Jan 4, 2021
WHILE THE TOHOKU REGION ON THE NORTHERN tip of Japan’s Honshu Island is lovely at every time of year, it’s especially sublime in the fall. With mountains, quiet seaside and an abundance of nature, the region is an ideal alternative to busy city travel in the wake of the pandemic. During this season, the days are crisp, sunny and the foliage is just beginning to change. Thanks to the Shinkansen trains, traveling to the area from Tokyo is a snap. Plus, to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the lightning-fast trains have introduced a special air ventilation system that replenishes the air inside each car every six minutes. With the purchase of a JR East Pass for the Tohoku region, travelers will enjoy access to five days of unlimited travel on local and Shinkansen trains within the area. Here are just a few of the many ways to explore the region during this atmospheric season.
Sample Some of the World’s Finest Whisky
Founded by the legendary Masataka Taketsuru, Nikka Whisky produces smooth grain and malt whiskies that are renowned by esteemed connoisseurs around the globe. Whether you’re an aficionado on the subject or an amateur enthusiast, a trip to the Miyagikyo Distillery is a treat. First opened in 1976 in a lush glen on the Nikkawa river surrounded by mountains, this stunningly beautiful place is perfect to learn more about the production of exceptional whiskies. Book a tour to dive into the history and culture of this unique elixir, then stop by the bar to try rare editions.
SUP in a Truly Spectacular Setting
Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, is one of the best places in all of Japan to grab a board and catch some waves. Professional surfers can often be seen testing their mettle on the world-famous breaks here. A great way to see the region is by stand up paddleboard, or SUP. October is one of the most beautiful times of the year in the region. The days tend be sunny and still warm, albeit with a pleasant autumnal chill in the mornings, making them perfect for surfing. Take a SUP tour down the Matsuhima coast or the Okura dam for the full Sendai experience. There are also plenty of ways to unwind on the land, including hiking tours of breathtaking gorges and waterfalls. You can visit the YAYU website to book a SUP tour in advance and experience this enjoyable activity.
Make Traditional Crafts with Children
When it comes to cultural attractions, the annual Sendai Tanabata Festival remains a firm favorite with families. Even if you’re not in town for the festival itself, it’s a wonderful place to learn about the history behind this colorful tradition. The Tanabata Festival, also known as the Star Festival, has its roots in the ancient Chinese Qixi Festival. It’s celebrated around Japan, but Sendai’s festival is especially famous for its eye-popping ornaments made of bamboo, brilliantly hued cloth, and washi paper streamers. In Sendai, children can craft their own souvenirs to help them remember their magical visit to Japan. One of the popular snacks in Sendai are called sasa-kamaboko, a special variety of fishcake shaped like a bamboo leaf. They’re a delight to eat and a specialty for which Sendai is justly famous. At the Handmade Sasakama Fishcake Workshop, both kids and parents will love learning how to make this traditional delicacy.
For the latest sightseeing information in Sendai see facebook.com/welcometosendai.japan
With the JR Tohoku Shinkansen, travelers can reach Sendai from Tokyo in 100 minutes.
Create Your Own Art and Discover a Historic Castle
Built in 1384, Tsurugajo Castle is the perfect place for younger travelers to dive into the fascinating history of shoguns and samurai. Although much of the structure has been rebuilt over the centuries, it still offers an authentic glimpse of the past. After exploring the museum, head back into Aizuwakamatsu city to try your hand at painting an Akabeko figure. Fashioned after an ancient legend about a cow from the Aizu region, these adorable cow dolls with their wobbly necks are a popular symbol of the area and believed to prevent the plague—not to mention a perfect souvenir.
Test Your Archery Skills
Aizu Hanko Nisshinkan, a center first opened in 1803 in Aizuwakamatsu, offers visitors the chance to try their hand at kyudo, the ancient Japanese martial art of archery. During the Edo Era, young boys destined to become samurai would practice their skills at an early age in order to master the necessary focus and discipline. Today, both children and adults of all genders are welcome to practice at this historic training site.
Pick Your Own Fruit
While in Fukushima City, be sure to leave time for a trip to Marusei Orchard. Fukushima’s peaches are widely regarded as some of the best in the world—after one luscious bite here, it’s easy to see why. As the temperatures begin to drop in the fall, the peaches give way to equally delicious apples and nashi pears. After picking your own produce, you can enjoy a scrumptious parfait made with local fruits and whipped cream from the cafe in the orchard.
With the JR Tohoku Shinkansen, travelers can reach Fukushima City from Tokyo in 90 minutes.
Sail Past the Coast in a Local Fishing Boat
Snap breathtaking photos of the Sanriku coastline from a Sappa Boat, a small watercraft favored by local fishermen, when you visit Tanohata Village. Afterward, be sure to visit the incredibly scenic Jodogahama Beach, which is home to a series of striking limestone caves including the Jodogahama Blue Grotto.
Learn about the Edo Period through Crafts
Morioka has long been revered as a city of art and artisans, of poetry and fine craftsmanship. Its natural beauty inspired the poet Kenji Miyazawa, whose writings are still revered by scholars to this day. Wander through the picturesque streets in the shadow of Mount Iwate and admire attractions such as a crooked house built during the late Edo Period. At Morioka Handi-Works Square, learn more about traditional crafts, then sample a few local sweets.
Slurp Delicious Soba Noodles
Wanko soba, a staple dish in Morioka and Hanamaki, is a terrific way to let kids have fun with their food. These delicate buckwheat noodles are served in petite bowls with an array of toppings. Once you’ve slurped up the whole bowl, a server will quickly refill it. Children can try and compete with their siblings to see who can eat the most noodles.
With the JR Tohoku Shinkansen, travelers can reach Iwate Prefecture from Tokyo in 135 minutes. For scenic journeys through Iwate Prefecture, don’t miss a ride on the Sanriku Railway, which travels through the mountains past sweeping vistas. On holidays, the carriages are decked out in tatami mats, adding to the ambiance.
Make Friends with Cuddly Canines
Akitas are a fiercely loyal breed known for their intelligence and devotion to their owners. Let your family get up close and personal with these majestic mountain dogs at the Akita Dog Visitor Center in Odate. Little ones will love petting and playing with these friendly, well-trained pooches. You can also visit with the pups at Enishi Guest House, a facility housed in a private home.
Try on a Traditional Kimono
No trip to Japan is complete without the opportunity to try on a traditional kimono or yukata. In the town of Kakunodate, visitors can stroll through charming streets. At the Aoyagi-ke, immaculately tended gardens and shrines greet guests. Both locations offer a stunning backdrop for a photo shoot while dressed in one of these stunning garments.
Enjoy a Unique Rail Bike Experience
Kids with a sense of adventure will be thrilled to wander around Kosaka Railroad Rail Park, a decommissioned rail station in Kosaka Town. If you book a Kosaka Railroad Bike Experience, you’ll be able to peddle along the tracks through dense, emerald forests. Choose a two-person bike for a romantic afternoon or a four-person bike for the family. If all that exercise sounds a little strenuous, you can take it easy with a motorized one.
With the JR Akita Shinkansen, travelers can reach Akita from Tokyo in 4 hours. The Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway makes it easy to discover the scenic side of the region, with plenty of routes the bucolic splendor of the countryside. In autumn, the trains offer a wonderful way to enjoy all of the colorful foliage.