Send me to Send-ai! Charms of the “City of Trees”
Ask me what my favourite city is in Japan, and instinctively I will say Sendai (仙台). It’s the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken) and the largest city in the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō), and its central location makes it easy for people to travel from Tokyo to other parts of northeastern Japan. On top of that, the city also bears the nickname “City of Trees” (杜の都 Mori-no-Miyako) for its lush greenery.
Statue of Date Masamune. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Sendai has made major strides in development over the years to become the economic centre of the Tohoku Region, and to understand how it came to be, one has to understand its feudal history and recognise the accomplishments of the founder of the city, Date Masamune (伊達政宗). When he founded Sendai in the early 17th century, he wanted to establish the unique traditional culture of the region in a city that was blessed with nature, with direct access to rivers, the sea, and mountains.
The area has always enjoyed good harvests of rice historically, which made Sendai prosper immensely for generations. Today, with a population of over 1 million, the city is still growing and attracting people from all the country and the world, turning it into a cosmopolitan epicentre that is rich in greenery and traditional culture.
What is it about Sendai that constantly draws visitors from all over the world to the city in the current age? Many would point to the city's larger-than-life events or its iconic delicacies, but Sendai is a lot more than just that, and it would be a waste not to learn more about what it has for its visitors.
Map of Sendai's greater region. (Image credit: Google Maps)
Map of central Sendai. (Image credit: Google Maps)
For this article, I would like to highlight to you the charms of Sendai, by introducing some of Japan’s most prominent historical relics here, the magical natural scenery of its suburbs, lesser-known delicacies in Sendai and surrounding areas, and a lot more. The city has something for everyone, especially for someone like me who appreciates a bit of everything for any trip. If there’s any chance for me to be sent to Sendai, whether for work or play, I would take it without hesitation, so let’s see what await us here at the “City of Trees”.
① Timeless treasures
Japan is a country with a rich cultural heritage, and there are many historical relics that have been meticulously preserved to retain their timeless values. They can be classified under many categories, but the most prestigious ones are designated as National Treasures (国宝 kokuhō), which are regarded as the country’s most precious cultural properties.
Do you know that Sendai has its own share of the country’s most cherished cultural properties? It is one of the cultural and historical epicentres of the Tohoku Region, and visitors should immerse themselves in the city’s rich history by seeking out these relics and learn more about them.
Osaki Hachimangu Shrine
Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (left) and its interior designs (right). (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Sendai is home to Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (大崎八幡宮 Ōsaki Hachimangū), one of Japan’s most significant historical monuments in Japan. Founded in 1607, the Shintō shrine is a prominent National Treasure that was originally built for Date Masamune, and since its establishment, many people throughout generations have come here to pray for good luck, avoidance of misfortunes, and easy childbirth.
I’m a big fan of architectures, and Japan is known for its eclectic architectural designs. Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is a fine example of traditional Japanese architecture from the Azuchi–Momoyama Period (1568–1600), and the building’s façade features intricate roof designs with contrasting effects of black lacquer, gold leaf, and vivid colours. It’s a visual masterpiece to behold, and visitors ought to take in the sheer magnificence of the nationally recognised structure.
Donto-sai Festival. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
The shrine is more than just about its architecture, however; it’s also the site for a spectacular winter event in Sendai. The Donto-sai Festival (どんと祭 Donto-sai) takes place on 14 January every year, when people come here to pray for good health and family safety by burning New Year’s decorations in a big sacred bonfire on the shrine grounds called gojinka (御神火 god fire). There’s also the hadaka-mairi (裸参り naked pilgrimage), where male participants don traditional white loincloths and brave the cold as they march silently to pay their respects.
Don’t miss a spectacular customary winter ritual, which has also been designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Properties (無形民俗文化財 mukei minzoku bunkazai) in 2005.
Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (大崎八幡宮)
Address: 4-6-1 Hachiman, Aoba, Sendai, Miyagi 980-0871
Access: Take a 20-minute bus ride on the Sendai Loople Bus from JR Sendai Station’s West Exit bus terminal and alight at the shrine.
Operating hours: Always open
Admission fee: None
Sendai Toshogu Shrine
Sendai Toshogu Shrine's Zuijinmon Gate and worship hall. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Another significant historical remnant to look out for in Sendai is Sendai Toshogu Shrine (仙台東照宮 Sendai Tōshōgū). Toshogu is a Shintō shrine built to enshrine Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan in the Edo Era (1603–1867), and there are over 100 of them throughout Japan. Although the one in Nikko (日光) is the most famous, there is one in Sendai too, and it’s quite an architectural marvel to behold.
