A delightful spring trip to Southern Tohoku (Part 2)
Welcome back! In this article we’ll continue on our spring cherry blossom viewing trip around Southern Tohoku, checking out various places around Yamagata and Matsushima. If you just joined us, feel free to check out Day 1 and Day 2 in Part 1 of this series here. Are you ready to see what we got up to on Day 3 and Day 4?
Day 3: Yamagata → Akayu → Nagai → Yamagata
On the 3rd day of our trip, we continued to explore cherry blossom viewing spots in Yamagata Prefecture. Our first destination for the day was Eboshiyama Park (烏帽子山公園 Eboshiyama Kо̄en).
Akayu Station (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Eboshiyama Park is located near JR Akayu Station (赤湯駅) on the Yamagata Shinkansen, about a 25-minute walk from the station.
Cherry blossoms bloom beautifully at Eboshiyama Park (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
With more than 1,000 cherry trees of various types, many of which are hundreds of years old, the park is one of the most beautiful cherry blossom viewing spots in the Tohoku region. It is also considered one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan (日本さくら名所100選), a list curated by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association.
The view from Eboshiyama Park (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Eboshiyama Park is located on a hill overlooking the entire surrounding area, including the Akayu Onsen hot spring area, famous for its healing and health-promoting effects, while the far side of the Azuma mountain range is covered by snow all year-round. The large space with beautiful views makes it a favorite picnic or strolling spot for locals and tourists alike.
Hachimangu Shrine (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Fortunately, our visit to Eboshiyama Park coincided with the full bloom of the cherry blossoms. Although it was raining lightly, the wet weather did not diminish the beauty of the scenery, but instead made the atmosphere more magical. In particular, the row of torii gates stood out among the pink cherry blossom trees. Going deep inside is the Hachimangu Shrine, built in the Meiji Period (1868–1912), where locals pray for prosperous business and a bountiful harvest.
Scenery at Eboshiyama Park (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Like many other famous cherry blossom viewing spots, during the blooming period the entire park is lit up at night. If you have the opportunity to visit this place, do not miss the opportunity to admire the splendid scenery of Eboshiyama Park during the cherry blossom season!
Eboshiyama Park (烏帽子山公園)
Address: 1415 Akayu, Nanyō-shi, Yamagata 999-2211
Access: 25-minute walk or 5-minute taxi ride from JR Akayu Station (赤湯駅)
Lunch: Beef Domannaka ekiben
Enjoy the most famous ekiben of Yamagata—Beef Domannaka made from Yonezawa beef (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
For lunch, we decided to have a meal right in the park, the way Japanese people do when admiring cherry blossoms: bento! In particular, the bento that we enjoyed was the famous Beef Domannaka Ekiben (牛肉どまん中 gyūniku domannaka), made from Yonezawa beef and rice from Yamagata Prefecture. Like many other ekiben sold at train stations, the Beef Domannaka lunch box was beautifully packaged, and was convenient to eat. In the lunch box was delicious beef with rich soy sauce, and the rice was still very flexible whether eaten hot or cold. It also included side dishes such as scrambled eggs and pickles. It was truly one of the best lunch boxes we had ever eaten!
Isazawa no Kubozakura
Nagai Station. (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Leaving Eboshiyama Park, our next destination on this trip was the Isazawa no Kubozakura (伊佐沢の久保ザクラ) cherry tree and the line of cherry trees along the banks of the Mogami River, both located near Nagai Station (長井駅) on the Yamagata Railway Flower Nagai Line. Isazawa no Kubozakura is about 10 minutes by taxi from Nagai Station.
Take pictures with the ancient cherry blossom tree, Isazawa no Kubozakura (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
The Isazawa no Kubozakura cherry blossom tree is considered one of the oldest cherry blossom trees in Japan, and is estimated to be about 1,200 years old. Compared to ordinary cherry blossom trees, the size of the Isazawa no Kubozakura tree may surprise you with a height of nearly 14m, and with branches spreading between 18–24m. Not only that, the tree is also associated with many legends intertwined with local history, and was recognised as a Natural Monument in 1924.
