyagi makes the ideal base for exploring the remote corners of Tohoku.

Find poetic inspiration at Yamadera Mountain Temple in Yamagata

Yamagata

Winter is coming. But so is spring, summer and fall at this rewarding year-round destination.