Visitors can not only admire the shrine’s quaint and traditional architecture, such as the Zuijinmon Gate (随神門) and the worship hall, but also experience the beautiful cherry blossoms here during spring. Pale pink and white cherry blossom petals carpet the shrine grounds, making it one of the most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing in the city. Also, while you’re here, you can pay a visit to the souvenir shop where a wide variety of amulets (お守り omamori) are available, from those made for good health, to even those devoted to traffic safety.
Sendai Toshogu Shrine in spring. (Image credit: City of Sendai)
Sendai Toshogu Shrine (仙台東照宮)
Address: 1-6-1 Toshogu, Aoba-ku, Sendai 981-0908
Access: Take the JR Senzan Line (JR仙山線 Senzan-sen) to JR Toshogu Station (JR東照宮駅 Tōshōgū-eki), and then walk for 5 minutes to the shrine.
Operating hours: 9am–5pm (shrine building only; the complex is open all day)
Admission fee: None
Saihoji Temple’s beautiful pagoda. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
For the adventurous explorers, they can go out of the city centre and discover a historical relic that lies in the mountains of Sendai. Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple (情義如来西方寺 Jōgi Nyorai Saihōji) is a prominent Jōdo (Pure Land) Sect temple that was founded in early 18th century, and followers of the faith come here to pray for good health, successful career, blissful marriage, and easy childbirth.
Saihoji Temple’s Sanmon Gate (left), Sadayoshidō Mausoleum (top right), main hall (bottom right), and sankaku jōgi abura-age (centre). (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会 / photoAC)
I previously wrote about Japan’s brilliant architectures, and Saihoji Temple is a treasure trove of astounding structures. Architecture enthusiasts such as myself would be mesmerised by the temple’s striking monuments such as the intricately designed Sanmon Gate (山門) and main hall (お本堂 ohondō)—both of which have been designated as Important Cultural Properties (重要文化財 jūyō-bunkazai)—and the imposing five-storey pagoda in the complex. Visitors here would feel like time has stopped here, in an idyllic place located far away from bustling cities.
Also, don’t forget to try some sankaku jōgi abura-age (三角定義あぶらあげ), which is a triangular tofu that is deep-fried to golden perfection. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it’s a must-try local specialty here that makes for a delicious treat to reward yourself for coming all the way here.
Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple (情義如来西方寺)
Address: Jog-1 Okura, Aoba, Sendai, Miyagi 989-3213
Access: From JR Sendai Station, take an 80-minute Sendai City bus ride from the station’s West Exit (terminal #10) and alight at the temple.|
Operating hours: Open all day|
Admission fee: None
② Modern urban areas
As the largest city in the Tohoku Region, Sendai is gradually growing in size, both in population and economy. The city's urban areas are also rapidly developing at the same time, with new modern commercial buildings and entertainment complexes gradually making their appearance in recent years.
Sendai’s metropolitan area. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Sendai’s urban area centers around JR Sendai Station (JR仙台駅 Sendai-eki), the city’s main railway station, and upon setting foot here from the station, visitors would be pleasantly surprised by the city’s iconic extensive overhead bridges, modern structures, and famous Instagram-worthy avenues Aoba-dōri (青葉通り) and Jozenji-dōri (定禅寺通).
Pageant of Starlight. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Speaking of avenues, Sendai features some of the most picturesque avenues in the Tohoku Region. Visitors would be pleasantly surprised by the elegant rows of Japanese zelkova trees lined along Aoba-dōri and Jozenji-dōri, and what's more, they set the venue for spectacular events. During the winter season, visitors will get to see the Pageant of Starlight (光のページェント Hikari-no-Pējento) where the trees along Jozenji-dōri are wrapped with up to 600,000 brilliant lights, transforming the avenue into a spectacular and romantic wonderland. In the summer, the avenue is one of the venues for the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the region's largest summer festival.
JR Sendai Station. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
The food "avenues" at JR Sendai Station. (Image credit: JR East Sendai Terminal Building / Sugawara)
Visitors making their way to the city via JR Sendai Station can also pay a visit to the third level, where there are "avenues" featuring many restaurants that specialise in local dishes such as sushi, gyūtan (牛タン), and zundamochi (ずんだもち). Visitors here will find Gyūtan-dōri (牛タン通り Gyūtan avenue), Sushi-dōri (寿司通り Sushi avenue), Zunda-komichi (ずんだ小径 Zunda lane), and so much more, and they will be simply spoiled for choice. Important tip: come here hungry!
