Photo credit: Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division
Miyagi has it all: dramatic coastlines, gorgeous mountains, a cosmopolitan capital and unforgettable food, from delicious grilled beef to world-class oysters and succulent strawberries, to some of Japan's best sake. Come for the scenery; stay for the food.
Miyagi's largest city, Sendai, is less than two hours north of Tokyo by shinkansen, making it an ideal starting point for exploring Japan's Tohoku region. The diverse environment, from its forested mountains to its extensive coastline, has shaped Miyagi's rich food culture. Many of its famous foods come from its rich pastures and fields, and its coastal waters. Feast on Matsushima oysters, sip local sake, and enjoy the subtleties of Miyagi's renowned rice. Within easy reach of Sendai, explore island-dotted Matsushima Bay, head further north to the rugged Sanriku Coast, or go inland to see the natural beauty of Osaki, the snowfields of Mt. Zao and the rich farmlands and forests of Akiu.
Stay in Sendai
Sendai is a vibrant modern city, with a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. The area is compact and easy to explore on foot and is served by a convenient metro system connected to Sendai Station. The station is less than two hours from Tokyo by the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) and serves as an ideal base for exploring Miyagi and the rest of the Tohoku area. Most of the city's major hotels are within walking distance of Sendai Station, and range from luxury international hotels to inexpensive business hotels. Just a few stops from the main station, visitors can find stylish, modern hostels and charming guesthouses. To the west of the city center, the Akiu area has relaxing onsen (hot spring) resorts.
After you've settled into your accommodation, it's time to explore the city. Most of Sendai's bars, restaurants and cafes are on the west side of the station in the Kokubuncho entertainment district, which extends from north to south between Jozenji-dori Avenue and Hirose-dori Avenue. Follow the scent of barbecue to find casual restaurants serving Sendai's specialty, gyutan (grilled beef tongue), which became popular in the area after World War II. There are also yakitori, seafood and ramen restaurants in every direction. You won't go hungry in Sendai.
A rural escape to Miyagi's wine country
Akiu is a rural escape from the city, less than an hour by bus from Sendai Station. Spend a day exploring and relaxing, with Akiu Hot Springs village as a convenient base. Before exploring further afield, head to the Saichi Supermarket in town, for their famous Akiu ohagi sweets. These glutinous rice cakes covered in sweet bean paste are so popular, the supermarket sells around 5,000 per day. To the east of Akiu Hot Springs, a nature trail to Rairaikyo Gorge follows the Natori River, with beautiful views. Akiu Otaki Falls , on the west side of the village, plummets from a height of 55 meters, and there is a walking trail to the base of the falls. You can easily spend a day at Sendai Akiu Tenshukaku Gardens which includes traditional strolling gardens with koi ponds and bamboo groves, and an on-site onsen, Ichitaro no Yu . From the outdoor baths, you can enjoy the seasonal beauty of the gardens. After enjoying the gardens and onsen, you can have lunch at the rustic on-site soba restaurant.
Akiu's rich soil and relatively dry climate provide the ideal conditions for vineyards. Akiu Winery opened in 2015, producing varieties including Merlot, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris. Visitors can enjoy a wine tasting with locally made cheese, sea foods and meats.
A paradise for oyster lovers
Matsushima Bay —just 40 minutes from Sendai Station by train—is dotted with 260 pine-covered islands, creating a beautiful seascape often compared to paradise. For over a thousand years, monks, poets and nobles have made a pilgrimage here. The popular Miyagi Olle Oku-Matsushima hiking course is a great way to explore this coastal area and includes some of the best views of the bay.
Just steps away from the bay, Matsushima has many important temples built under the orders of the Date clan, who ruled much of the region from the seventeenth to mid–nineteenth centuries. Date Masamune (1567–1636), made Zuiganji his clan temple in 1609. Visit the impressive temple grounds near the bay, and try shakyo (sutra copying), a meditative practice of tracing Buddhist teachings.
Although Matsushima Bay seems timeless, it has changed since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The tsunami that devastated much of Sendai's coast damaged several of the small islands. Visitors can learn more at the Higashi-Matsushima 3.11 Disaster Recovery Memorial Museum , where the ruins of Nobiru Station serve as a memorial. The area's fishing industry has largely recovered from those tragic events, and the bay is patterned with oyster leases. Matsushima oysters are famous across Japan, and are best eaten here at their source, freshly shucked and quickly steamed. They are served year-round. Small shops line the bay, selling oysters and other seafood. Foodies should join a tour of the oyster farms , which includes plenty of fresh oysters, accompanied by local sake .
