Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku
Tohoku, the northern most region of Japan’s main island, is often viewed as one of the most remote and least visited areas in the entire country, but if you let its location hold you back from visiting, you will truly miss out on a lot of the Best of Japan. Tohoku is a land overflowing with natural beauty and historically significant structures that it could take months to see it all. Fortunately we have laid out a pretty detailed list of the Best of Tohoku, to help you plan your visit. So scroll through and take notes on what you want to see before you leave.
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Akita
Akita, one of the northern most prefectures, is well known for its onsen and sake, but there is a whole lot more that makes this little prefecture worth a visit. Something that makes Akita stand out to any of you history buffs, is that Akita has one of the best preserved samurai districts in all of Japan. The residences and surrounding cherry blossoms make for a stunning view and an unforgettable experience. On top of that the prefecture has an abundance of natural beauty which includes one of the regions most famous mountain ranges. There are so many interesting things to see and do in Akita, that we really had trouble limiting the prefectures contributions to the Best of Tohoku. If you are visiting Akita, be sure to check out these four attractions as an introduction into the prefecture’s best.
Kakunodate is not only known for being one of the best of Tohoku, but one of the best of Japan for hanami viewing. This scenic area is famous for its Sakura Matsuri and is best visited when the blossoms are in full bloom (usually in late April). Kakunodate also has a well preserved samurai district (mentioned below) and its surrounding mountains rivers make the city beautiful even outside of cherry blossom season.
Kakunodate Samurai District
Kakunodate’s Samurai District is one of the country’s best examples of samurai architecture, and one incredible reason to come to Akita. The district once contained over 80 samurai households, but currently only 6 are open to the public. The biggest of these houses, the Aoyagi House, holds several buildings including the residences and museums. All 6 of these samurai residences are worth exploring and adds why Kakunodate’s Samurai District on one of the Best of Tohoku.
Looking for hot springs with a historic, maybe rustic feel? Nyuto Onsen will be perfect. The area’s ryokans have over 300 years of history, and are some of the nation’s most historic onsen. Of these ryokans, Tsuunoyu (pictured above) is both the oldest and the most famous, and is perfect after a long day of hiking through Hachimantai.
This flat topped mountain, sometimes referred to as a plateau, is one of the area’s tallest mountains and offers some decent hiking and views. Although the view from the top of Hachimantai is nice, it may be best to take in the mountain from a far. There is a sightseeing road that connects Akita to Iwate and really allows you to see the whole mountain along with its surrounding natural beauty. The mountain also has some hiking trails that take you up to Hachiman Numa Lake on your way to the peak. Just good old fashioned outdoorsy fun.
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Aomori
Aomori, the absolute most northern prefecture in Tohoku, has been picking up steam in the past few years and is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in all of Tohoku. The prefecture is quite famous for its Nebuta Matsuri as well as its ungodly cold winters, but what might not be such common knowledge is that the prefecture also contains one of the country’s most beautiful streams and lakes. The area is absolutely beautiful, and well worth a visit. While you are checking out Aomori’s contributions to the Best of Tohoku, remember to see some of these five attractions.
Ever wanted to visit the afterlife? Well at Osorezan you can. Well, you can at least see an area that resembles an interpretation of the Buddhist views of the afterlife. Close enough right? Osorezan, or Fear Mountain, is one of the three most sacred areas in all of Japan and is one of the many Best of Tohoku. The area features many exquisite temple buildings, a very spiritually important river, and a ton of natural surrounding beauty. The area is also known for its volcanic activity, which feeds the nearby lake sulfur giving it a unique blue color. There are also onsen around Osorezan, which makes it all the more appealing.
The Oirase Stream, the only outlet out of Lake Towada, is one of the country’s most popular locations to see the call colors, and one of our favorites on this list of the Best of Tohoku. The stream carves through a forest of lush colors that are especially vibrant and beautiful during the fall. The stream’s surroundings are great, but the Oirase Stream itself contains 12 waterfalls that make for some picturesque scenes.
