Discover this year's best Tohoku travel destinations in Japan.
Tohoku is the northernmost region of Japan’s main island of Honshu. It’s famous for some of the country’s most gorgeous natural scenery, fresh vegetables and seafood, plus its deep culture. Famous Japanese poet Matsuo Bassho was inspired to write a collection of prose and poems called Narrow Road to the Deep North based on his travels in Tohoku, and it’s sure to be inspiring to everyone who visits to this day.
Just a quick 90-minute bullet train ticket from Tokyo (around ¥10,000), Tohoku is a part of Japan you can visit again and again. Different prefectures in different seasons will provide an unforgettable experience each time.
Kinkasan Island is located in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, on the east coast of Tohoku. The island is home to roughly 300 deer, 200 monkeys and five humans. When you visit, you’ll encounter strong spiritual energy thanks to eight shrines and additional “power spots” around the island that travelers visit to pray for health and wealth.
Easily accessed by ferry and with a hotel located on the island for comfortable lodging and tasty food, overnight guests can easily visit for just one day or several. If you enjoy leisurely strolls, the island also has several hiking paths along the coast—and if you prefer more of a challenge, enjoy the trek up to the island’s peak on Mount Koganeyama.
There’s a saying that if you pray at Koganeyama Shrine three years in a row, you’ll become prosperous. However, even on your first visit, you’ll feel blessed thanks to the rich surrounding natural beauty and shrine history.
Koganeyama Shrine is Kinkasan Island’s main attraction and an official National Historic Site, sitting at the top of impressive marble steps and welcoming visitors who have a spare five-yen coin to throw into its prayer box. With so many deer occupying the island, there’s sure to be a few lazing around the premises waiting for the perfect photo opportunity.
Take a stroll around Karakuwa Peninsula, and you’ll find captivating ocean views, a peek into regional history and a healing dose of nature.
There’s a well-marked trail on the peninsula called Miyagi Olle that guides you along wooded paths and the rocky coast. With several rest spots along the way, it’s the perfect spot to have a picnic while enjoying the expansive ocean scenery.
To help get you started, first visit the Karakuwa Peninsula Visitor Center for more information on the hiking paths and cultural context about the area. They also have a charming gift shop where you can stock up on treats to provide energy along your hike and a tsunami simulation room.
Naruko Onsen is a town in Osaka, Miyagi Prefecture, where you’ll find one of the most breathtaking and popular autumnal nature views in Japan: Naruko Gorge.
The peak season is when the fall leaves spread like fire across the canyon in late October. Still, the locals insist that the view is just as beautiful in the “green” seasons of spring and summer—and possibly even outdone by its stunning snowy winterscape.
There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area, so Naruko Gorge is a must for photographers and nature explorers, amateur and professional alike.
The Dewa Sanzan, also known as the “Three Mountains of Dewa,” is a region in Yamagata Prefecture home to three mountain peaks of great spiritual significance.
Each mountain represents either the past (Mount Gassan), the present (Mount Haguro) or the future (Mount Yudono). By praying at the shrines at the summit of all three, the locals say that you will be spiritually reborn.
For a uniquely Japanese twist on the trip, enlist the help of a local Yamabushi (Buddhist monk) guide who can point out the main sites and easter eggs along your journey. On your way up, you’ll discover several shrines, pagodas and engravings, along with temples where you can stay and enjoy vegetarian food for monks called shojin ryori.