Currently, the roots of the tree have been corroded, so the branches are being supported by more than 60 braces, and is in the stage of conservation care with advice from experts. Every year at the end of April, many tourists come here to admire one of Japan’s oldest cherry blossom trees.
Isazawa no Kubozakura (伊佐沢の久保ザクラ)
Address: 2027 Kamiisazawa, Nagai-shi, Yamagata 993-0021
Access: 10-minute taxi ride from Tyamagata Railway Nagai Station (長井駅)
Walking along the banks of the Mogami River (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Not far from the ancient Isazawa no Kubozakura is a line of cherry trees along the banks of the Mogami River, only about a 10-minute walk from Nagai Station. The place is also known as Mogami Park. Along the riverside are hundreds of cherry blossom trees planted along a 2km road in 1918, on the occasion of Emperor Taisho's accession to the throne.
On clear days, you can see the cherry blossom trees stand out against the snow-capped mountains in the distance, what a majestic landscape picture! When the weather is good, you can even rent bicycles and cycle around to admire the scenery, but unfortunately when we visited, it was raining.
Dinner and supper: Yamagata specialties
The most famous specialty of Yamagata: imoni. (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
For dinner at Yamagata, we ate a little more generously, and went to a restaurant to enjoy the dish that everyone talks about when it comes to Yamagata—imoni (芋煮). Considered one of Yamagata's most iconic dishes, you can easily find restaurants serving imoni everywhere. Imoni consists of taro, thinly sliced meat (usually beef or pork), konnyaku, and leeks in a broth and topped with soy sauce.
In addition, you can add mushrooms, cabbage and other vegetables. In the fall, people often organize outdoor parties to enjoy imoni with family and friends. Don't forget to add imoni to your list of must-try dishes when coming to Yamagata!
Tama-konnyaku is very unique (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Another dish that we enjoyed during dinner was tama-konnyaku (玉こんにゃく). Unlike the konnyaku commonly found in oden and sukiyaki which are light gray, the konnyaku in Yamagata are shaped like small balls (tama), hence their name tama-konnyaku. When eaten, tama-konnyaku is grilled with soy sauce and served with mustard. Yummy!
Dondonyaki—Yamagata's version of okonomiyaki (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
If you love Japan, you must have heard of okonomiyaki—a Japanese-style savoury pancakes with a unique flavor. Dondonyaki (どんどん焼き) can be considered as the Yamagata version of okonomiyaki, but the dough is wrapped around a pair of chopsticks. So you can buy and eat while walking. Dondonyaki can be found all around Yamagata, and is a snack worth trying when you’re suddenly feeling hungry while walking around in Yamagata!
Day 4: Yamagata → Matsushima → Tokyo
After enjoying the cherry blossoms in the two prefectures of Fukushima and Yamagata, our last stop on this trip was the seaside town of Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture.
Only about 40 minutes by train from Sendai, the town nestled in Matsushima Bay has a completely different look, with hundreds of large and small islands covered with pine trees. Due to its location deep in the bay, Matsushima was fortunate to not be severely damaged during the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsubami. Along with Miyajima in Hiroshima and Amanohashidate in Kyoto, Matsushima is honoured as having one of the three most beautiful views in Japan (日本三景nihon sankei).
Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park
Panoramic view of Matsushima Bay from above (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Our first destination was Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park (西行戻しの松公園 Saigyо̄ Modoshi no Matsu Kо̄en), about a 25-minute walk from JR Matsushimakaigan Station (松島海岸駅). The park is located on a hill with a view of the entire Matsushima Bay that is as beautiful as a picture. The name of the park is also associated with an interesting story.
In the mid-12th century, a monk and poet named Saigyo traveled around Japan. When he stopped at this hill, he met a child playing under a pine tree. The child and Saigyo quizzed each other on Buddhist puzzles, and when Saigyo could not answer them, he went back home and stopped visiting Matsushima. The pine tree was named Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu, which means "pine tree that made Saigyo go back home". Interesting story, isn't it?
