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A cheatsheet to Tohoku's 5 great summer festivals

A cheatsheet to Tohoku's 5 great summer festivals

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As the end of September approaches, summer in Japan slowly draws to an end as well. While it is a pity that almost every summer festival or natsu matsuri (夏祭り) had to be cancelled this year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is never too early to start planning for 2021. And since we’re talking about natsu matsuri, what better locations to look at than the colourful Tohoku (東北) Region?

 

The Five Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku. (Image credit: JNTO, Iwate Prefecture)

 

Sandwiched between the Kanto Region and Hokkaido, the Tohoku Region consists of six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima. While Tohoku remains as one of the lesser-known areas for first-time visitors to Japan, the region offers some of the biggest and liveliest summer festivals in the nation, such that both locals and foreign tourists alike would flock to Tohoku specifically for their summer festivals. In fact, each prefecture in Tohoku hosts a major summer festival that make up the Five Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku: 

 

Northern Tohoku

 

Southern Tohoku

 

By now you must be thinking, “How am I going to visit ALL five summer festivals in a single trip to Tohoku?” Fret not, I’ve prepared a handy cheat-sheet for you to start planning your 2021 (and beyond) summer holiday to Tohoku.

 

Set your base in both Northern & Southern Tohoku

To get you started, first decide where to stay for the next few days upon your arrival from either airports in Tokyo or Sendai. For easy transitions between multiple cities and prefectures for the festivities, the two cities I would recommend as base-stops are:

  •  Morioka City (盛岡市 Morioka-shi) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県 Iwate-ken)
  •  Sendai City (仙台市 Sendai-shi) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken)

Apart from being the perfect gateways to both Northern and Southern Tohoku respectively, you can also find the ever-so-convenient JR East Hotels located directly next to the respective cities’ major station!

 

Base for Northern Tohoku: Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture

(Image credit: Iwate Prefecture)

 

Morioka City is located centrally in the biggest prefecture of Tohoku, and it boasts a postcard-perfect view of Mount Iwate as its backdrop. One of the most unique spots to visit in Morioka would be the Ishiwarizakura (石割桜), where you’ll find a cherry blossom tree growing literally out of a boulder! Apart from that, the Morioka Hachimangu Shrine (盛岡八幡宮), as well as the cherry blossoms and fall foliage at the Morioka Castle Ruins Park (盛岡城跡公園 Morioka-jō ato kōen) in spring and autumn respectively, are must-visit spots for new visitors to Morioka.

 

(Image credit: Iwate Prefecture)

 

Where summer festivals are concerned, Morioka prides itself over the Morioka Sansa Odori Festival—the largest drum and dance parade in the world, and probably Tohoku’s loudest festival. Held on 1–4 August annually, the festival features over thousands of taiko drummers and dancers parading through the city throughout the evenings.

 

Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing

If you’re visiting: Aomori Nebuta Festival, Akita Kanto Festival, Morioka Sansa Odori

(Image credit: JR East Hotels)

 

If you’re planning to visit the three festivals in Northern Tohoku, your best bet is to stay at Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing! Not only is it located conveniently and directly next to Morioka Station, the rooms offered are spacious and newly-decorated. The hotel is also in close proximity to shopping malls and food joints such that you’ll never go hungry—be sure to try all three famous noodles of Morioka: Wanko Soba, Reimen, and Jajamen!

 

(Image credit: JR East Hotels)

 

If you're making your way via Morioka Station, you'll simply need to cut through FE"SAN Shopping Mall via the East Exit to get to the hotel easily. Here's a simple video on how to get to Hotel Metropolitan Morioka from Morioka Station easily:

 

(Video credit: JR East Hotels)

 

From Hotel Metropolitan Morioka, Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing is just another 2-minute walk away.

 

Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing (ホテルメトロポリタン 盛岡 NEW WING)
Address: 2-27 Morioka, Ekimae-kitadori, Morioka, Iwate 020-0033
Nearest station: Morioka Station (盛岡駅)
Number of rooms: 121
Check-in / Check-out: 2pm / 11am
Tel: +81-19-625-1211

 

Base for Southern Tohoku: Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Zuihoden Mausoleum. (Image credit: daedmike / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

Next, we’re heading south to join the remaining three Tohoku summer festivals. Sendai City is Tohoku’s most populated city, and apart from being a bustling city centre akin to that of Kyoto and Sapporo, it’s known for several sightseeing spots such as the Zuihoden Mausoleum (瑞鳳殿 Zuihōden) and Aoba Castle Ruins, as well as Matsushima Bay located just 30 minutes away. I personally enjoy going to Downtown Sendai to stroll along Jozenji Street and Ichibancho Shopping Arcade for my shopping needs, so if you’re looking to take a break from sightseeing spots, Sendai is the city for you.

 

(Image credit: Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association)

 

Sendai is also home to the biggest tanabata festival in Japan, which takes place in the city every 6–8 August. A typical Sendai Tanabata Festival would feature hundreds of colourful, giant washi-paper lantern streamers (七夕飾り tanabata-kazari) adorning the streets and shopping arcades of the city, night illuminations, and a lively display of fireworks, attracting over two million visitors annually. Don’t forget to also write your wishes on the tanzaku (短冊) wish slips, and hang them by the bamboo poles and pray that your wishes come true! 