The Sanriku Coast—Seafood Capital of Tohoku
To the north of Sendai, the Sanriku Coast has a rugged, rocky coastline with hiking trails and spectacular sea views. The waters off the Sanriku Coast are a meeting point for cold and warm currents, which support a variety of marine life. These waters are said to be some of the world's richest fishing grounds. The coast was hit particularly hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, and the fishing towns of Ishinomaki, Minamisanriku and Kesennuma were devastated.
The towns of Ishinomaki, an hour's train ride east of Sendai, and Minamisanriku and Kesennuma, a few hours farther north, have been reconstructed and their fish markets have reopened, with delicious seafood every day. In Minamisanriku, you can enjoy seasonal kirakiradon , a bowl of rice topped with fresh seafood (including glossy orange ikura salmon roe) that look and taste gorgeous.
The local specialties include bonito, mackerel, and swordfish. Mekashabu, a dish of lightly cooked swordfish shabu-shabu style, is a must-try, and is offered at many local restaurants. After touring Kesennuma's rebuilt fish market , you can learn to make sushi with a professional chef at nearby restaurant Yuuzushi. Nothing tastes better with fresh sushi than a glass of sake, and Kesennuma boasts a famous sake brewery, Otokoyama Honten . You can tour the brewery and taste their famous brands, including Sotenden. The Ruins of the Great East Japan Earthquake Kesennuma City Memorial Museum is a moving reminder of the events of March 11, 2011. It also stands as a testament to the strong spirit of the local community.
Hot springs and sake tasting
Osaki in northern Miyagi has beautiful lakes and mountains, making it a popular destination for active holidays. Hike Naruko Gorge , before relaxing in the hot springs of Naruko Onsen . The mountainous Onikobe area has natural hot springs and geysers, and even a steaming waterfall. Visit Fukiage Onsen Houunkaku , a charming, which draws bathers to take a dip in natural hot springs at the base of a waterfall. The baths are open to day visitors as well as overnight guests.
The flat plains near Osaki's Kabukuri Wetlands are famous for yielding high-quality rice, so it is no surprise that the area has excellent sake. Tour the Ichinokura Sake Brewery , which is known for its innovative brewing techniques. There are free guided tours by reservation. The brewery's award-winning sparkling sake follows a similar process to making Champagne.
With the convenient Tohoku Shinkansen, you can reach Furukawa Station in Osaki in just 15 minutes from Sendai Station. Local trains from Furukawa Station reach Naruko Onsen Station in less than an hour.
Strawberries, snow and samurai
The Zao area near the border with Yamagata in western Miyagi, is a popular destination for winter sports and well known for its "snow monsters," trees that take on menacing shapes when covered in snow and subject to freezing winds. With its volcanic landscapes and forested highlands, the Zao area is a popular destination for hiking and cycling in all seasons. Shiroishi Castle has a fascinating history, having been passed between samurai families since the twelfth century. Immerse yourself in the history of the castle, with a samurai experience .
Visitors can dress in an authentic reproduction of samurai armor or a kimono from the Sengoku period (1467–1615) for a photo shoot around the castle. For a gentler experience, discover the art of Miyagi's kokeshi dolls. The Zao area in southern Miyagi is famous for these charming wooden dolls, which are traditionally made in the cold months after the rice harvest. There are several places you can see kokeshi dolls and paint your own , including Zao Kokeshi Museum , which can be accessed by highway bus from Sendai Station, and Yajiro Kokeshi Village, about 15 minutes by car or taxi from Shiroishi.
Yamamoto-cho in the Zao area is one of Tohoku's leading strawberry producing areas. Ichigo World is a strawberry farm that produces varieties including Miyagi's famous Migaki strawberries. Visitors can buy fresh strawberries and strawberry products, and enjoy a strawberry picking experience. Ichigo World is about ten minutes on foot from Yamashita Station, which is 45 minutes from Sendai Station by train.
With convenient transport connections, Miyagi is easy to get around. The Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo reaches Sendai Station in 90 minutes. Sendai Airport is a convenient hub for visiting the Tohoku region, with inexpensive daily flights from major cities including Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo. There are rail connections between Sendai Airport and Sendai Station in less than 20 minutes. Within Miyagi, Sendai Station is the hub for trains and buses across the region. Visitors can take advantage of the Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel around Japan for 7, 14 or 21 days. It covers Japan Rail trains and some buses. For exploring the Tohoku area, the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), is cost-effective. It also includes travel within the Tokyo metropolitan area.
For local travel in Sendai, the Sendai Area Pass for 1 day and the Sendai Marugoto Pass for 2 days, offer unlimited travel on most train and bus lines.
Due to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, business hours may be subject to change; please check with the venues before visiting.