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My First Trip to Tohoku: Why It Belongs on Your Post-Pandemic Travel List

From locally sourced food to spiritual healing and incredible scenic views, traveling from coast to coast in Tohoku is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

By 4 min read

In a post-COVID-19 era when many travelers are looking for niche destinations outside of bustling city centers, Tohoku is an incredible region to visit. It has a rich history, spectacular views and delicious local delicacies.

I’ve always wanted to experience this northernmost part of Japan’s main island to detox from the daily grind. With the support of travel company In-outbound Sendai Matsushima, I arranged a coast-to-coast itinerary to see some of Tohoku’s highlights.

While this trip can start from either East or West Tohoku, my journey began in the east from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture—just a 90-minute ride from Tokyo using the shinkansen (bullet train).

East coast: a spiritual respite

Photo:
One of the main island inhabitants visiting Koganeyama Jinja.

After arriving at Sendai station, my first stop was an island called Kinkasan, which has a higher population of deer and monkeys than people.

Upon arriving at the island, I came across Koganeyama Jinja (shrine), where many visitors come to pray for wealth because of a local saying that you’ll become wealthy if you visit three years in a row.

But you don’t have to be money-motivated to visit Kinkasan Island—the entire island is holy ground, and with several hiking paths around the island, it will quickly quench your thirst for nature, too.

Photo:
The view looking out over the Pacific Ocean from Karakuwa Peninsula.

Sendai’s food was also unbeatable, starting with my first meal in the region: a sushi bento so fresh that our island guide had caught the fish for it that same morning.

The next day, I journeyed to Karakuwa Peninsula, full of beautiful woodland paths and rocky beaches. There were several hiking courses to choose from with various lengths and difficulty levels, perfect for both beginners and experienced hikers.

Photo:
A fisherman on the Kesennuma coastal bay.

The food on this second day of my westward trip was also delicious. I visited an oyster farm in Kesennuma to learn about the cuisine in Miyagi Prefecture and was treated to the unforgettable experience of going out on a boat with a local fisherman.

Second to heaven in Mogami, Yamagata

Photo:
Coffee and a nature hike along Mogami’s Natagiri-toge Pass? Yes, please!

My next stop was Mogami City in Yamagata Prefecture. In Japanese, mogami means “the highest”—and the guide for our first activity in Mogami was quick to mention it. He explained: “Mogami is ‘the highest’ city, so I guess that means we’re second only to heaven.”

And it certainly did feel heavenly to ascend the hiking trail along Mogami’s mountainous Natagiri-toge Pass. This trail inspired famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho to write his travel journal, Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Sinking into a hot spring was just what I needed to get ready for the final day of my Tohoku tour.

Thanks to the incredible trip coordinators at In-outbound Sendai Matsushima, I had a quick coffee break right on the trail. There’s nothing like freshly brewed coffee as a pick-me-up for a hike.

Mogami’s heavenly charm doesn’t end at its poetry-inspiring hiking trail—other highlights of the area include a Mogami river boat cruise, the enchanting Forest of Illusion and local farmhouses.

After eating a vegetarian lunch at one of the farmhouses, I traveled further west to stop for a nighttime visit at Hijiori Hot Springs. Sinking into a hot spring was just what I needed to get ready for the final day of my Tohoku tour.

Rebirth on the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa

Photo:
Our “Yamabushi” (Buddhist monk) guide, leading the way on Mount Haguro.

On the last day of my trip, I went to Yamagata Prefecture to explore the Three Mountains of Dewa. Each of these mountains represents a state of time: Mount Haguro the present, Mount Gassan the past and Mount Yudono the future. The locals say that you will be spiritually reborn by visiting the shrines at the top of all three mountains.

With the help of a Yamabushi (Buddhist monk) guide, I climbed the 2,446 steps to the top of Mount Haguro. Along the way, I snapped a photo of the intricately engraved five-story Gojunto pagoda, and had lunch at a temple called Saikan before my final ascent. At the top, it was a mesmerizing scene with our guide surrounded by trees and shrines in such a strong spiritual space.

Photo:
The immense five-story pagoda, Gojunto

Whether your goal is spiritual rebirth, hiking around inspirational nature scenes or diving into local cuisine and connecting with the people and culture behind it, you can find it all in a coast-to-coast Tohoku trip.

To learn more about how you can customize your journey and set up your own trip itinerary, visit the In-outbound Sendai Matsushima website. As an added incentive, all those who participate in this tour from March 7, 2021 will receive an original “Coast to Coast: Walk Savour Connect” T-shirt.

Book your tour now through Eighty Days or Tohoku “Local Secret” Tours.

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