Sendai Morning Market. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
There are plenty of interesting places you can find in Sendai that are only a few minutes away from JR Sendai Station. For example, a 5-minute walk from the station and you will find the Sendai Morning Market, where you can find the freshest seafood caught from the Sanriku Coast (三陸海岸 Sanriku-kaigan). The air is filled with lively voices by friendly shopkeepers who are more than happy to introduce to you their best seafood products. It's a fun and unique experience that's worth getting up early for.
Iroha-Yokochō and Bunka-Yokochō. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Sendai is not just a "morning place"; the city is also known for its vibrant nightlife. Take a short walk from the station, and you can find quirky and ambient alleys such as Iroha-Yokochō (いろは横丁) and Bunka-Yokochō (文化横丁), where they would find the most delectable food fare and exquisite liquor in a cosy and nostalgic environment. The fun begins when night falls, and the alleys of Sendai are the place to be to experience it.
Visitors can also venture farther out of the city centre, and explore other exciting places that are easily accessible. How does a larger-than-life ballpark with electrifying atmosphere, a scenic aquarium that conduct entertaining animal shows, and a sprawling shopping mall with an amazing view sound to you? Let’s go find out more about these spots.
Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi
Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi. (Image credit: ©Rakuten Eagles)
This one would immediately speak to sports fans, especially baseball enthusiasts and those with a love for big games. Baseball is arguably the most popular sport in Japan, and Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi (楽天生命パーク宮城) is a ballpark that has hosted some of the biggest games in Sendai.
The venue is home to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles local baseball team, and has undergone many renovations over the years. What makes this ballpark different from other average baseball stadiums is its “ballpark” concept, where it resembles more of a Major League Baseball venue than a typical baseball stadium. It features seat extensions and a party deck, a large electronic screen that spectators can see from across the field, and many shops around the ballpark.
Inside the ballpark during a baseball game. (Image credit: ©Rakuten Eagles)
Although primarily used to host baseball games, the ballpark also serves as a venue for other events as well, and features over 60 restaurants within and around it. In addition, there are other attractions nearby, such as a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round, making it a venue that’s fun for everyone, including families with kids.
Baseball is not a common sport in Singapore, so personally I’m not familiar with it. However, because of that, I find myself compelled to visit the ballpark someday. Not only do I want to know how the venue differs from others, but I also want to experience for myself the electrifying atmosphere during a highly charged baseball game. It’s something different for me, which makes for a novel experience. Why not consider watching a baseball game while in Sendai yourself?
Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi (楽天生命パーク宮城)
Address: 2-11-6 Miyagino, Miyagino, Sendai, Miyagi 983-0045
Access: Take the JR Senseki Line (JR仙石線 Senseki-sen) to JR Miyaginohara Station (JR宮城野原駅 Miyaginohara-eki), and walk for 10 minutes to the ballpark.
Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium
Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium. (Image credit: 東北観光機構)
Do you get awe-struck whenever you gaze at marine life? If you're a fan of aquariums, make a trip to the eastern side of Sendai and enter the Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium (仙台うみの杜水族館 Sendai Umino-Mori Suizokukan), where you can witness up to 100 huge water tanks featuring the most beautiful sea creatures gathered from all the world, drifting gracefully in the crystal clear water.
Here, visitors can learn more about the wondrous marine life, and take part in intimate activities such as feeding the penguins and take closeup photos with the dolphins. There are also live performances where visitors can watch dolphins and sealions performing amazing acts. I always see aquariums as magical places where I can immerse myself in a world different from what I know, and I will always find an opportunity to visit one whenever I can.
Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium (仙台うみの杜水族館)
Address: 4-6 Nakano, Miyagino-ku, Sendai, 983-0013
Access: Take the JR Senseki Line (JR仙石線 Senseki-sen) to JR Nakanosakae Station (JR中野栄駅 Nakanosakae-eki), and walk for 20 minutes to the aquarium. There is also a complimentary shuttle bus service from the station to the aquarium.
9am–5pm (spring and autumn seasons)
9am–6pm (summer season)
9am–4pm (winter season)
Admission fee: ¥2,200 per adult
Mitsui Outlet Park Sendai Port
Inside Mitsui Outlet Park Sendai Port, and "Port Flower" Ferris wheel (right). (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
Mention “Mitsui Outlet” and many foreign travellers to Japan would associate the name with duty-free shopping. The famous outlet mall chain can be found in many major cities in Japan and even those in other countries such as Taipei and Kuala Lumpur, and Sendai has one too, but this outlet park features some special surprises for its visitors.
