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Japan Wanderlust: Get On Up To Tohoku

Cool off in Japan’s northeastern region satiated with poetic mountain air, huge festivals and unforgettable lakes that will leave you lusting for more.

By 3 min read

Awkward introductions and the assurance that reality will live up to expectation. No, I am not forcing you to relive your last Tinder date, but reflecting on Japan’s sometimes inexplicable methods of inbound tourism.

In many ways, areas like Tohoku, Japan’s vast northeastern region, have been sorely passed over, despite best efforts to spark tourism there. Foreigners are gradually swiping right on the profile pics of lesser-known spots, but after some flirting, are they excited enough to actually take it to the next level — especially during the peak of these hot, lethargic summer months.

Then again, it only takes one ridiculously beautiful photo for some of us to instantly say, “Let’s do it.” That’s how everyone else uses dating apps… I mean… plans a trip, right? Even if that’s not exactly your style, get ready to be infatuated with some cool Tohoku travel.

While the region is more famous for its winter wanderlust like this:

Tadami River, Fukushima Prefecture

And this:

Snow monsters of Zao in Yamagata.

In summer, it’s the perfect place to beat the heat and humidity and even has some annual events coming up.

Check out Fukushima to stay a little cooler. You don’t have to go oceanside to hit the beach. The Inawashiro area features Inawashiro Lake, a sight that made me book a trip there after researching this article. Besides the pristine lake, which is reason enough to head out there, the area has camping, swimming, boat tours, shrines and onsen (hot springs). Yet another nature cool spot is Bandai-Asahi National Park with the majestic Mount Bandai.

Fukushima has mystical nature, so look past its bad rep.

If you’re more into drink and dance than nature, head up to Akita City for one of the biggest matsuri in Japan. The annual Kanto Matsuri — where poles strung with paper lanterns are hoisted into the air in crazy acts of balance — is coming up on August 3 to 6. Be sure to stick around for the rowdy night parade!

Kanto Matsuri, Akita

Miyagi’s capital, Sendai City, hosts the Tanabata Matsuri each August, but not too far from there is the unforgettable view from Matsushima. More than just a pretty landscape, Sendai and its surrounding areas make for an excellent portal into Tohoku. 

Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture

Welcome to your next epiphany: Yamagata. When you’re not in a surrealist, snowy dream world in the winter months (I’m lookin’ at you Zao Onsen), traverse up to Yamadera temple. It’s a scenic mountain temple where the famous poet Basho composed one of his most popular haiku: “Ah this silence / sinking into the rocks / voice of cicada.”

Yamagata Prefecture’s Yamadera temple.

If you’re brave enough, head to the northern-most part of the region. Aomori is not a tough sell to adventurers — in life and food. It features rocky coastlines and the freshest seafood, at Furukawa Fish Market, for starters.

Aomori’s Furukawa Fish Market.

In summer, more than 3 million people attend and participate in the Aomori Nebuta Festival (Aug. 2-7). And in the spring, overwhelming spots like Hirosaki Castle and its  “liquid bubble gum” moat should be at the top of your cherry blossom bucket list. (If you don’t have one of those, here is a good place to start.)

Aomori has some of the best cherry blossom spots.

Inspired yet?

That barely touches on the Tohoku region’s endless charms, but I hope it’s enough ammo to plan your next trip — or at least a romantic weekend getaway. And, unlike that Tinder date, I promise it’ll leave you lusting for more.

Have a Japan travel photo to share? Tag us on Twitter or Instagram with #GaijinPotTravel.

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