Surrounded by many areas of historical interest and natural beauty, Sendai could be called the gateway to the Tohoku region. By basing yourself in one of Sendai's many reasonably priced hotels, you can enjoy a fun daytrips out to the surrounding area.
In the middle of May, JAPANiCAN.com staff members went and stayed in the center of Sendai to try these daytrips firsthand. The first trip was to Matsushima - one of Japan's Three Scenic Wonders, which was awarded a three-star rating in the Michelin 2009 Green Guide Japan for its natural beauty - and Shiogama, where you can try the seafood fresh from the fishing harbors on the Sanriku-kaigan Coast. The second trip was to Yamadera ("Mountain Temple") in neighboring Yamagata Prefecture, which is reached by climbing up 1,015 steps and commands excellent views. Check out our firsthand reports!
Save money on day trips from Sendai with a Sendai Marugoto Pass
The Sendai Marugoto Pass allows holders unlimited use of JR trains, subway trains, and buses in the Sendai area for two days! In addition to this, holders may make full use of Loople Sendai sightseeing buses, buses to and from the airport, as well as travel to Matsushima and Yamadera!
Adults: JPY 2,600 / Children (Elementary school and below): JPY 1,300
Validity: Two days
Matsushima is famous as one of Japan's Three Scenic Wonders, and features a bay dotted with over 260 islets. The famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho was the first literary figure to acknowledge the picturesque scenery of these pine tree-covered islands. The area is within easy reach of the city, taking only around 40 min from Sendai Station on the Senseki Line (JPY 800/round trip). On the way to the Matsushima coast on the Senseki Line from Sendai Station, you can stop off at Shiogama to try out the delicious, fresh sushi available at the fish market at Shiogama port, which is famous for its tuna catch and auction.
Visitors can take a pleasure cruise around Matsushima bay's islands (JPY 1,200 for 50 min) to enjoy the scenery on the water. In this way you can get to see details like the rock surfaces and tree shapes you can't see from afar, and even get the chance to feed the black-tailed gulls! When I went out to the ship's deck, there were lots of people engrossed by the gulls' feeding frenzy.
The Matsushima deep-fried oyster burger (JPY 350) is made with an oyster cream croquette topped with cabbage, and can be bought at the Matsushima fish market. The croquette is fried on order and is hot and deliciously creamy, with a great oyster taste.
A large amount of fish and seafood is brought into Shiogama from the sea around Sanriku. The fresh tuna catch brought in from the surrounding oceans is apparently the biggest and most valuable anywhere in Japan. At the sushi restaurants around Shiogama Station, you can enjoy sushi made with carefully selected ingredients for a reasonable price. The sushi set pictured was called the prime-quality Ichimori sushi set, and only cost JPY 2,000: excellent value!
Yamadera ("Mountain Temple"), has become known by this moniker thanks to its mountain-top position, but is formally known as Houjusan Risshakuji. Take the walk up the flight of 1,015 stairs freeing your mind of any obstructive thoughts, and enjoy the view from the above-pictured Godaido hall. The short trip to get to Yamadera Station takes approximately one hour from JR Sendai Station on the Senzan Line (JPY 820 one-way).
After arriving at Yamadera Station you will see an information sign at the station that says "It is a two-hour round trip walk to the inner sanctuary". The Buddhist monk-shaped sign guiding you to the mountain path entrance is also rather unique.
You'll reach the entrance in about 10 minutes at a relaxed pace, after which the steps begin immediately. At the top, you will find the Konpon-chudo - designated an important cultural property - and Risshakuji's main temple building.
When at the mountain's rest area, try tasting the local specialty of chikara konjak (JPY 100). This ball-shaped konjak has a salty-sweet soy sauce flavor and can be eaten with mustard. Eat it before climbing the stairs - you're going to need the energy!
There is a JPY 300 fee to enter the temple gates. There you will find a sign in Japanese that reads: "We have been climbing this sacred mountain's stone stairs step-by-step since ancient times as an ascetic practice to give us faith and extinguish our worldly desires."
Whilst climbing the mountain earnestly and free from obstructive thoughts is the Buddhist ideal, the beautiful greenery between spring and summer really is a joy to behold.
About four-fifths of the way up the mountain, you reach the Godaido structure, which was originally built to pray for peace on earth. From here, you can see distant mountain ranges and rock faces, as well as the town built below the temple in one unbroken view. The openness of the landscape makes for a refreshing change from the city. If you have time, you should continue up the mountain to the temple's inner sanctuary.
Ita soba noodles, served in a wooden box, are a famous Yamagata Prefecture product. I chose to have the local specialty of dashi soba with chopped summer vegetables such as eggplant and cucumber: healthy and refreshing!
You won't get bored looking out of the train window at the fresh verdure when riding the Senzan Line. Along the way you'll also pass a number of hot springs (onsen), including Sakunami Onsen Station and Akiu Onsen's nearby Ayashi Station. I highly recommend staying overnight at one of the traditional Japanese hot spring inns (onsen ryokan), but there are also inns with hot spring facilities that you can just visit on a daytrip.A list of Sakunami Onsen area accommodation
A list of Akiu Onsen area accommodation