Beautiful cherry blossoms at Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park. (Image credit: 東北観光推進機構)
Today, the park is a must-see when visiting Matsushima, especially at sunrise. Especially, in spring, more than 260 cherry trees in the park bloom, creating a spectacular picture with cherry blossoms standing out against the scenery of Matsushima Bay, true to the title of one of Japan's three most beautiful scenes. Don't miss the opportunity to admire this one-of-a-kind scenery! It was past the blooming period when we visited, but if you come during the right time, you can see a view like the photo above.
Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park (西行戻しの松公園)
Address: 2 Inuta, Matsushima, Matsushima-chо̄, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Access: 25-minute walk from JR Matsushimakaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Tea time: Cafe le Roman
Enjoying tarts, coffee, and the view at Cafe le Roman (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Right in the park is a cafe called Cafe le Roman, which helps visitors relax and unwind. The shop is built with a unique architectural style made mostly of glass, so that visitors can enjoy sweeping views of Matsushima Bay and the surrounding area. The cafe serves coffee and light snacks, so we decided to try some delicious coffee and a lemon tart.
Cafe le Roman (カフェルロマン)
Address: 10-174 Inuta, Matsushima, Matsushima-chо̄, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Access: 25-minute walk from JR Matsushimakaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Boat ride around Matsushima Bay
Cruise on Matsushima Bay (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
After leaving Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, we walked to the town centre to buy tickets for a cruise on Matsushima Bay. Tickets can be purchased at the counter in front of Matsushimakaigan Station, or at the pier, which is only a 5-minute walk from the station. The boat ride lasts around 50 minutes, taking visitors through many large and small islands in the bay. If you are lucky, you can also take pictures with cute seagulls. Every time you pass an island, there will be an announcement that gives visitors interesting and useful information. Depending on the boat company, some even offer English announcements.
The bridge leading to the island (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
After a cruise on Matsushima Bay by boat, we explored the town center before boarding the train back to Sendai. A must-see is Fukuura Island (福浦島 Fukuura-jima) connected to Matsushima by a red painted bridge over 200m long, striking against the backdrop of Matsushima Bay. The island, like a large park overlooking the bay, is the perfect place to stroll along the island's trails on clear days.
Godaido Temple (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
In addition, walking along the coast, visitors can visit the small island of Oshima, check out Zuiganji Temple (one of the most famous temples of the Tohoku region), stop at the Kanrantei teahouse, or take photos at the iconic Godaido Temple of Matsushima.
Enjoy fresh oysters at Matsushima. (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Finally, when visiting Matsushima, don't forget to enjoy the fresh seafood here! In particular, Matsushima is famous for its delicious oysters, especially from October to March every year.
Matsushima oysters are fresh and delicious. (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)
Besides restaurants, one of the best places to enjoy seafood is the Matsushima Fish Market (松島さかな市場 Matsushima Sakana Ichiba). With a large variety of fresh seafood, local specialties, as well as souvenirs, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Visitors can also enjoy oysters at a restaurant right in front of the fish market, an all-you-can-eat buffet where you have 45 minutes to eat as much grilled oysters as you can, for as little as ¥2,300. It's great, isn't it!
Matsushima Fish Market (松島さかな市場)
Address: 4-10 Fugendо̄, Matsushima-chо̄, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Food serving hours: 1F 8:00–15:00 / 2F 10:00–15:00
Access: 10-minute walk from JR Matsushimakaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Bullet train at Sendai Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nakamura)
At the end of the day, we headed back to Sendai to take the bullet train back to Tokyo. Our 4-day journey with the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) passed quickly, with many emotions and unforgettable memories. We will definitely remember the cherry blossom path in Kitakata, the romantic view of falling cherry blossom petals covering the moats around Kajo Park, the magical cherry blossoms on a rainy day at Eboshiyama Park, and taking the boat to admire the wonderful scenery on Matsushima Bay. It was time for us to say goodbye to the beautiful spring of Tohoku with its beautiful natural scenery, excellent food, and hospitable people, but we’ll definitely be back in another season!
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and applicable area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are visiting Tohoku, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥20,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Yamagata (~¥23,000). You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
Header image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh