How to Plan an Epic Roadtrip Through Japan’s Tohoku Region

[SPONSORED CONTENT] With dazzling sights to see and scenic roadways connecting the seven prefectures, this culturally rich region is the perfect place to go for a drive.

Nov 18, 2020

This year, many travelers are revving their engines and heading on road trips packed with culture, history and fine cuisine. With its varied terrain and natural splendor, Japan’s Tohoku Region makes for spectacularly scenic drives. The Tohoku Express Way pass allows foreign visitors unlimited access to the region’s expressways for two to 14 days, making it a breeze to explore all of its many attractions. Japan has done an exceptional job of containing the novel coronavirus and takes safety measures seriously. Should you decide to board the Shinkansen at any step of your journey, rest assured that all of the cars have a state-of-the-art ventilation system, which replaces all of the air in each car every six to eight minutes. Additionally, the Tohoku region is renowned for its mountains, its seaside, and its natural splendor, all of which can be enjoyed outdoors and at a safe social distance. 

Head to Tsubame City and Sanjo City to discover the ancient, revered art of metal forging. The knives from this region are widely regarded as some of the finest in the world and have been made with the same exquisite level of craftsmanship for generations. Visit the Sanjo Blacksmith Training Hall to learn more about how expert blacksmiths practice their trade or check out the Tsubame Industrial Materials Museum for plenty of hands-on metal-working activities. 

Foodies should head to Kitakata City, which is famous for its distinctive style of ramen. Kitakata ramen typically features thick, toothsome noodles garnished with char siu and fishcakes in a rich broth. Be sure to try Bannai Shokudo, which has received accolades from international critics. Next, drive towards Fukushima City and pay a visit to Jododaira, a striking piece of scenery forged by volcanic activity. On the way, stop to take photos of the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, which is famed for its brilliantly hued autumnal foliage.

Gourmands won’t want to miss a trip to Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market, which features more than 90 stalls selling impeccably fresh fish and shellfish by the wharves. Although not as famous as Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, the quality of these piscine delicacies is every bit as high. Since most wholesale markets are closed to the general public, this is a rare opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look. Next, check out Yamamoto Strawberry Farm, where visitors can pick their own luscious berries or dine on desserts at the Berry Verry Labo café.

Finally, don’t miss a visit to Akiu Hot Spring Village, located an easy 30-minute drive from the center of Sendai. Travelers who are shy about using the public baths may prefer to soak in the private hot springs, which are available in select ryokan rooms. The area is also perfect for scenic strolls past natural sights such as the Akiu Otaki Falls.  

Culture-vultures should pay a visit to Hiraizumi Town, which is home to the Chuson-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the largest repository of Heian Buddhist Art in East Japan. More than 3,000 treasures and artifacts are on display here.

Afterward, drive to Ichinoseki City and embark on a boat trip down Geibikei Gorge, which stretches for two kilometers and is lined with dramatic 100-meter high rock formations on both banks. Highly skilled boatmen pilot the small watercraft using a single pole. In the rustic town of UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi, you’ll find dozens of shrines and historic places of worship, including the magnificent Chūson-ji, which is home to the Konjikidō or “Golden Hall.” This glittering, gold-leafed mausoleum has been inspiring a sense of awe and wonder in visitors since 1123.

Situated right next to the famous Hirosaki Castle, Tsugaru-han Neputa Village features a wide range of hands-on cultural activities rooted in traditional Tsugaru culture. Kids will love to create their own folk art souvenirs by painting goldfish neputa and playing the Tsugaru shamisen. After finishing your crafts, drive to Oirase Mountain Stream, where the Oirase mountain stream flows out of Towada Lake and continues for 14 kilometers. Pack a camera to capture the cascading waterfalls.

Nestled away in the picturesque countryside Nyuto Hot Spring Village is the sort of hidden hot spring of which onsen aficionados dream. Each of the seven traditional inns clustered around the area has its own natural hot spring brimming with healing, mineral-rich waters. Don’t miss a visit to the glassy waters of Lake Tazawa, a volcanic caldera lake in the shadow of snow-capped mountains in Semboku.

Ginzan Hot Spring, another superlative geothermal-heated spring can be found in Obanazawa City. Exploring this area feels like stepping into a bygone era. Many of the ryokans are a century old and still retain their authentic charm. If it all looks a bit familiar, that may be because this was the setting for the popular television drama Oshin. Bring the past to life with hands-on activities such as trying on period costumes. Finally, carnivores will love Yonezawa City, which is home to some truly exceptional beef. While all Wagyu cattle are renowned for their marbling, only Wagyu raised in three cities and five towns in the Okitama region meet the stringent standards to be called Yonezawa beef. Chefs covet this particular delicacy, which is known for its rich flavor and exemplary tenderness.

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