The Oshika peninsula located in the northern region of Tohoku has been at the heart of myths and an important stage for local history for centuries. Rich in folklore, abundant in natural appeal, and home to one of Japan's Cat Islands, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it became an inspiration for Caroline Pover who visited Oshika for the first time after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Her book called “One Month in Tohoku: An Englishwoman’s memoir on life after the Japanese tsunami” is honouring her experiences and covers a decade of recovery in the area. We talked to Caroline about her journey in a recent interview but we couldn't stop thinking about Oshika where the deer (and cats!) roam far and wide (the “shika” part of “Oshika” means “deer”). We asked Caroline to run us through all the must-see spots on the Oshika peninsula and share her expert advice for first-time visitors and Tohoku old-timers.
While Oshika is still very much recovering from the 2011 tsunami, and there is a lot of ongoing construction work, it is an incredible place to explore. Visiting here as a tourist is extremely encouraging for local people. Don’t feel that you have to come here and “do” something or volunteer — just come and explore the area, admire the incredible scenery, eat the local food, spend money in the shops or at the shrines, and chat to the people you meet along the way!
What to do while visiting Oshika
Well there are so many things that I would recommend:
• Eat fantastic sushi at the family-owned Kogane Sushi in the new shopping centre in Ayukawa. While you’re there, spend a bit of money in the liquor shop and get some souvenir t-shirts and beads.
• Visit the tsunami memorial in Oharahama, engraved with the names of everyone the peninsula lost to the disaster.
• Visit Date Masamune’s 400-year-old shrine in Oharahama. Be sure to ring the bell of the kanetsukido that was constructed after the disaster, incorporating wood from the original kanetsukido.
• Go fishing off the end of the little port at Oharahama.
• Visit Juichimen Kannon (the eleven-headed goddess of mercy) in Kyuubun.
• Take a boat trip to Kinkasan shrine island. This is an island at the very edge of the Oshika Peninsula, considered to be one of the three sacred places in Tohoku. Visit the shrine three times in consecutive years and it is said that you will never have a money worry again! Deer and monkeys roam freely and are very friendly.
• Take a boat to Ajishima and sit on the beautiful beach that makes you feel like you’re on a tropical island.
• Go hiking through the forests.
• Walk to the highest point on Oshika — Gobansho Koen — and admire the incredible panoramic view.
• Watch the sun set — it’s breathtaking!
Where to stay on Oshika
The Hotel New Sakai is my favourite place to stay. All the rooms face Kinkasan, so you can wake up and gaze across at the sacred shrine island. If you look slightly to your left then you’ll see the direction in which the tsunami came — the bay between the hotel and Kinkasan emptied just moments before. The hotel has a lovely little outdoor onsen, and the food is excellent. Look out for bottles of gold-infused sake in the gift shop, it’s delicious.
If you like to camp, then Oshika Family Travel Village Auto Camping Ground also faces Kinkasan. You can bring your own tent, campervan, or stay in one of the wooden lodges. Facilities include toilets, a coin laundry, hot showers, and a kitchen. The views of the stars at night here are incredible.
How to get to Oshika
If you’re using public transport, then from Sendai Station to Ishinomaki Station, either take the train (JR Tohoku Line, which will take about one hour and cost ¥820, around £5*) or the bus (Miyagi Kotsu bus #33, which will take about 90 minutes and cost ¥800, around £5). From Ishinomaki Station to the Oshika Peninsula, you take the Ayukawa bus. There are seven buses per day, and they make over 40 stops before arriving at Ayukawa. The journey in itself will be a huge adventure with its windy roads, hills and valleys — but this is partly what made me first fall in love with the place! It will cost about ¥1400 (around £9) to go all the way to Ayukawa, and take about 90 minutes. The timetable is here (Japanese only I’m afraid, but with the help of Google Translate you should be able to find your stop). The bus drivers are so friendly that if you just tell them where you are going on Oshika they will tell you when to get off so you can just sit back and enjoy the view.
If you are a road trip enthusiast, it will take about seven hours to drive from central Tokyo to the end of the Oshika Peninsula and make sure to factor in some additional time for exploring other places on the way. With tolls and fuel your Tohoku adventure will probably cost at least ¥20,000** (around £130). Head 350km up the Tohoku Expressway and get off at the Tomiya junction. Merge onto the Sendai Hokubu Road then take the Rifu junction and the Sanriku Expressway. Take the Ishinomaki exit toward route 16. After almost 20km turn left onto Onagawa highway 398. At Watanoha Station turn right and this road takes you all along the Oshika coast.
Of course you could always get up to Sendai or Ishinomaki using public transport and then hire a car so you can explore Oshika at your leisure.
These are all things that will bring you in contact with the local people, give you a chance to chat to them, and also put a little into the local economy. People will be so happy that you have visited, and I am sure really thrilled if you said you were visiting for a little weekend away. You could honestly just drive around the entire peninsula and fall in love with it just like I have done — in fact, if I am around when you visit I might even be persuaded to be your personal tour guide for a day.
* Make sure to double check the prices before your visits, the estimates were made in March 2021 and therefore the cost may vary.
** For shorter trips around Japan by car and campervan, also check out the Expressway Passes which provide exemption from toll roads for a fixed fee, over a fixed period of time.