Tohoku, Japan makes up the northeast region of Honshu island with six prefectures and seven major cities. Known as Snow Country, this region experiences some of the largest amounts of snowfall in the entire world. Tohoku is traditionally a rural, backwater, area rich in culture and history, complete with stunning scenery from the mountains to the hot springs.
As you could imagine with an area being called "Snow Country", Tohoku is known for their heavy snowfall in the winters, making it a great place for winter sports. The area is rainy throughout the year, though April and May tend to have lower rainfall and warmer weather, making it a good place for summer sports and enjoying natural beauty.
Tohoku is a vast region with a wide range of natural scenery and gorgeous architecture. The Dewa Sanzan is comprised of three mountains considered to be holy by the Shugendo. There, you'll find five story pagodas, stunning bridges, and a number of hiking trails. In the historically rich town of Hiraizumi, you'll find the famous ChÅ«son-ji Temple, famously known for its Golden Hall. You'll also find the cave temple of Takkoku no Iwaya Bushamon-do in Hiraizumi, dedicated to Bushamon the god of war and home to a bodiless Buddha after an earthquake destroyed everything but the head.
There are seven major cities in the Tohoku area: Aomori, Hiraizumi, Hirosaki, Miyako, Morioka, Sendai, and Yamagata.
Aomori is the northernmost city in the region located on Matsu bay. It is home to the Nebuta Festival, the largest fire festival in the country. Hiaizumi is a historically rich city in the northeast and is home to various temples and hostrical sites. Hirosaki is considered the cultural capital of the North due to the large number of samurai houses, the Hirosaki-castle, and the festivals they hold there. Miyako is a small town known only for Jodogahama beach, making it a great place for a day trip.
Morioka is the capital city of the Iwate Prefecture and one of the more modern areas of the Tohoku region. It is known for having gorgeous rivers and a very peaceful zoo. Sendai is the largest city in the region and known as the "Forest City" due having many forested public gardens and parks. Finally, there is Yamagata, famous for their mountain temple, Yamadera.
With so many cities, there are countless things to do around the Tohoku region. The primary activities involve being outdoors, such as hiking, skiing in the winter, and enjoying the bountiful hot springs. The Asamushi Onsen Resort in Aomori is one of many great places to enjoy such hot springs or take a hike to the Koyaneyama Shrine on the mountainous islands of Kinkasan to pray for eternal financial peace.
The Tohoku region is also home to some of the most beautiful and fun festivals in all of Japan. Sendai hosts the Tanabata festival that runs from August 5-8 where the entire town is decorated with large decorations of flower balls and streamers. Hirosaki hosts the annual Sakura festival to celebrate the blooming of the 2600 cherry blossom trees located around the city, many of which are also lit up in the evening for an even more romantic view.
Food and Dining
Food options in the Tohoku region vary from city to city, but for the most part are fairly simple and use locally produced ingrdients. In Hirosaki, the leading producer of apples in Japan, you'll find many dishes incorporating apples, like the apple soup at Yamazaki restaurant. With Sendai being the largest city, you'll find the most variance in food options. They offer traditional teishoku, a dish of ox tail, pickles, and barley, at Rikyu restaurant along with traditional Indian food at Namaskar restaurant.
Sendai is also the place to go when looking for nightlife; from Guinness pubs to jazz bars, there's a little bit of everything in Sendai. Tohoku is also known for their sake and whisky production, with many bars throughout the region selling local spirits. Some of the distilleries offer tours, though few are in English.
With the Tohoku region being so spread out, the ideal travel option is to rent a car. Especially with Tohoku still being fairly rural, local buses and trains are sparse. If you're traveling during the winter, this may present difficulties as many smaller roads will be closed due to snow. In that case, there are some train and lift options that can get you where you need to be.
Larger cities have train and bus networks and most cities have a Japan Rail station close by. Most cities are small enough that you can take a JR train into the city center and simply walk around. Just be aware that some cities have quite a few steep hills that are not the easiest to take on foot.
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