The Tohoku Region consists of six prefectures in the north of Japan's largest island, Honshu. It is well known for its countryside, mountains, lakes, hot springs, high quality rice and rough winters.
The Tohoku Region was hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the ensuing nuclear accident. However, most areas of the Tohoku Region are now safe and welcoming tourists again. Of all the destinations in our travel guide, only Sendai, Matsushima, Iwaki and the Sanriku Coast suffered direct damage from the earthquake and tsunami, and even there most attractions reopened within a few weeks or months.
Echigo-Yuzawa, located in the southernmost part of Niigata and adjoins Nagano and Gunma, is one of the major ski resorts in Japan. Because Echigo-Yuzawa has good transportation service, particularly from the metropolitan area, it attracts numbers of people for skiing in winter and for hiking and camping in summer. At the Echigo Sake Museum inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station, you can enjoy bathing in the sake spa. And around the station you will find museums such as the Shiro Shirahata Photo Museum, which has around 170 landscapes of world-famous mountains, and the Yuzawa Folklore History Museum. By taking the Yuzawa-onsen ropeway from Sanroku Station (at the foot of the mountain), you can go up to 1,000 meters above sea level and can enjoy spectacular views over the region.
The castle town Hirosaki is situated in the southwestern part of Aomori, sitting on the south of the Tsugaru Plain. Hirosaki is a castle town that has always played a major role in politics and economics in the region since Hirosaki Castle was built in the 17th century. Once you have exited Hirosaki Station and have left the busy area crowded with shops and hotels, you will come to tranquil streets with a little stream called the Tsuchibuchi-gawa River, where you are suddenly transferred into the past glory of the castle town.
The Hirosaki Castle Ruins with its castle tower are now open to the public as Hirosaki Park. The park is surrounded by a triple moat and earthworks and is famous in Japan for its spectacular cherry blossoms in spring. There are many historical spots around Hirosaki Park, including Nakamachi Buke-Yashiki (old samurai residences), Chosho-ji Temple (which was built in the early 16th century), and the heavy and steady-looking five-story pagoda of Saisho-in Temple, which boasts a height of 31 meters.
Mt. Iwaki, the highest mountain in Aomori, has been treated as a sacred place and has served as the symbol of Tsugaru since ancient times. Visit the mountain, which watches over the people of Tsugaru, and feel the spirit of Tsugaru. Often called "The Mt. Fuji of Tsugaru," Mt. Iwaki is a volcano with an altitude of 1,625 meters. It is the highest mountain in Aomori.
Lake Towada, part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park and, is at the top of a 400-meter-high mountain on the border between Aomori and Akita. The lake is a dual crater lake that was formed by the caving in of a volcano mouth formed by a giant eruption. With a depth of 327 meters, the lake is the third deepest in Japan and the largest caldera lake on Honshu. The water is so translucent that you can see down into it for 10 meters. Lake Towada reflects the four seasons in its clear blue water accentuated by the fresh green of spring, autumn leaves, and the snow in winter, giving the lake a mysterious beauty. There are observation points set up around the lake, so you can enjoy the lake's appearance from different angles. Seeing the lake from a boat shows a different kind of beauty than can been seen from the lakeshore.
The Oirase-gawa River flows from Lake Towada-ko, and the 14-kilometer source section between Nenokuchi and Yakeyama is called the Oirase Mountain Stream. It runs through a virgin forest rich in variety, containing white cedar, Japanese beech, and maple trees. Along with Lake Towada-ko, the river has been designated as a special scenic spot and natural monument of Aomori.
If you walk along the banks of the stream, you can see close-up the beauty of nature, such as dense green vegetation, ripples in the river, and rocks poking above the water covered with plants and moss.
Lake Juniko, a lake of mystery in the northwestern foothills of the Shirakami Mountains, is surrounded by a dense beech forest. Lake Juniko actually consists of a group of 33 lakes and marshes. Among them, Ao-ike Pond is particularly beautiful, and fascinates visitors with its mysterious cobalt blue water.
