In July, I spent four wonderful days with my new travel blogger/writer friends in the Tohoku region, Japan.
Tohoku Chihō or 東北地方 ("North East Region") is made up of six prefectures in the north of Honshu, namely the prefectures Aomori, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Yamagata.
Tohoku is known for its hot springs, mountains, lakes, and lovely countryside. And if you are near the coastal regions, the awesome seafood. You can get more info on Tohoku at voyag.in/jptohoku.
My first day in the Tohoku region and this was the view of the Mount Hakoda in Aomori prefecture. It's summer in Japan but here in the north, it's around 24°C. The air is refreshing and the sun is out. Not a bad way to spend a Monday. It gets hot in Tokyo and further south in Japan during the summer months, but when you go north, temperatures hover around 22ºC to 25ºC. Winters can get cold in the north though.
Our first stop was the Mount Hakkoda Ropeway. Taking the ropeway up this mountain in Aomori gives you awesome views, especially on a clear day.
Lunch was in a lovely farmer's restaurant in Hirosaki where you don't get a menu to choose from. The ladies there cook a different set menu daily from the produce in their farm and take great pride in producing meals the old fashioned way. They hold cooking classes here to promote the culinary culture of their community so that their food culture isn't lost.
We also made our way to see rice paddy art at Tanbo Art in Inakadate Village, Aomori. You can take a seasonal train to the Tamboāto Station nearby. This station only operates from April and November.
We ended our day at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel, nestled in Towada, Aomori. It has its own baths and huge rooms (my room view was that of the mountainside and stream), and a breakfast and dinner buffet to die for. The food here revolves around an apple theme, because Aomori is famous for its apples. We had apple cider, apple pie and pork chops with apple sauce. So good.
I know. This was just Day 1.
On my second day in Tohoku, I woke up at 5am to cycle along the Oirase Gorge in Aomori. It was a lovely 14km along the Towada Stream, especially when you get to enjoy views like this.
After breakfast, we did some hiking through Oirase Gorge and explored the flora and moss-cover rocks of the area. Then we checked out and drove down to the Tanesashi Kaigan or Tanesashi Coast (種差海岸) in Hachinohe, Aomori. There we tried some sea kayaking.
Lunch was seafood freshly caught from the Pacific Ocean and prepared for us by the lovely aunties there.
In the afternoon, we walked around the forest near the coast and then in the evening had a BBQ seafood dinner by the sea.
Even after we checked into our hotel in Hachinohe city, the day was not over. We went bar hopping in the famous back alleys of Hachinohe.
So many places to share. This was an unforgettable part of my trip: The Geibikei boat ride, in Ichinoseki city, Iwate prefecture.
The air was clear after the rain. And we moved through the waters of the 2km-long Geibi Gorge surrounded by nature, by fish in the waters, and dragonflies. Then the mist rolled in. And then our boatman (boat lady?) broke into song, her voice ringing through the gorge and echoing through the soaring cliffs.
Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi, Iwate is a very significant Buddhist temple in Japan. Built by Lord Kiyohira of wealthy and powerful Fujiwara clan, the temple is home to Konjiki-do, a golden hall or mausoleum containing the mummified remains of the three leaders of the Fujiwara clan: Kiyohira himself, his son Hidehira , and his beheaded grandson Yasuhira.
After the long day, we checked into Ryokan Onuma in Naruko Onsen hot spring resort in Miyagi. Ryokan Onuma is owned and fun by the family of Shinji-san, who is a fifth-generation innkeeper. This ryokan has been his family for more than 100 years!
In one day, I soaked in the outdoor onsen in Ryokan Onuma where I stayed, then went hiking at Naruko Gorge, followed by lunch at Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market (we ate FRESH tuna and salad) and a boat ride at Matsushima Bay, ending at the Godai-do Temple and tea at Kanrantei Teahouse that overlooks the bay.
I wish I had more time in the outdoor onsen at Ryokan Onuma.
Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market is huge and being near to Shiogama Port, receives one of the largest tuna catches in the country.
While it is a wholesame market, it is also open to the public, so you can get some really fresh tuna and seafood for very decent prices here. If you ate the same stuff in some Tokyo restaurant, it would easily cost you twice as much.
After we selected the fresh seafood and fish from the stalls, we bought a rice and miso soup combo for ¥300 each and tucked right in. I have never eaten this much fresh tuna in my life. Burp.
From Shiogama, we made our way to Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture. Mr Miyagi, my buddy, told me I was visiting Miyagi without him and felt left out.
We took a Matsushima Bay cruise and sat in first class, my first time in the first class area of a ferry. It felt pretty swag.
From the ferry. you can see the islands peppered throughout the Matsushima Bay.
I didn't get enough of the onsens and countryside and food this time round but the four days certainly gave me a taste of the region. I am certainly coming back to the Tohoku region again.
Some have asked me if it is possible to do this itinerary without driving, in a Free & Easy way. It is quite possible but it will take longer. Here are some broad tips:
1. Places like Tanbo Art, there is a train station. The station isn't open all year though (simply because in winter, there would be no point).
2. There is a free shuttle service to Hoshino Resort Oirase Keiryu Hotel from Shin-Aomori and Hachinohe.
3. The Tanesashi Coast is a five minute walk from JR Tanesashi Kaigan Station.
4. The Geibikei gorge is just a short walk from Geibikei Station along the JR Ofunato Line.
5. Chosun-ji Temple takes about 25 minutes on foot, from Hiraizumi station.
6. Ryokan Onuma is a five-minute walk from JR Naruko-gotenyu Station.
7. Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market is a 15-minute walk from Higashi Shiogama Station.
8. For Matsushima Bay, you can take a train from Sendai to Hon-Shiogama Station then take a cruise from Shiogama Pier to Matsushima, then return to Sendai via the Matsushima Kaigan Station. Or vice-versa.
Or you could also book Tohoku land packages from these two sites:
(All photographs here by me.)