Mitsui Outlet Parks are known for their open-air layouts and stores by upmarket local and foreign brands. The one at Sendai Port is located between Sendai Airport and Matsushima, the latter known for its world-famous Matsushima Bay, and it bears some special distinctions. For one, it is the largest outlet mall in the whole Tohoku Region, and on top of that, it has the largest Ferris wheel in the whole region too. Named “Port Flower”, the 50m-high Ferris wheel offers its riders an unexpectedly amazing view at the top; on a clear day, they can actually see Mount Zao (蔵王山 Zao-san) in the far distance!
If you’re in town for some retail therapy at Mitsui Park, don’t forget to give this ride a try and be mesmerised by a wonderous view (and pray for good weather).
Mitsui Outlet Park Sendai Port (三井アウトレットパーク仙台港)
Address: 3-7-2 Nakano, Miyagino, Sendai, Miyagi 983-0013
Access: Take the JR Senseki Line to JR Nakanosakae Station, and then walk for 10 minutes to the mall.
Operating hours: 10am–8pm
Admission fee: None
JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA
JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA. (Image credit: JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA)
This one's a big bonus for visitors who love their fruits. JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA (JRフルーツパーク仙台あらはま) is a sprawling fruit park located on the eastern side of Sendai, and visitors can enjoy eight fruits that are specially cultivated here: apples, strawberries, pears, blueberries, grapes, figs, kiwis, and gooseberries. Take part in a 30-minute, all-you-can-eat strawberry picking experience, and savour all the delicious strawberries to your heart's content. Don't miss the "Nikoniko Berry", a local Miyagi Prefecture type of strawberry that has a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.
Strawberry picking at the park. (Image credit: JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA)
Apples, grapes, and pears grown at the park. (Image credit: JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA)
There's also a café here that serves delicious food prepared with ingredients grown locally (tip: try the curry here; it's amazing), and Arahama Marche, a specialty shop here that sells goods such as homemade jams and locally grown vegetables.
Café at JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA. (Image credit: JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA)
Arahama Marche. (Image credit: JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA)
The park was opened earlier this year, 10 years after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (東日本大震災 Higashi-nihon daishinsai). The surrounding region was severely affected by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and many homes and crops in the district of Arahama (荒浜) were destroyed. When the local communities were relocated, JR East Sendai Terminal Building wanted to restore the smiles and happiness of the local people, and thus embarked on a revitalisation project that included the establishment of this fruit park. Visitors to the park can also make a trip to the Former Arahama Elementary School and learn more about how the disaster affected the locals' livelihood and revitalisation efforts.
JR Fruits Park Sendai ARAHAMA (JRフルーツパーク仙台あらはま)
Address: 17-1-2, Arahamashin, Wakabayashi, Sendai, Miyagi 984-0034
Access: From Sendai Subway Arai Station (荒井駅 Arai-eki), take the Sendai City bus from the No. 2 stop and get off at Shinsai-kō Sendai Shiritsu Arahamashōgakkō-mae (震災遺構仙台市立荒浜小学校前). The park is a 5-minute walk from the stop.
Operating period: End-March–June
10am–4pm (specialty shop)
*Reservation is required for strawberry-picking, and all reservations must be made at least 1 day in advance, before 4pm.
Ask someone who loves travelling to Japan their favourite season to travel, and there’s a high chance that their answer would be spring (春 haru), when they get to see the beautiful cherry blossoms (桜 sakura). These flowers, whose colours can range from snow white to pale and even vivid pink, are synonymous with the spring season in Japan, and millions of people visit Japan just to see them.
Cherry blossom viewing (花見 hanami) is one of Japan’s favourite pastimes, and sites featuring cherry blossom trees are everywhere in the country. Of course, Sendai has its own share of parks that offer wonderful views of cherry blossoms in its urban areas, and they typically bloom from early to mid-April (depending on the current weather conditions). Let’s check out where we can see these beautiful flowers the next time we set foot in the city area.
Nishi Park in summer (left) and spring (right). (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会 / City of Sendai)
Hailed as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in Sendai, Nishi Park (西公園 Nishi-kōen) is located along the Hirose River, and is just a stone’s throw away from Ōmachi Nishi-koen Station (大町西公園駅). This is the city’s oldest park, with its history stretching back as far as 1888, and there are up to 190 cherry blossom trees here.
