Today I’m taking you to discover a corner of Japan that is far too little highlighted from a tourist point of view: Miyagi prefecture, in the region of Tohoku, in northern Japan.
For this trip, I was accompanied by the great adventurer at the hard bar, I named Jules in Asia, who has been traveling for 15 years across Asia but had never visited northern Japan before.
Between magnificent landscapes, secret onsen and cultural activities, we will be amazed!
MATSUSHIMA, THE ESSENTIAL PLACE OF MIYAGI
The flagship place of Miyagi Prefecture is undoubtedly the city of Matsushima, known for its bay which includes 260 islets covered with pine trees. This place is part of 3 best views of Japan, a classification which dates from the 17th century and which also includes Miyajima, near Hiroshima and Amanohashidate, north of Kyoto.
It is a really very nice place to visit, not only for its view but also for its atmosphere, the Zuiganji temple (you can visit the interior which is magnificent), the Entsuin temple (you can create your own Buddhist bracelet), the Kanrantei tea room (which enjoys a superb view) its boat cruises as well as Fukuurajima Island and its pretty nature.
NARUKO ONSEN, A CHARMING THERMAL VILLAGE
To spend the night in Miyagi, I recommend you take a tour of the side of Naruko Onsen, a thermal village lost in the mountains known to shelter more than 400 sources.
Naruko Onsen is known throughout Japan for its Kokeshi, traditional Japanese dolls which date from the Edo period and which were sold as souvenirs for tourists who came to enjoy the onsen in the region. You can do the activity of creating your own Kokeshi doll at Sakurai Kokeshi for 1,650 yen (€ 13).
To sleep, I can only advise you Ryokan Onuma which dates back 120 years and is run by adorable grandpas and grandmas. There are 8 Onsen so 1 mixed and most private, which means that there is no problem for people with tattoos.
DREAM MIXED ONSEN AT ONIKOBE ONSEN
Then head for an exceptional place that will upset the famous ranking of my favorite Onsen by directly taking first place … A secret Onsen hidden deep in the mountains in Onikobe Onsen, an area a 30-minute drive from Naruko Onsen.
The establishment is called Fukiage Onsen Hounkaku, We find there a totally natural and mixed Onsen with a waterfall. It’s only open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. if you just want to enjoy the Onsen, but otherwise access is free if you stay there for one night (and it’s really cheap).
Right next door, we find Jigokudani park where you can admire streams of natural hot water everywhere.
LITTLE STOP IN OSAKI
After this paddling in order in the Miyagi Onsen, we made a short stop on the way back to Osaki to visit Yubikan, a former school of Samurai then stately home which has a pretty garden.
Right next to it, we also find Moritami Shuzouten, a Sake Brewery with a small museum that includes an old house to visit.
Nothing exceptional but a nice little stop on the road! 🙂
SUNSUNKAN, A FORMER PRIMARY SCHOOL RECONVERTED INTO A HOSTEL
For this second night of the trip, we took the direction of Minamisanriku, a city which is tragically known to have been one of the most affected by the 2011 Tsunami, almost completely destroyed.
It has gradually recovered and today the inhabitants are trying to revitalize the city with new shops and tourist activities. So we went to spend the night at Sunsunkan : a former primary school in operation from 1947 to 1999 then converted into a hostel in 2001. The place is located in the mountains so was not affected by the 2011 Tsunami.
THE OKAWA SCHOOL IN ISHINOMAKI
The next day, we went to the city ofIshinomaki, also very affected in 2011 with thousands of victims … Okawa Elementary School who saw almost all of his students and teachers lose their lives in the Tsunami.
This is something that shocked a lot in Japan because schools are normally always located in the safest places in the city, evacuation centers are almost always school gymnasiums.
Today, the school has been transformed into a memorial with explanations and photos, so we stopped on the road to see it in silence.
SENDAI, THE CAPITAL OF MIYAGI PREFECTURE
Direction then the last stage of this trip, the city of Sendai, capital of Miyagi prefecture. It is the largest city in the Tohoku region but, apart from eating its specialty which is beef tongue, we don’t come to Sendai much to do tourism because they say there isn’t much to visit …
We did however find some interesting places with the ruins of Sendai Castle (view of the city and small sanctuary), the mausoleum of Date Masamune Zuihoden, the Rinnoji temple and its pretty garden as well as the nightlife of Sendai with the nightlife district of Kokubuncho, Iroha Yokocho and the exceptional Yakitori restaurant Kokoro Bakari.
This is where this beautiful trip to Miyagi prefecture ended, a place that you never think of visiting except for its village of foxes (which is not phew at all and I not really recommend) but which nevertheless abounds in beautiful treasures to discover, especially on the side of the Onsen! 🙂