Catch two games in two cities in just one day!
Take a cruise around the scenic Matsushima coast
Hike to a mountaintop temple
Take a soothing hot spring bath
Among the venues hosting games outside Tokyo, Sendai is particularly accessible since it’s just 90 minutes away if you take the Shinkansen bullet train. Some of the Olympic soccer games are set to be held at Sendai. Use this 48-hour itinerary to catch games in two cities and experience the best of the Tohoku region.
Day 1: Watch games in Tokyo and Sendai, and explore the beautiful Matsushima coast in between. In the evening, dine on local delicacies such as seafood and beef tongue.
Day 2: Head to a mountaintop temple in Yamagata Prefecture, just an hour away by train. After a light hike, luxuriate in a hot spring bath.
|Required time||48 hours|
|Distance traveled||About 48 km|
|Transportation||Shinkansen, train, bus|
Enjoy the Tokyo 2020 games!
Spectacular seaside views between games
Sendai is located 350 kilometers from Tokyo and is a major city in the Tohoku area. The Tohoku area is in the north part of Japan and has a cooler climate compared to Tokyo. It’s also packed with lush natural landscapes, great food, and rich cultural traditions. Summer is a great time to visit.
You can combine an Olympic game with your visit to Tohoku—some of the soccer games are set to be held in Sendai. Hop on the Shinkansen trains Hayate, Hayabusa, or Komachi, and you’ll be in Sendai in just 90 minutes.
Many games in the Tokyo venues are scheduled to take place early in the morning to avoid the summer heat, so you can catch a game in Tokyo in the early morning and then head to Sendai to watch a soccer game in the evening. For example, you can check out the triathlon match at Odaiba Seaside Park on July 27 from 6:30 to 9:05, and then arrive in Sendai before noon.
After you arrive at Sendai, head to the picturesque Matsushima area on the Pacific coastline. You can see more than 200 small pine-covered islands rising out of the pristine Matsushima Bay—this has been known as one of Japan’s three most scenic views since ancient times.
While some neighboring areas were affected by the 2011 disaster, Matsushima escaped extensive damage because the islands acted as natural breakwaters.
You can access Matsushima via Matsushima-Kaigan Station, about 40 minutes from Sendai Station.
There are two ways to enjoy Matsushima—you can take a boat cruise around the islands or explore the coast on foot.
Taking a boat lets you get up-close views of the beautiful azure waters and the emerald-colored islands, as droves of seagulls soar past.
Cruises depart from the port located about 8 minutes from Matsushima-Kaigan Station. There are three major routes, and each takes about 50 to 60 minutes. You can even take a sunset cruise to see the sky and sea tinged with beautiful colors.
Another option is to explore points of interest on the coastline. The Matsushima coast is home to Zuiganji Temple, a prominent Zen temple built in 828. It houses several important cultural artefacts and a pristine traditional garden. The temple is a short walk from the port.
For beautiful panoramic views of the area, head to the 45-meter high Shintomiyama Observatory, located 15 minutes on foot from the docks.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite after exploring Matsushima, treat yourself to a seafood lunch. The Sanriku Coast stretches from Sendai to the north part of Iwate and has a complex terrain of bays, coves, and cliffs. A rich variety of seafood are caught in the area and you can enjoy fresh oysters, scallops, and sushi at the Matsushima Fish Market, located close to the docks.
After exploring the Matsushima coast, head to Sendai to catch a game. A total of six games are set to be held in Sendai, including the qualifying rounds and quarterfinals for men’s and women’s soccer.
All the games will kick off at 17:00 at Miyagi Stadium, located in the north part of Sendai City.
There will be shuttle buses running to the venue from Sendai and Izumi-Chuo Station. If you are planning to catch a game right after your visit to Matsushima, hop on a shuttle bus from Tagajo Station. Note that the routes starting from Sendai, Izumi-Chuo, and Rifu Station are all barrier-free routes.
On the way from Tagajo Station, look out for the beautiful crescent-shaped roof of the stadium—the design was inspired by the helmet of the 16th century feudal lord Date Masamune.
You can purchase beer and snacks at the stadium. Get there early to enjoy the Olympic energy!
After the game, take the shuttle bus back to the center of Sendai City for dinner.
Grilled beef tongue is the local specialty—the thick slices are seasoned with just salt and pepper before they are char-grilled. You can also find restaurants serving fresh seafood dishes as well as vegetarian food made with locally-grown herbs and vegetables. For a casual dinner with plenty of dishes to choose from, head to an izakaya. If you prefer fine dining, it’s best to make reservations in advance.
Take a stroll around the shopping streets of Sendai after dinner. Look out for large, colorful paper ornaments that mark the Tanabata Festival.
Other notable festivals that take place in the Tohoku area include the Aomori Nebuta Festival and the Kanto Festival in Akita.
Sendai’s Tanabata Festival takes place from August 6 to 8 every year. You can spot extravagant bamboo ornaments throughout the city during this period. Note that the Tanabata Festival does not coincide with the Sendai Olympic games.
Visit Yamagata’s mountains and hot springs
Spend the next day exploring the lush Tohoku mountains. Take a train from Sendai to the beautiful Risshaku-ji Temple. Commonly known as Yamadera, this temple was extolled by famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho.
The entire mountain which the temple sits on is a place of ascetic training and worship. It was built in 860, and revered as a place to dispel bad luck for over a millennium.
The trailhead is about a 10-minute walk from the station. Walk 1,015 stone steps to the highest point, Okunoin Temple. Set aside about an hour and a half to explore the area. Although you don’t need hiking gear to hike the route, it’s best to wear sturdy shoes.