 

Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East

If you’re visiting: Sendai Tanabata Festival, Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

(Image credit: JR East Hotels)

 

To complete your list of summer festivals in Southern Tohoku, there’s no better option for your stay than at Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East. Like all Hotel Metropolitan hotels, the hotel is easily accessible from Sendai Station—the West Exit is directly connected to the hotel where you can get to the hotel entirely sheltered! In my previous stay in Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East, my room offered a fantastic view of the city, and despite it also overlooking the rail tracks, my sleep was peaceful and undisturbed. Plus, since you’re in Sendai, you can also head down to the hotel’s restaurant Hayase to feast on the local delicacy gyutan (beef tongue) if you haven’t already had your share at the dozens of gyutan-specialty restaurants located all across the city.

 

(Image credit: JR East Hotels)

 

Not that you'll need it, but here's a video on how to get to Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East from Sendai Station just in case you can't find your way:

 

(Video credits: JR East Hotels)

 

Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East (ホテルメトロポリタン 仙台イースト)
Address: 1-1-1 Chuo, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8487
Nearest station: Sendai Station (仙台駅)
Number of rooms: 282
Check-in / Check-out: 3pm / 12pm
Tel: +81-22-302-3373

 

Sample itinerary

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JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Now, it’s time to plan your itinerary to cover all of Tohoku’s five summer festivals in a week, starting on 2 August and ending by 8 August. To get around Tohoku, I’d recommend using the JR East Pass (Tohoku area)— a non-consecutive 5-day pass with a validity of 14 days—which will give you more than enough coverage in your travels between each festival:

 

  • Day 1 of Pass: Tokyo (HND/NRT) OR Sendai (SDJ)  → Morioka → Morioka Sansa Odori (1–4 Aug)  → Morioka 
  • Day 2 of Pass: Morioka  → Akita Kanto Festival (3–6 Aug) → Morioka  
  • Day 3 of Pass: Morioka  → Aomori Nebuta Festival (2–7 Aug) → Sendai 
  • Day 4 of Pass: Sendai → Yamagata Hanagasa Festival (5–7 Aug) → Sendai 
  • Day 5 of Pass: Sendai →  Sendai Tanabata Festival (6–8 Aug) → Tokyo (HND/NRT) OR Sendai (SDJ)

 

Of course, you are free to squeeze in some sightseeing stops along the way to make your summer trip to Tohoku even livelier!

 

Perks

To me, nothing beats staying in a hotel that’s literally connected to the station, as this means that I get to not only wake up a little bit later to start my day, but also returning weary-bodied to my well-made room thanks to housekeeping. Convenience = having more rest, which is very important to have during a trip! While convenience is definitely my favourite part about staying in Hotel Metropolitan hotels, did you know that there’s extra benefits for hotel customers visiting the five summer festivals in Tohoku? 

 

  • Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing perks: It changes every year, but Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing usually prepares a small gift for guests who visit during the Summer season. In 2018, guests were given a chance to try a unique salt candy, and the following year, a local Tohoku dessert jelly was served to guests as a simple refreshment. We can’t wait to see what will be served in the future!

  • JR Hotel Membership: Sign up as a JR Hotels member for free, and collect JRHM points to convert them into dining vouchers, retail coupons, and more! Enjoy other member privileges such as late checkout requests, or priority check-in at selected hotels. 

 

And there we have it— that’s how you visit all Five Great Summer Festivals in Tohoku within a week with two bases and Hotel Metropolitan hotels in mind. 

 

Despite the tight timeline to visit multiple festivals in a single trip, the easiest part about planning a summer trip to Tohoku is that the dates of the festivals are usually fixed each year. So, all you’ll need to do is choose the right hotel to maximize your time and accessibility and plan ahead. Hotel Metropolitan hotels guarantee the former, so do your best to fulfill the latter. 

 

To help ease your decision-making process, I’d like to introduce you to a JR Times Special Campaign that you readers can participate in to sweeten your future trip with JR Hotels:

 

JR Times Special Campaign

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Not a JR Hotel Group member yet? This is the best time to sign up. From now until 30 November 2020, newly registered JR Hotel members will stand a chance to win up to 10,000 JRHM Points in an exclusive Lucky Draw. Here's how to participate:

 

Instructions

Step 1: Register as a JR Hotel member here

Step 2: Insert the code JRT-SIN under the “Remarks” column.

 

Prizes

1st Prize: 10,000 JRHM Points (3 Winners)

2nd Prize: 5,000 JRHM Points (6 Winners)

3rd Prize: 2,000 JRHM Points (15 Winners)

Winners’ announcement date: 12 Dec 2020

 

Terms & Conditions

  • Only completed registrations submitted by 30 Nov 2020, 23:59 (Singapore Time), with the required Code shall qualify for the Lucky Draw.
  • Each person is entitled to a single membership registration only. Repeated or falsified entries will be disqualified.
  • All awarded JRHM Points are valid for 2 years from the Date of Issue.
  • In the event of a dispute, JR East Hotels reserves all rights to the final decision.

 

This article is written in partnership with JR East Hotels.

Header image credit: Miyagi Prefectural Government / JR East Hotels (Inlet)

 

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