One of the country’s largest caldera lakes, Lake Towada is one of Aomori’s many fantastic outdoor attractions. The lake is relatively undeveloped and perfect for hiking and taking in the scenic beauty. Lake Towada is particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves start to change colors. There are shrines, statues, hiking, as well as many observation decks to enjoy while exploring Lake Towada, but perhaps the best way to take in the lake’s beauty is to hop aboard a ferry and see the lake by ship. It will certainly prove itself to be one of the Best of Tohoku.
One of the 12 original castles that have not been rebuilt in modern times, Hirosaki Castle is one of Aomori’s many historic attractions you won’t want to miss. The castle is great throughout the year, but you are going to want to be here during the cherry blossom season. The castle is a sea of pink sakura during the later part of April and makes Hirosaki an absolute must see. The combination of history and natural beauty makes Hirosaki one of the Best of Tohoku.
Held every year on August 2nd through the 7th, the Nebuta Matsuri has not only become one of Aomori’s most famous attraction, but arguably Japan’s most famous festival. The festival consists of 4 nights and one afternoon of marching enormous floats made of Japanese paper depicting ancient gods and Japanese folklore. The floats are truly impressive and make for one convincing reason to visit Aomori.
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Fukushima
If you are like me, the first time you ever heard about Fukushima was only after the recent tsunami and subsequent issues at the nuclear power plant. The prefecture may even seem to be a scary place to visit at the moment. That being said, Fukushima has several phenomenal attractions that deserve mentioning on any list of the Best of Tohoku. The prefecture is a bit out of the way, but if you do make it here you will not regret it.
Urabandai, or “Behind Bandai,” is one of the Tohoku’s most scenic hiking spots famous for its ponds and fall colors. There are numerous hiking trails that let you see the most scenic areas of Urabandai, but perhaps the best trail is the Goshikiuma Walk which leads you through forests and to many of the area’s beautiful ponds. Try to make it here during the fall so that you can truly see why Urabandai belongs on our list of the Best of Tohoku.
Once an old post town located on an important trade route, Ouchijuku is a window into traditional Japan and should not be missed. The town has been preserved as it was during the Edo period and has several restaurants, shops, and even guest houses set up to make a walk through the town like a walk through history. There are several temples and shrines spread out throughout the area so be sure to thoroughly explore every nook and cranny of Ouchijuku so that you don’t miss out.
Although Hanamiyama is nothing special throughout the majority of the year, those few weeks in late April and early May, when the cherry blossoms bloom, make the area one of the Best of Tohoku. Hanamiyama is found just outside of Fukushima City and really can’t be missed. Just look for the massive pink mountain.
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Iwate
Iwate, one of the northernmost prefectures, is not one of Tohoku’s most famous prefectures, but it sure packs a punch. Iwate’s known for two things. Its rock formations, and its noodles. Morioka, the capital, is super popular for its many noodle dishes, including the all you can eat Wanko noodle restaurants. The area was hit by a terrible 8.9 magnitude earthquake back in 2011, and is still in a rebuilding phase. It is perfectly safe to travel through Iwate and see its contributions to the Best of Tohoku, but keep in mind that the prefecture’s coast line is under going relief efforts at the moment.
The Geibi Gorge, or Geibikei, is one of the country’s most impressive gorges and can be best seen by a flatboat river tour led by a local guide. The 90 minute tour will feel a lot like a gondola ride through some of Iwate’s most scenic areas. The Geibikei is beautiful year round, but is especially stunning in the fall when you can take in all of the colors. This is one impressive tour that you will not soon forget.
Appi Kogen Ski Resort
Looking to get some skiing in while touring the Best of Tohoku? Well look no further than Appi Kogen Ski Resort. This resort contains some beautiful and long slopes and also remains open through Golden Week in May. What more could you ask for? The resort is about 50 kilometers north of Morioka can even be reached by bus from Morioka Station. It will cost you roughly 10,000 Yen for a full day pass and ski rental, but the price is well worth it for some of the best skiing that Japan has to offer.