From the Konponchudo Hall (the main temple hall), ascend past the Sanmon. The trailhead is about a 10-minute walk from the station. Walk 1,015 stone steps to the highest point, Okunoin Temple. Set aside about an hour and a half to explore the area. Although you don’t need hiking gear to hike the route, it’s best to wear sturdy shoes.
Gate and the enormous Mida-hora rock to Okunoin Temple, the highest point in the complex. You can take in spectacular views of the surroundings from various parts of the temple.
Located along the cliffside are Kaisando Hall and Godaido Hall. The view of the village below from Godaido Hall is particularly noteworthy.
One of Matsuo Basho’s most famous haiku poems was written to commemorate his visit to Yamadera: Such stillness… / the sound of the cicadas / seep into the rocks.
You can find a monument erected by Basho’s followers in the temple premises.
Once you’ve descended, sample some local treats like konjac jelly balls, zunda mochi (edamame rice cakes), soba, and dango rice cakes.
After a light hike, relax and rejuvenate at a hot spring. You’ll find plenty near Yamadera with varying efficacies and views. While hot spring facilities are open to day-trippers, you can also opt to spend the night at a hot spring inn.
Hot springs near Yamadera
Ginzan Onsen is one of Yamagata’s most prominent hot spring towns. A stream runs between the traditional wooden buildings, making for a picture-perfect view. This view is also believed to have inspired the Studio Ghibli animation Spirited Away. If you’re visiting on a day trip, drop by the Shirogane-Yu bathhouse. It was designed by Kengo Kuma, the Olympic Stadium architect. Note that many ryokan inn bathhouses are only open to outside guests until 13:30.
Ginzan Onsen is a 40-minute bus ride from Oishida Station. To access Oshida Station, you have to transfer at Yamagata Station. The entire train ride is about an hour from Yamadera.
Tendo Onsen was first discovered when digging a well for agricultural use. In the area, you’ll find plenty of hotels and ryokans offering bath facilities for day visitors. There are also three public foot baths where you can rest your weary feet. Tendo is also a major producer of shogi (Japanese chess) pieces. You can have your own shogi piece order-made and engraved with a character of your choice.
Tendo Onsen is a 15-minute drive from Yamadera. There is also a free shuttle bus with connections to the area.
Zao is a volcanic area that straddles Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture. The area is most famous for its ski area where visitors can see huge trees covered in hoarfrost. Developed as a hot spring area about 1900 years ago, it now houses a range of bathhouses, some with private baths. Soak in the milky white hot spring waters in an open-air bath—you can choose from baths that overlook grasslands, mountain streams, or lush forests.
To access Zao, first head to Yamagata Station from Yamadera (15 minutes), then hop on a bus (40 minutes).
After visiting hot springs, you can head back to Tokyo via the Yamagata Shinkansen. The journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. You can make it back in time to catch an evening game in Tokyo.
If you have the JAPAN RAIL PASS or the Seishun 18 Ticket, you can opt to further explore the Tohoku region—you can choose from Akita, Aomori, Iwate, or Fukushima Prefecture. Each area has something unique to offer, from beaches and mountains to hot springs and culinary hot spots.
If you have an extra day, visit a town along the Tohoku coast. Many parts suffered severe damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Now the area is on the road to recovery.
In the hope to pass on the memory of this disaster to future generations, many towns have been building memorial facilities and preserving disaster sites. There are also study tours and workshops conducted by survivors.
Here are some places you can visit to learn more about the disaster and how communities are moving forward:
Sendai 3.11 Memorial Community Center
The Sendai 3.11 Memorial Community Center holds both permanent and special exhibitions to share the records of the disaster. The exhibits show the past, present, and future of the disaster by sharing the history of the region, reconstruction records, as well as the memories of the people involved. Workshops are also regularly held.
It is just a 15-minute subway ride from Sendai Station.
Arahama Elementary School
Arahama Elementary School is located in the outskirts of Sendai. When the disaster struck, 320 residents including children were taking shelter in the four-story building. It ended up being flooded up to the second floor by the tsunami. The damaged school building has been preserved as a memorial project and is open to the public. Take the Tozai subway line and get off at Arai Station. The school is a 15-minute bus ride away.
Ishinomaki Community & Info Center
This info center is located in Ishinomaki City, a major fishing area. The facility shows how much the city changed after the disaster via dioramas, photos, and DVDs. You can hear stories about the disaster from the director, a native of England, who experienced it firsthand. Ishinomaki Station is an hour from Sendai Station by bus or train. The community center is 15 minutes on foot from the station.
Memorial sites in Onagawa
In Onigawa, a police station and two-story reinforced concrete building were among the structures toppled down and severely damaged by the tsunami. They have been preserved as is to serve as a testament to the power of the tsunami. The memorial sites are a striking contrast to the new buildings that have been set up in reconstruction efforts. To access Onagawa Station, go to Ishinomaki Station and transfer to the JR Ishinomaki Line. The train ride is about 30 minutes.
A decade after the disaster, these sites are transforming from disaster-stricken areas to revived communities. Visit Tohoku to experience the hope and vitality that runs through them.
Matsushima Fish Market
Sendai’s Tanabata Festival
Yamadera Risshaku-ji Temple
Ginzan Onsen (hot springs)
Tendo Onsen (hot springs)
Zao Onsen (hot springs)
Sendai 3/11 Memorial Community Center
Arahama Elementary School
Memorial sites in Onagawa