Tohoku region, Japan // Spring Edition
EM has checked into ... Tohoku region, Japan // Spring Edition
I LOVE JAPAN (full stop). Japan is the one country that I can never get bored of and it deserves to be explored in detailed. You can't just go to the three main cities (Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo) and claim that you have been to Japan. Oh HELL NO, Japan has a lot more to offer and if you are up for an off-the-beaten-track destination, the region of Tohoku should be your next stop.
We went in Spring to catch the famous cherry blossom season, even though my hubby has hay fever and prone to pollen, oh well DEAL WITH IT.
This time, it was my hubby's 30th birthday so I have decided to surprise him with his very first business class trip. He was overjoyed of course! What a great way to start a holiday ey?
Sendai should be your first stop into your Tohoku adventure. Highly recommended for you to stay here for at least 3 days as a base to travel into surrounding areas (at most taking 2 hours of train ride for the furthest attraction). Sendai is sort of like a mini Tokyo with plenty of great food (MUST TRY: Ox tongue / Gyu-tan). Accommodations are at reasonable price too.
2. Shiraishi River
This place is super, ultra famous during cherry blossom season, since they have approximately one thousand cherry blossom trees along the river. As you can see, it was incredible! The pictures don't give this place justice, you really have to SEE it yourself. It was breathtaking!
You can either stop at Funaoka station or Ogawara station as you can walk in between to take in the scenery. We stopped at Ogawara station and walked towards Funaoka station. Also, there is a small tram car (not sure what is the right term for this) but this can take you up or down the hill. We bought a one way ticket uphill and walk downwards. During the ride (approx. 10 mins), you are again surrounded by cherry blossom trees, SO WORTH IT!
One tip that I have to tell you, find a higher ground and spot where the professional photographers are. There are plenty of them waiting at this particular bridge and you will be wondering why. This is because they are waiting to capture the best shot of the train riding along the river, so we waited and it was a great shot! (We managed to capture some woop woop!!! Thanks professional photographers with huge ass cameras).
3. Matsushima Bay
This place is famous by its 260 (and perhaps more) tiny islands covered by pine trees. You will have to purchase a ferry ticket when you are there (don't worry there are many sessions in one day and they take off every one hour, so if you can't get into one, you can have some bite and wait for the next one). Which reminds me, they are famous for seafood especially their gigantic oysters.
4. Geibikei Gorge
This place is just a short walk from Geibikei Station - not to be confused with Genbikei Gorge. Unfortunately we came too early as the wisteria flowers bloom around mid May (which cherry blossom season will be over). But it is still a MUST GO and VISIT. You pay a fee to go on a 90-mins boat tour which the boatman will explain the history of the place and also singing a traditional tune, bear in mind that this tour will be conducted in Japanese (but you have an English booklet to follow through). The experience was surreal and peaceful. And I felt like a renewed person after the tour, so definitely HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Also, there is one point of the tour which you will get off and walk towards the famous spot which you can try throwing a few lucky stones into the opening of a cliff. Myth says that if you managed to throw your stone into the opening, your wish within the factor of the stone will be granted (You can pick from: Love, Wealth, Health and so on).
*Geibikei Gorge is most famous during Autumn/Fall season as you can take in the autumn scenery along the gorge which I heard can be extremely pretty.
If you have limited time to travel in Tohoku region, you can give this area a pass. But since we have some time to spare, we decided to stop at Morioka to have a small break overnight before heading to Aomori. This town has a relaxing vibe and you can just walk around leisurely without any map really.
One thing you must see is the 'rock-splitting cherry tree'. This 400 year old (or more!) tree is famous because it grew out of a crack in a granite boulder. Something quite incredible to witness!
Aomori is the most northern tip of the Tohoku region, it is also the city before entering Hokkaido. You MUST visit the A-Factory for all apple related food and beverage items and they are AMAZING! This area is famous for its apple production hence its apples are exceptional!
Next, we visited the Nebuta Warasse, a museum dedicated to the city's famous Nebuta Matsuri festival (happening in every August). The museum really does capture the spirit of the festival and gave us a taste of its lively atmosphere, history and traditions. Definitely a very fun yet interesting experience!
Also, we stumbled across a random ramen shop near our accommodation and tried a curry based ramen with butter. It appears that this sort of ramen style is famous in Aomori and boy it BLEW us away. It was creamy, flavourful and very comforting in the colder climate of Aomori.
7. Tsuruga Castle, Aizu-Wakamatsu
You can either head to this area from Sendai and then venture northwards or you can explore this area on your way back towards Tokyo. We decided to pick the route of heading here after Aomori before heading back to Tokyo for our flight back home. This is also because we wanted to have a relaxing stay at a Japanese ryokan and spoil ourselves before the vacation ends.
During the cherry blossom season, Tsuruga Castle also open in the evening for much festive activities and street food available. The problem is that you will need to find a taxi back to your accommodation which can be extremely challenging if you can't speak Japanese. So something to consider before you decided to stay back till late to enjoy the festival.
There are still so many more places to explore in Tohoku region, unfortunately due to limited time that we had, we were only able to explore most of the east side of the Tohoku region all the way to Aomori. Next time, we will definitely explore the west side of Tohoku in another season, perhaps during Autumn or Winter. They do have fantastic snow at Tohoku by the way so you don't have to go to Hokkaido.
Language barrier is definitely a challenge as this area has not been well known internationally. But the people here are extremely friendly and will help you regardless at their best ability. I would recommend to get a SIM card with data so that you can navigate around.
Tohoku region gives off a very countryside feeling and allow us to experience another side of Japan, a very down-to-earth version. We felt a lot more connected to Japan somehow from this trip compared to our previous trips. So we will definitely go back and highly recommend for everyone to travel there!
Till next time, take care and stay inspired.