While Toyko, Kyoto and Osaka are the usual first stops on any visit to Japan, don’t overlook a journey through the stunningly beautiful landscapes of the Tohoku region in the northern part of the country.
Sendai, the easiest place to start your trip, is just an hour and a half by bullet train from Tokyo. From there Tohoku is made up of six prefectures: Aomori, Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata, Iwate and Akita.
The area is known for its unspoiled countryside, so hiking or walking is a must.There are also countless trails to cycle on in the region and after a day of exercise, enjoy a healing onsen, or healing baths that you can find in hotels throughout the region or in public hot springs.
Aomori is the northern most region in Tohoku. Lake Towada is the perfect places to become one with nature. If hiking isn’t your thing, there’s a ferry that will take you through the area by boat. One of the most sacred temples in Japan called Osorezan is here. The name means “Fear Mountain” and is said to represent a Buddhist’s take on the afterlife.
Miyagi (as in Mr. Miyagi, Was he from here?) is home to the hundreds of tiny islands that surround gorgeous Matsushima Bay. There’s also amazing hiking throughout Naruko Gorge. A must stop in the area is Zuiganji Temple that includes an art museum and is set deep into the woods. Come hungry because Miyagi prefecture is more densely populated with sushi restaurants than anywhere else in Japan. As a result local chefs like to compete to see who has the tastiest dishes. Here you will also find the famous cat island on the island of Tashirojima, where cats outnumber humans six to one! If cats aren’t your thing check out Zao Fox Village, where the sly little creatures are believed to have mystical powers.
Most Westeners probably associate Fukushima with the 2016 tsunami that severely damaged a nuclear power plant. That said, this prefecture is also famed for its scenery, which is an explosion of color in the fall. Urabandai is where to find the Goshikiuma Walk, which takes hikers through lush forests to many pristine ponds. If you happen to visit in the spring don’t miss Hanamiyama which is a sea of pink cherry blossoms. Ouchijuku is a popular tourist attraction who’s shops and restaurants were restored to the traditional thatched buildings from the Edo Period.
In Yamagata you will find Yamadera, a temple founded in 860. It’s a hike to the top, but well worth it for the incredible views. Nearby is Dewa San, the three sacred mountains. Yudono San is the most sacred, but Haguro San is probably the easiest for novice climbers. Yamagata is also home to Zao San and its giant crater.
Visit Iwate if you want two things—amazing rock formations and amazing noodles. In Iwaizumi Town there’s the giant Ryusendo Cave system that’s open to the public. The rocky Kitayamazaki Coast is reminiscent of the Route One drive in Northern California and some Japan’s best skiing can be found at the Appi Kogen Ski Resort. Visit the Sekinoichi Sake Brewery to make your own sake with a special label.
Akita (yes like those cute dogs that originated here) is known for its onsens (particularly the historic Nyuto Onsen), the Hachimantai mountains and cherry blossoms every spring, but is also perhaps one of the best places in Japan to take in samurai history. The Samurai were the military nobility class that existed for over 1000 years. There are several historic samurai households open to the public. The largest is the Aoyagi House.
Where to stay— Of course there are hundreds of hotels throughout the region including Ryokans ( a traditional Japanese Inn) or on local farms that are open for visitors. More luxurious accommodations include Chikusenso Mt.Zao Onsen Resort & Spa (Miyagi Prefecture), Kakunodatesanso Wabizakura (Akita Prefecture), Yunushi Ichijo (Miyagi Prefecture), Oirase Keiryu Hotel (Aomori Prefecture), Onyado Kawasemi (Fukushima Prefecture)
For more information go to http://luxurytraveljapan.jp