Morioka is situated in the north of the Kitakami Basin in the central part of Iwate. The city is the center of Iwate's politics, economics and culture. Mt. Iwate-san, which overlooks the city from the northwest and two rivers - the Kitakami-gawa River and the Nakatsu-gawa River, make Morioka a special place with a very beautiful landscape. Morioka flourished with the building of Morioka Castle during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Today the castle ruins are maintained as the Morioka castle site Park and are appreciated by people as a place for recreation and relaxation.
Along the eastern side of the Nakatsu-gawa River, historical buildings from the 19th and the early 20th centuries, such as merchants' houses and private houses, can be seen. The gentle atmosphere and the nostalgic appearance of this area, which is known as "the capital of forest and water," are a good contrast to the busy atmosphere and the modern appearance of the fashionable shopping area near Morioka Station.Iwa-yama Park is located to the east of the town and provides a magnificent panoramic view of the whole of Morioka and Mt. Iwate-san. Mt. Himekami-san and the Ou Mountain Range can also be seen from here.
Hiraizumi in the southwestern part of Iwate Prefecture is a town extending up the Hiraizumi Hill on the west bank of the Kitakami-gawa River, that prospered for almost 100 years from the 11th to 12th centuries as the center of the Tohoku region. Over 3,000 national treasures and historical sites still remain, telling of the Fujiwara Clan that reigned over the area in the zenith of its prosperity. The Konjiki-do of Chuson-ji Temple, built by the Fujiwaras, is decorated inside and out with lacquer containing gold foil and studded with gold and silver, a symbol of the gold culture of Hiraizumi. The historical artifacts and Buddhist statues found in the Konjiki-do are stored in the Sanko-zo storehouse and displayed to the public. Many historical sites and buildings still remain around Hiraizumi.
Tono is a garden city laid in a basin that is surrounded by the Kitakami Range in the central part of Iwate. The three notable mountains of the Kitakami Range are Mt. Hayachine-san, Mt. Rokkoushi-san and Mt. Ishigami-san. Together they are called Tono's Three Mountains. The center of Tono is situated near the upper reaches of the Sarugaishi-gawa River, which is a tributary of the Kitakami-gawa River, at the western end of the Tono Basin. Tono has been well-known for horse breeding for many centuries and has prospered as a trading point between the inland and the coast.
Tono is the land of old folk tales. There are a number of folk tales in Tono that have been told from generation to generation. The most loved tale of the locals is that of the Kappa, an imaginary, peculiar looking creature with a mischievous character that lives in water and has a dish on its head. You will see statues of Kappa all over the town including the one in front of Tono Station and another in the pond of the square near the railway station. Tono's old folk tales, including Kappa stories and old customs, are introduced at Tono Mukashi-banashi Mura (Old Tales Village) and the Tono City Museum.
Tenshochi, a municipal park in Kitakami, is located by the Kitakami River and renowned as one of the Three Best Cherry-Viewing Spots in Michinoku, along with Hirosaki in Aomori and Kakunodate in Akita. In 1990, it was also selected as one of the 100 Best Cherry-Viewing Spots by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association. There are about 10,000 cherry trees and 100,000 azaleas in the 29,300-m² park. Starting at the Sangobashi Bridge, there is a promenade along the river lined with someiyoshino cherry trees over 80 years old, which bloom around mid- to late April. Yamazakura and kasumizakura cherry trees on the surrounding hills come into bloom a little after the someiyoshino.
The Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival is held annually from April to May. In addition to cherry blossoms, you can enjoy an excursion boat ride, a carriage ride, and the view of colorful koinobori, or carp streamers, fluttering in the wind over the Kitakami River. At night, the promenade of cherry trees is lit up.
Matshushima, a short train ride from Sendai on the northern Pacific coast, is considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. Matsushima Bay contains over 250 small rock islands shaped by the ceaseless slapping of waves and pine trees misshapen by the winds. (Matsu means pine and shima means island.) Many say that Matsushima reminds them of a large, life-size bonsai garden. The best way to see these islands is by sightseeing boat, which will provide you with up-close views. The small town is also known for Zuiganji, one of the Tohoku Region's most important Zen temples.
Naruko Onsen is a classic Japanese hot spring spa village located in the hills of northern Japan of Tohoku Region. It is known for the restorative effects of its fine waters which contain all sorts of different, beneficial minerals: sulfur, which relieves hardened arteries and high blood pressure and leaves the skin feeling smooth, and alkaline salts that help remedy skin diseases and have been celebrated for over 1,000 years. There are some nice walking trails along the valley and a spectacular bridge crossing the gorge. Nearby is Lake Kata-numa, a crater lake which changes colour with the sunlight. It is particularly stunning in autumn when the leaves turn golden and red. Naruko-Onsen is also the place to find traditional wooden Kokeshi dolls which dates back 350 years. The Japan Kokeshi Centre contains about 7,000 Kokeshi dolls, which are notable for their elegant features and bright color. A stay here normally includes lovely meals at your Japanese style ryokan (Japanese Inn), plenty of time to soak in the baths and some good walks in the countryside.
With roughly one million populations, Sendai is by far the largest city in the Tohoku Region. The modern city of Sendai was founded around the year 1,600 by Date Masamune, one of feudal Japan's most powerful lords. Many of Sendai's tourist attractions are related to Masamune and his family such as Aoba castle. Explore the ruins of Aoba Castle or rest and relax in the neighborhood of Mt. Aoba, which has been transformed into a gracious public park with nice view over the city. Today, Sendai is known as "The City of Trees" with numbers of trees in the city. A local market, with many smaller stores lining the side streets, make for a delightful shopping excursion. After shopping, relax and dine at your choice of fancy restaurants, all clustered around Sendai Station. The Tanabata-matsuri Festival, held every summer in Sendai, is considered one of the four greatest festivals in the Tohoku region. Less than an hour northeast of the city center is the town of Matsushima, whose bay is dotted by pine clad islets and is known for one of Japan's three most scenic views.
Akita City is situated in the mid-west of Akita Prefecture with the Dewa Mountains in the east and the Sea of Japan in the west. You can see the beautiful evening sun setting into the Sea of Japan. It is one of only a few large cities on the northwest coast of Japan and is an important port and industrial centre. Although the city dates back to the eight century, the city remains very little of the old city. The city prospered as the capital of the Satake fief in around the 17th century. The city and its suburbs are mostly shrouded in green, and the city park with a row of stores and houses along the street is in harmony with nature. The surrounding area is said to grow the best rice and have exceptionally pure water, making its sake some of the best in the country. In the city you can find Senshu-koen Park created from the ruins of Kubota Castle, old temples and shrines, wealthy farmers' residences. There are many places that recall the history of Akita. On the other hand, you can also find more than a few new cultural key assets, such as the Atrion, multi-purpose facilities, and Port Tower Selion, a symbol tower with a height of 143 meters.
Oga Peninsula, in the western part of Akita, juts out into the Japan Sea in the shape of an ax. Along its coastline are fantastic views of crags and boulders, and it is noted for its beautiful sunsets. It is also famous for a traditional event called "Namahage," at which time young people, disguised as ogres, visit houses to admonish lazy people, expel evil spirits, ward off disasters, and to bless people.
There are so many spots on the Oga Peninsula that you should not miss. The view at the Mt. Kampu Revolving Observatory at the base of the peninsula, where you can enjoy 360-degree panoramas of the Japan Sea and Lagoon Hachiro-gata, is simply stunning. And Godzilla Boulder, so named because of its shape: how can a tour of Japan not include a visit to this famous monster? Add to these the west coast of Oga, with its long line of rude cliffs and rocks; Hachibodai, with the best views of Oga and clear out to the Ou Mountain Range; and of course, Nyudo-zaki Point, on the tip of the peninsula, with its spectacular view of the Japan Sea. A sightseeing boat leaves from nearby Oga Aquarium, and from it you can view the coastline, sprinkled with strange rocks and bizarre stones, magnificent sculptures that nature has created.
Kakunodate is a quiet town in the east of Akita. It is enclosed on three sides by mountains, and the Hinokinai-gawa River runs southwards through it. The original shape of the town was formed at the beginning of the 17th century, and from then on it developed as a castle town. The town has a refined, elegant feel, and is called the "Little Kyoto of Michinoku." Many traditional events are held throughout the four seasons in Kakunodate. If you come at the right time you can enjoy: the Sakura-matsuri Festival (cherry blossom festival) in spring; the Sasara-mai Dance in summer, in which people dance while they rhythmically rub two 'sasara' bamboo whisks) together; the stirring Oyama-matsuri Festival in autumn, in which floats collide with one another; and the Hiburi Kamakura in winter, in which a straw bag on the end of a rope is set afire and swung around to pray for good health.
Lake Tazawa, a crater lake situated almost in the centre of the eastern part of Akita Prefecture, and at 423.4 meters in depth, is the deepest lake in Japan. The almost perfectly circular lake is filled with mysterious sapphire-blue water. Depending on the season and on the depth of light penetrating into the water, the colour changes from jade green to indigo blue, a sure attraction for visitors any time of year. Take a scenic bus trip around the lake and enjoy views of the lake from different angles. You can get out on the lake itself, with several options for cruises, plus a range of row-boats and pedal-boats for those who would like to do things under their own stream. The lakeside is dotted with hotels and rest houses. In summer, the lake attracts swimmers and sunbathers to its beach area. It is filled with people who enjoy water sports, such as sail boarding and jet skiing. In the vicinity are many other leisure spots, including a ski resort and a camping site.
Nyuto Onsen is a collection of onsen ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) in the mountains of eastern Akita Prefecture. The area is known for the hot spring baths found at its eight ryokan, some of which are quite traditional and rustic. With a history of over 300 years, Tsurunoyu is Nyuto Onsen's oldest and most famous inn. The name Nyuto Onsen means "nipple hot spring" and comes from the suggestive shape of nearby Mount Nyuto rather than the milky / cloudy appearance of the area's hot spring water. All the hot spring baths in Nyuto Onsen belong to ryokan, and are not only available to staying guests, but also to day trippers during certain hours and against a small admission fee. Most of the ryokan feature mixed gender outdoor baths, and all have various gender segregated bathing as well. Located deep in the mountains, it seems far removed from the rest of the world. After a comfortable soak in the hot spring, another enjoyment is delicious food.
Mount Haguro is one of the Three Mountains of Dewa in the ancient province of Dewa, now Yamagata Prefecture. The mount is the lowest of the three mountains, standing at 414 m. A path of 2,466 stone steps leads to its summits amidst 600 year old sugi tree.
Yamadera in the northeastern part of Yamagata City is one of the prominent temples in the Tohoku region, and was founded over a thousand years ago in the year of 860. The temple grounds extend high up a steep mountainside. Its popular name, Yamadera, literally means "mountain temple" in Japanese. Everywhere in the vast temple area, you can find rock caves and queerly shaped rocks, eroded by wind and water, as well as many other temple buildings. The base of the mountain is located about a five minute walk from the Yamadera train station, and there are dozens of shops and restaurants that cater to the temple's many visitors. There is also a small visitor center just across the bridge along the way from the station to the temple.
Yamagata City is a conveniently located city, being just a short trip away from nationally renowned sightseeing spots like Mt. Zao and Yamadera. Also, you can reach neighboring Sendai city in an hour long drive on the expressway, or reach Sendai Airport in an hour and a half. Not only that, Yamagata City is adjacent to an enormous number of onsen, including those in the Tendo Onsen and Kaminoyama Onsen areas. Yamagata City is a convenient central location for any sightseeing trip to Yamagata Prefecture. Be sure not to miss the major events in the Yamagata City that attract attention from across the country, such as the Hanagasa Matsuri festival in the summer, Japan's Biggest Imoni Festival in the fall.