What’s interesting about this park is the monuments and landmarks found here. Visitors will be greeted with interesting attractions such as a preserved C60-type steam locomotive, a kokeshi doll tower, various sculptures by local artists, and a sundial on the grounds of a former astronomical observatory.
The highlight of the park during the cherry blossom season is the Hanami Square (花見広場 Hanami-hiroba), where visitors can enjoy the cherry blossom illuminations at night. Best of all, there is a traditional teahouse nearby where visitors can enjoy some traditional rice cakes, which makes for a perfect accompaniment for cherry blossom viewing.
Nishi Park (西公園)
Address: 1-3 Sakuragaoka Park, Aoba, Sendai 980-0823
Nearest station: 1-minute walk from Sendai Subway Ōmachi Nishi-koen Station (大町西公園駅)
Operating hours: Open all day
Admission rates: None
Tsutsujigaoka Park in summer (left) and spring (right). (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会 / City of Sendai)
Tsutsujigaoka Park (榴岡公園 Tsutsujigaoka-kōen) is often regarded by locals as one of the best places to view cherry blossoms during spring. Located just a one-minute walk away from JR Tsutsujigaoka Station, this park is a favourite for its scenic view of a variety of cherry blossoms that bloom here.
According to the local lore, the park’s history stretches back as far as 300 years ago. Back then, Date Masamune planted over 1,000 cherry blossom trees here, and unfortunately many perished due to old age and World War 2. But years later, the locals wanted to rejuvenate the park and hence more cherry blossom trees were replanted which can be seen today.
Today there are over 360 cherry blossom trees in the park, and they include varieties such as Somei-Yoshino (ソメイヨシノ Yoshino cherry), Shidarezakura (シダレザクラ weeping cherry), and even the rare ukonzakura (ウコンザクラ turmeric cherry blossom), which is known for its unusual yellowish hue. Cherry blossoms here bloom usually from early to mid-April, when people would buy sake from nearby stalls set up during the cherry season and enjoy them underneath the cherry blossom trees. Just imagine how amazing it would be to sit underneath a canopy of cherry blossom petals and enjoy the view over a cup of sake!
Tsutsujigaoka Park (榴岡公園)
Address: 1-301-3 Gorin, Miyagino, Sendai, Miyagi 983-0842
Access: 1-minute walk from JR Tsutsujigaoka Station (JR榴ヶ岡駅)
Operating hours: Open all day
Admission rates: None
Mikamine Park in spring. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
A 30-minute walk from Nagamichi-Minami Station on Sendai’s Namboku Subway Line is another of Sendai’s beloved cherry blossom viewing sites: Mikamine Park (三神峯公園 Mikamine-kōen). It’s a sprawling open park where families can spread their mats under the many cherry blossom trees, and enjoy being under the beautiful cherry blossom canopies.
There are over a whopping 750 cherry blossom trees from 28 different types here, such as Somei-Yoshino, Shidarezakura, and Yaezakura (ヤエザクラ eight-layered cherry blossom). Cherry blossoms bloom typically from mid to late April each year, and during that time you can see people having many stalls being set up and people having joyous cherry blossom viewing parties across the wide-open spaces.
Mikamine Park (三神峯公園)
Address: 1-15 Mikamine, Taihaku, Sendai, Miyagi 982-0826
Access: 30-minute walk from Sendai Subway Nagamachi-Minami Station (長道南駅)
Operating hours: Open all day
Admission rates: None
③ Nature-blessed suburbs
Sendai and its surrounding suburbs have always been blessed with wondrous natural splendour, and they are filled with the most vibrant colours that change in every season. In particular, there are two hot spring resorts in the suburbs that are famous for their autumn foliage, filled with crimson red and golden yellow hues. Dipping into a hot spring bath while being enveloped in the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings is a heavenly experience that all travellers yearn for, so let’s find out more about them.
Akiu Onsen in autumn. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
Located less than an hour away from Sendai by train or bus is a historic hot spring that is said to have been loved by Date Masamune himself in the distant past. Akiu Onsen (秋保温泉) is located within a beautiful valley by the Natori River, and is known among hot spring enthusiasts as one of the best lesser-known hot spring resorts in the Tohoku Region.
The natural hot spring water at Akiu Onsen contains salts and minerals similar to those found in seawater, and is said to be able to keep the body warm for hours. In fact, the hot spring water here contains minerals that are said to have unique healing properties, bringing relief to those suffering with rheumatism, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis.