We are covering a few different coast lines on this Best of Tohoku list, but Kitayamazaki Coast might just be our favorite. This 8 kilometer stretch of cliffs, beautiful rock features, and stunning ocean views makes for one impressive scene. Whether you are driving nearby or taking in the sites from one of the many observatories, you are sure to enjoy your time along this Iwate coast.
The Ryusendo Cave is a massive cave system found in Iwaizumi Town, and is not only one of the Best of Tohoku but also one of the country’s top 3 caves. This extensive limestone cave system features several lakes and is believed to go nearly 5,000 meters into the mountain. Although 3,500 of those 5,000 meters has been explored and charted, only about 700 meters is actually open to the public for tours. That being said, they are a rather impressive 700 meters. Don’t miss out on Ryusendo Cave while in Iwate.
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Miyagi
When you hear “Miyagi,” what comes to mind? Scenic coastlines? Beautiful gorges? Wax on, wax off? Whatever comes to mind, whatever expectations you may have, forget about them. Miyagi is a prefecture that is packed with natural beauty, and no picture is going to do the landscapes justice. Just come and experience Miyagi and all of its wonderful contributions that make up part of our list on the Best of Tohoku.
One of Japan’s Top 3 Scenic Views, Matsushima Bay offers a coastal view like none other. The bay features 200 small white islands that are covered with green pine trees. The view is really quite stunning. Although you can enjoy the view from the shore, it may be advisable to look into taking a cruise around Matsushima Bay. The choice is yours, but no matter how you take in the view of Matsushima Bay, you are sure to enjoy one of the Best of Tohoku.
Although Zuiganji Temple will be closed to the public through March of 2016, the temple is one of the region’s most important and beautiful historical buildings that should be remembered as one of the Best of Tohoku. The temple was constructed to reflect the natural beauty of the Matsushima Bay area and uses its natural surroundings to amplify its own beauty. As you approach the temple you will pass through a dense wooded area as well as a couple caves that really add to the Zuiganji experience. Although the temple is closed off at the moment, there are numerous buildings (including an art museum and mausoleum) that are still open to see.
After a few minutes in Naruko, it won’t be hard to see why we include this gorge on our list of the Best of Tohoku. The Naruko Gorge is one of the most scenic attractions Miyagi has to offer. The gorge has some pretty spectacular hiking as well as numerous onsen spread out throughout its grounds. Although Naruko is beautiful year round, it is one of the most beautiful places to take in the fall colors in all of Miyagi, so be sure to come in the fall.
photo credit: via photopin
Best of Tohoku
Best of Tohoku: Yamagata
If you understand the characters that make up the name “Yamagata,” it may come to no surprise that the vast majority of the attractions found in this prefecture are based out of mountains. These mountain attractions are absolutely spectacular. Sure some of the hikes may include a decent bit of hiking, but they will be well worth the effort. Come explore Yamagata’s contributions to the Best of Tohoku.
One of the country’s most scenic temples, Yamadera is easily deserving of being put on our list of the Best of Tohoku. The temple was founded in 860 on a mountain just north east of Yamagata City. It is a decent hike from the nearest train station, but the view from the top is absolutely worth the effort.
Dewa San is a series of three sacred mountains that all feature a prominent shrine on or near their peaks. The mountains and shrines are some of the Best of Tohoku and really make for an incredible day of hiking. The three sacred mountains consist of Yudono San (the most sacred), Gas San (the tallest), and Haguro San (the most accessible). We highly recommend climbing all three… just maybe not all in one day. Keep in mind that both Gas San and Yudono San have relatively short climbing seasons (July-October).
Zao San, one of the most prominent mountains in all of Tohoku, is a staggering 1841 meters high and offers some spectacular hiking. Zao San is certainly a beautiful mountain, but what makes Zao San one of the Best of Tohoku is its “Okama Crater.” Unfortunately you cannot get near the crater, but you can get a pretty decent view of it from a distance. There are also several nearby onsen that are just the perfect way to end a day of hiking.
Best of Tohoku