10 must-see spots in Tohoku. Magnificent natural scenery and impressive, otherworldly landscapes that will live on in your heart.

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Written by Editorial department

Experience everlasting fascination – Tohoku’s Stunning Vistas

With over 260 islands dotting its surface, Matsushima Bay shows you many visages from its different vantage points. The Four Views of Matsushima have the greatest appeal, offering spectacular views, located at all points of the compass, that differ from vantage point to vantage point. You’ll also want to get in touch with the history surrounding various spots around the bay associated with the Date clan, a ruling family during the Warring States period, such as Zuigan-ji Temple, Entsuin Temple, and Godai-do Hall.
Taking a trip north will take you to Oirase Gorge with spectacular scenery that will not fall short of expectations, whether you visit for the spring flush of new greenery or the fall colors, and Jodogahama Beach, which paints a spectacular contrast of azure sea and white rhyolite rock. Tohoku has spectacular scenic spots that will captivate you with one look.

Oirase Gorge in fall with intricately varied watercourses through the forest in gorgeous brocade colors.
Oirase Gorge in fall with intricately varied watercourses through the forest in gorgeous brocade colors.

The “sacred site of the north”, where unique culture and beliefs live on

The Northern Fujiwara clan, which governed the Tohoku region in the Heian Period (12th century), built Hiraizumi as a prayer for peace, a town that retains to this present age a stage for Japan’s history. Chuson-ji Temple, with over 3,000 national treasures and important cultural assets, most notably Konjikido, the Golden Temple, shining bright gold, has been designated as World Heritage.

Oizumi-ga-ike Pond at the heart of the Pure Land garden at Hiraizumi Motsu-ji Temple, reflecting the beauty of the four seasons
Oizumi-ga-ike Pond at the heart of the Pure Land garden at Hiraizumi Motsu-ji Temple, reflecting the beauty of the four seasons

Founded in 1150, Yamadera Temple (Hojusan Rissyakuji Temple) is famous for the preeminent haiku poet Matsuo Basho having composed noted haiku there. Konpon Chudo Hall, which stands at the front, is said to be the oldest building constructed of beech timber and designated a national important cultural asset. All along the 1,015-step stone stairs you will find precipitous rock faces and cedar stands as well as numerous other sights including a graceful Deva Gate of zelkova timber, and a great Buddha hall enshrining a 5-m tall golden statue of Amithaba. The Godai-do Hall near the summit offers superb views that show what archetypically Japanese scenery is.

Godai-do Hall – The only stage-format hall at Yamadera
Godai-do Hall – The only stage-format hall at Yamadera

With Mt. Chokai visible far to the north and the Asahi Range visible far to the south, the Three Mountains of Dewa, Mt. Yudono, Mt. Haguro, and Mt. Gassan, stretching out to the east, have attracted people since the days of old for worship, mountain tops in which dwell the spirits of ancestors. The central role belongs to Mt. Haguro. Walking along the avenue of antique-looking cedars (awarded 3 Michelin stars) is sure to give you an indescribable sensation of being uplifted. The giant cedar groves along the 2,446 stone stairs leading up to the summit, and the five-storied pagoda, said to be the oldest pagoda in Tohoku, have a majesty that is thoroughly worthwhile beholding (and has been awarded 2 Michelin stars). The Three Mountains of Dewa offer the opportunity to experience the mysterious power of the mountains on holy ground set apart from everyday life.

When the snow on Mt. Haguro melts, in late-April, some 400 local residents, from elementary school children to adults, volunteer to clean up the approaches to the summit. This cleanup has continued since 1938 and involves removing bark, branches and leaves fallen during the winter. The day of the cleanup marks the coming of spring at Mt. Haguro.

Seven sites have been selected for 2 Michelin stars, including the national treasure, the Goju-no-to (Five Storied Pagoda), which soars high among the cedar trees.
Seven sites have been selected for 2 Michelin stars, including the national treasure, the Goju-no-to (Five Storied Pagoda), which soars high among the cedar trees.

Tono is a folklore village where you can enter the world of Kunio Yanagita’s Tono Monogatari (Legends of Tono), a masterpiece of Japanese folklore still read to this day. Visit enthralling spots around the village, including Kappa Pool, where, legend still has it, kappa (an animal of Japanese folklore) have appeared.

The watermill with thatched roof standing amid verdant fields
The watermill with thatched roof standing amid verdant fields

Walk from place to place along streets steeped in history

There exists in Tohoku a townscape that brings to mind the halcyon days, with its castle ruins and traditional merchant houses. Kakunodate, one of the top sightseeing spots in Akita, retains the streetscapes of olden times, most notably samurai residences and black-paling fences, and is famous as a place to see weeping cherry trees. The traditional craft goods made from cherry tree bark make excellent souvenirs.

Bukeyashiki-dori, an avenue lined with historical samurai residences
Bukeyashiki-dori, an avenue lined with historical samurai residences

Watching over Aizu Castle is Aizu Wakamatsu, a castle town dotted with famous historical sites from feudal times. Pick up traditional craft items such as Aizu lacquer ware or try Japanese sake at long established breweries in the area around Nanokamachi-dori. And try the local cuisine including Aizu soba or kozuyu (vegetable and scallop soup).

Nanokamachi-dori, dotted with charming old warehouses
Nanokamachi-dori, dotted with charming old warehouses

Tendo, top in Japan for making shogi (Japanese chess) pieces. Discover the intricate details behind shogi pieces at the museum, with chess displays from all over the world and shogi pieces made with the dedicated skill of present-day craftsmen. Tendo is also popular for its hot springs, highly regarded by women for its beneficial properties. Soak your feet in a freely available foot spa, or feast on 100% buckwheat soba noodles made with flour from carefully selected Japanese buckwheat grains.

Tendo city, where monuments to shogi appear everywhere
Tendo city, where monuments to shogi appear everywhere