A variety of hot springs at Akiu Onsen. (Image credit: Iwanumaya / Rantei)
Visitors will be spoiled for choice at the many hot spring hotels that await at Akiu Onsen. Resorts such as Iwanumaya (岩沼屋) and Rantei (蘭亭) boast of exceptional outdoor hot spring baths that use Akiu Onsen’s natural hot spring water. Plus, with Akiu Onsen located relatively near Sendai, visitors can choose to spend a night here and enjoy soaking in any of the many hot spring baths available here.
Akiu Otaki Falls in different seasons. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
Akiu Onsen isn’t just about the hot springs, either. The hot spring resort is surrounded by pristine natural surroundings that visitors should not miss out; for example, visitors can take a 20-minute bus ride from the Akiu Sato Center to see the majestic Akiu Otaki Falls (秋保大滝 Akiu Ōtaki).
The waterfall is a sight to behold, with its gushing waters falling from a height of 55m, and witnessing the sheer magnitude of the waterfall and roaring water is an experience that’s hard to put into words. Furthermore, Akiu Otaki Falls bear the privilege of being part of Japan’s “Top 100 Waterfalls” as well as the designation of National Site of Scenic Beauty, and visitors are highly encouraged to visit it during different seasons so that they can fully appreciate its seasonal beauty.
Rairaikyo Gorge. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
Another gift from Mother Nature at Akiu Onsen can be found just 5 minutes away by foot from Akiu Sato Center: the splendorous Rairaikyo Gorge (磊々峡 Rairaikyō), a 1km hiking trail that features the serene clear water of the Natori River 20m below, and oddly shaped rocks found around the area.
While taking in the tranquil surroundings and gazing at the intriguing rock formations, keep a lookout for a heart-shaped indentation found at the bottom of Nozokibashi Bridge (覗橋). Coined as “Nozokibashi Heart” (覗橋ハート), local lore has it that whoever successfully throws a peddle into the indentation will have their romance fulfilled!
Akiu Onsen (秋保温泉)
Address (Akiu-Sato Center): 40-7 Teradahara, Yumoto, Akiu, Taihaku, Sendai, Miyagi
Access: Take a 50-minute Miyagi Kotsu bus ride bound for Akiu Onsen from JR Sendai Station’s West Exit Bus Terminal No. 8, and alight at Akiu-Sato Center. Alternatively, take a 15-minute Sendai City bus ride bound for Akiu Onsen from JR Ayashi Station (JR愛子駅), and alight at Akiu-Sato Center.
Sakunami Onsen. (Image credit: City of Sendai / 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
There’s another hot spring gem located also less than an hour away from Sendai by train or bus, tucked away in the city’s outskirts. Sakunami Onsen (作並温泉) is another hot spring resort that’s convenient to access from the main city, and its natural hot spring water is a huge draw particularly for female visitors.
Compared to other hot spring resorts in the Tohoku Region, Sakunami is one of the lesser-known ones located in the rural western side of Sendai, approaching the border of Yamagata Prefecture. The transparent natural hot spring water in this resort is said to promote soft and supple skin, and thus is particularly popular among female visitors. Couple that with hot spring inns with amazing open-air hot spring baths that offer a picturesque view of the natural surroundings, and visitors are in for a memorable stay at one of the Tohoku Region’s best kept secrets.
What separates Sakunami Onsen from other hot spring resorts in the Tohoku Region is the eclectic attractions found here, which include amazing natural scenery and impressive architectures. For example, visitors who love nature are in for a big surprise, as it is home to the majestic and elusive Homei Shijuhachi Falls (鳳鳴四十八滝 Hōmei Shijūhachi-taki).
Homei Shijutachi Falls’s different colours, in green season (left) autumn (centre), and winter (right). (Image credit: photoAC)
Here, visitors will be enthralled by the water rushing and falling through multiple waterfalls of varying sizes, which is a sight to behold. In fact, the name is a combination of two words: “shijūhachi” means forty-eight, as there are 48 waterfalls altogether, “hōmei” means phoenix cry, as the sound of rushing is said to resemble the call of the mythical phoenix. The waterfall is also known for its sheer seasonal beauty, from verdant greenery during the green season, to fiery red foliage in autumn, and plain white snow in winter.
Homei Shijutachi Falls (鳳鳴四十八滝)
Address: Bomeki, Sakunami, Aoba-ku, Sendai
Access: From JR Sendai Station, take a 70-minute bus ride from the station's West Exit (No. 10 bus stop) bound for Sakunami Onsen, and get off at Hōmei Shijūhachi-taki Iriguchi (鳳鳴四十八滝入口) bus stop.
Admission fee: None
Sakunami-style kokeshi doll towers at Sakunami Onsen. (Image credit: City of Sendai)
Visitors to Sakunami Onsen would be in for another surprise: three gigantic kokeshi (こけし) doll towers bearing the name “Sakunami Onsen”, standing right at the entrance to Sakunami Onsen. Miyagi Prefecture is particularly famous for variety of kokeshi dolls, and the town of Sakunami (作並町) is known for having its own unique style of dolls (作並系こけし Sakunami-kei kokeshi). The towers are representative of the town’s proud craftsmanship, and visitors can even buy them as souvenirs from shops in the town.
Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会 / Sentia)
Do you know that there’s a whisky distillery near Sakunami Onsen too? Nikka Whisky, one of the major whisky brands in Japan, has a distillery here that specialises in manufacturing the brand’s signature Miyagikyo (宮城峡) whisky. The brand’s founder, Taketsuru Masataka (竹鶴政孝), is said to have opened his distillery here because of the area’s clean water and optimal climate, which are essential for making quality whisky. Visitors can take part in a complimentary 45-minute tour in the distillery, and sample Nikka Whisky’s best whiskies from its lineup.
Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery (ニッカウィスキー宮城峡蒸溜所)
Address: 1 Nikka, Aoba, Sendai, Miyagi 989-3433
Access: Take a 7-minute shuttle bus ride from JR Sakunami Station (JR作並駅 Sakunami-eki). Alternatively, take a 25-minute walk from the station to the distillery.
Operating hours: 9am–4:30pm (closed from 24 December to 7 January, 20 August, and on days scheduled for distillery maintenance)
Admission fee: None (complimentary tours are conducted between 9am to 11:45am, and between 12:30pm and 3:30pm)
Note: Some facilities may be affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so please check their website for the latest updates.
Sakunami Onsen (作並温泉)
Address: Ainosawa, Sakunami, Aoba, Sendai
Access: Take a 40-minute train ride on the JR Senzan Line (JR仙山線 Senzan-sen) from JR Sendai Station to JR Sakunami Station (JR作並駅 Sakunami-eki). Complimentary shuttle bus service is available from the station to the resort. Alternatively, take a 70-minute bus ride bound for Sakunami Onsen from JR Sendai Station’s West Exit bus terminal, and alight at Sakunami Onsen Motoyu (作並温泉元湯) bus stop
④ Food, glorious food
What’s travelling without getting to feast on scrumptious food? People who have travelled to Sendai would vouch the city’s delicious local specialties; in fact, some of my own friends have travelled to Sendai from Tokyo just to enjoy them! When it comes to Sendai’s most famous delicacies, the usual favourites are the gyū-tan, which is beef tongue; zundamochi, which is made from edamame beans; and sasa-kamaboko (笹かまぼこ), which are grilled fish cakes shaped like bamboo leaves.
Gyū-tan (left), zunda-mochi (top right), and sasa-kamaboko (bottom right). (Image credit: City of Sendai)
Although the delicacies above are amazing in their own right, isn’t it a waste to come to Sendai only to enjoy the three dishes? Sendai is a gastronomical haven that has some of the most diverse delicacies in the region, and it has a lot more exquisite dishes that visitors can find in the city, so why not try them too. Hungry to know more about them? Let’s find out.
Hiyashi-chuka soba. (Image credit: City of Sendai)
If you’re in Sendai for the summer, try some hiyashi-chuka soba (冷やし中華そば hiyashi-chūka soba) goodness. It’s a cold noodle dish that is best enjoyed during the hot summer season, and there are many variants found throughout Japan. Sendai has its own spin on the popular summer dish too, and it is a delicious treat that is perfect for the sweltering heat.
Topped with vegetables, ham, and egg, hiyashi-chuka soba in Sendai is known to be pleasing to the eyes and the palate. The dish is originally inspired by Chinese cuisine, and there are many Chinese restaurants in Sendai that serve this dish. In particular, Ryutei is said to be the Chinese restaurant that first pioneered this dish, so do check it out whenever you’re in town.
Address: 1-2-10 Nishikicho, Aoba, Sendai, Miyagi 980-0012
Access: Walk for 10–15 minutes from JR Sendai Station’s North Exit to reach the restaurant.
*Operating hours: 11:30am–2:30pm, 5:30pm–8pm (opens only on weekends and national holidays)
*Operating hours may be affected due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
Seri-nabe. (Image credit: 仙台観光国際協会)
On the flip side, when it comes to the cold winter, nothing warms up the body better than a warm hotpot (鍋 nabe). There’s an interesting kind of hotpot found in Sendai called seri-nabe (セリ鍋) where, unlike other usual hotpots, this one features a copious amount of seri (せり Japanese parsley).
Japanese parsley is known for its distinctive long white roots, and in seri-nabe, the entire parsley is used in the hotpot, from the leaves to even the roots, and it’s accompanied by other ingredients such as duck, chicken, and offal, in a soya sauce-based broth. The dish originally came from Natori (名取市), a city that produces the highest volume of Japanese parsley in Japan, but it has gained popularity in Sendai over the years. Plus, Japanese parsley is in season only during the winter when it’s soft and flavourful, so do try this hearty dish out during the cold season.
Shiroishi U-men. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
Noodle fans, listen up. In Sendai, there is a type of noodle dish that looks like sōmen (そうめん) but is altogether different. Shiroishi u-men (白石温麺) is a dish that uses noodles made from wheat flour that are carefully stretched by hand and thinly sliced, resulting in a very smooth and delicate texture. Most importantly, the dish is known for being free of oil, preservatives, and additivities, and thus is good for health.
Interestingly, the dish has a history that stretches back more than 400 years ago, when a clansman from the Date feudal clan based in Shiroishi Castle (白石城) learned to make this dish from a travelling monk. The dish helped to cure the clansman’s father who was suffering from an ailment, and the clansman was very touched by the monk’s kindness. It is said that the dish was named after the castle, and “u-men” (温麺 warm noodles) to honour the “warm, compassionate heart” of the monk’s action.
Hokki-meshi and Fukahire-don
Hokki-meshi (left) and fukahire-don. (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
The next two dishes are for the rice bowl lovers, and these are topped with not-so-usual seafood ingredients. If you’re a big fan of clams, then try having some hokki-meshi (ほっき飯) which is rice topped with a generous serving of hokki (ほっき surf clams). Dubbed the “king of winter clams” for its sheer size and deliciousness, hokki is a local dish in Miyagi Prefecture given its close proximity to the Sanriku Coast, and is a delicacy that is in season from December to May. Hokki-meshi is a specialty of the towns of Watari (亘理町) and Yamamoto (山元町), but you can also enjoy in Sendai. A bowl of warm rice simmered in soya sauce and topped with surf claims is a simple dish with a profound taste of the sea that you can’t afford to miss.
Fukahire-don (フカヒレ丼) is another exquisite kind of rice bowl topped with dried shark fin, which is a prized delicacy. Sharks are a delicacy in the city of Kesennuma (気仙沼市) that is steeped in tradition, and in this dish it uses a dried version of shark meat, which has a more profound taste.
Oysters (top left), hoya (top right), and Moka no Hoshi (bottom). (Image credit: 宮城県観光プロモーション推進室)
There are many other delicacies in Sendai and neighbouring areas, some of which are for the more adventurous eaters. The area is close to the Sanriku Coast, so there are a handful of not-so-common seafood that are part of the local food scene. For example, when it comes to Miyagi Prefecture, oysters (牡蠣 kaki) are a huge deal. Although it can be enjoyed in many ways, be it deep fried, grilled, or steamed, the best way is to simply have it raw because of its incredible freshness.
Or how about hoya (ホヤ sea pineapples)? Don't let its bizarre appearance turn you off; the flesh is subtly sweet and flavourful, and goes amazingly well with sake and beer. They can be found in many izakaya (居酒屋 Japanese bars) in the region, including those in Sendai. Lastly, do you know that there's sashimi made from shark heart called Mōka no Hoshi (もうかの星)? Like fukahire-don, it's a delicacy that originated from Kesennuma and it makes for a delicious accompaniment with sake and beer too. Don't let its bloody red appearance fool you; the flesh doesn't have any bloody smell or taste at all, and it tastes surprisingly good.
Personally, I feel that Sendai is one of those cities that I find myself coming back to time and time again. It’s the type of place that has a bit of everything for everyone, and on top of that, there’s always something novel to find here, even for seasoned travellers. Plus, as the main gateway city to the Tohoku Region, it’s always tempting to make a detour to this city, rich in gastronomical delights and seasonal beauty.
The next time you get to visit Sendai, keep a lookout for new discoveries and amazing findings. I’m very sure there’s a lot more in store for everyone to find!
(Insider tip: Do you know what’s the best part about Sendai? You can use the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) to travel to Sendai and many other exciting places in the region. Find out more below.)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥20,000, making it a considerable option for rail travellers. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here. It can also be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
Header image credit: Sendai Tourism, Convention and International Association