5 Cultural Experiences to Have in Kesennuma, Miyagi
Kesennuma is a beautiful coastal city in Miyagi prefecture in northern Japan. With Kesennuma having a population of a little over 65,000 people and best known for its fishing industry, one may wonder what it has to offer the average person. Having come from a small city in America, I knew the answer was to simply explore as much as I could. I wandered around town every day, draining my phone’s battery Google Translating various flyers and posters. And whenever possible, I just talked to people and asked. Lucky for me, the people of Kesennuma are so kind and ecstatic to share Japanese culture with others! Here are some of the things I’ve found so far!
When I ask people what draws them to Japan, they often say “the culture,” but what does that mean? To me, it refers to Japan’s long history of sharing and adopting traditions, foods, and activities. One activity that is prominently featured in Japanese period pieces is calligraphy (shuuji/shodo). For Western travelers who are more comfortable in writing Roman letters, calligraphy is simultaneously alluring and daunting. There is beauty in painting each permanent stroke with the utmost meditative attention. And yet, sometimes the brush still has a mind of its own, making every piece unique.
In Kesennuma, Cho-On Calligraphy offers you the chance to try your hand at calligraphy and befriend the local community at the same time. Available from about 12PM~6PM on Thursdays through Saturdays, you are welcomed into the Kikuta family home to learn from a master. Every month features a new word, often related to the elegance of nature. You can see the different styles of calligraphy, from the bold and sharp kaisho to the smooth and flowy sousho, and learn how to sign your name in Japanese katakana to put your final mark on your beautiful work.
Adults of all levels gather on Saturdays to enjoy themselves, though children and teenagers also come to practice. To add to your cultural experience, join everyone during tea time around 3PM for small talk and snacks. You may even taste something completely new! The Kikuta family is excited to welcome you into the world of Japanese calligraphy. You may even be lucky enough to see the master’s handmade owl feather “brush!”
For more information such as location and pricing, contact the family at email@example.com for any questions!
Kyuudo in K-Wave
Following tradition, why not set your sights toward Japanese archery? Known as kyuudo, this martial art was born in the feudal era of Japan but now is one of the most peaceful activities you can take part in. Yoshida-sensei, 83 years old, has been practicing archery for 50 years and, along with Miura-sensei, teaches people of all levels and ages. With the emphasis on form and tradition, you can empty your mind of all your traveling stresses for a couple hours and take home the memory of a uniquely Japanese experience.
Yoshida-sensei is happy to share his passion and culture with others and says not to worry about money. And don’t worry if you can’t hit the target your first time. I sure didn’t. Please join everyone for kyuudo on weekends from 9:30 AM-12PM at the K-Wave Gymnasium.
Rias Ark Museum
After emptying your mind with meditative archery, fill it with culture at Rias Ark Museum! Shaped like the biblical Noah’s Ark and named after the coastline on which it resides, this museum vows to survive all of the world’s tumultuous tides on its quest to collect and preserve as much “life” as it can. Rias Ark features local contemporary art from Miyagi prefecture along with other temporary installations. For instance, when I went back in September, on display were award-winning student artworks in various styles and mediums from children of all ages, providing patrons with a glimpse into the lives of Japanese children.
When you’ve finished taking in the new, discover the old roots of Kesennuma in the “Ark Diary” with the walk-through tour of the region’s history in the fishing industry. The ocean provides so much for the people of Kesennuma and seafood is such a large part of Japanese culture, Rias Ark decided to highlight this in an upstairs wing of its own. And after touring the Ark Diary, you can see a panoramic view of Kesennuma from the Observation Deck and eat the local foods you just learned about in the restaurant downstairs. As you can tell, Rias Ark devotes itself to not just displaying artwork, but sharing Japanese culture with its museum patrons, be it food or history.
Following history, downstairs is a permanent exhibit honoring the 2011 disaster. Though thankfully the museum wasn’t affected by the tsunami, it did take on some damage from the earthquake. It closed for a year. While recovering, museum curator Hiroyasu Yamauchi dedicated an entire wing of the museum to preserving the memory of everyone in the region who endured the tragedy. Museum staff gathered everything they could find from photographs to waterlogged cameras. To fully understand the weight of this historical event, you must see the collection in person along with the artwork and newspaper collections of tsunamis that have crashed through Japan throughout the ages. Rias Ark museum demonstrates that presenting history must never be so detached. Memories and lives are attached to every piece of it, just as much as every piece of art.
For more information:
- Official Website
- Location: 138-5 Akaiwamakisawa, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0171
- Hours: 9:30 AM–5 PM; Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Umi no Ichi
What do you get when you mix this…
You get an ice aquarium!
Right on the coast of Kesennuma lies Umi no Ichi. This building offers so much of what Kesennuma is known for. Inside, you’ll find this ice aquarium, home to over 400 flash-frozen creatures like Kesennuma’s famous sanma fish. These creatures are kept frozen at -5F/-20C but the aquarium’s insulated coats keep you at the perfect temperature to explore! While inside, you’ll see many photo ops like sculptures of sharks and the city mascot made by Mikio Shimizu. You’ll also enjoy a digital projection mapping show on the icy walls and “tanks” themselves! The exhibit costs ¥500 (adults) to explore in 5 minute intervals, but if you also want to visit the shark museum upstairs, there is a discounted combo. Click here to find out more!
The aquarium is on the main floor nearby a shrine and souvenir store dedicated to Kesennuma’s city mascot Hoya Boya. This adorable little guy is inspired by a sea creature known as the “sea pineapple” due to its shape. As such, the Hoya Boya store features souvenir treats like pineapple flavored cookies perfect for sharing with friends and family back home.
For those who love seafood, go ahead and try sea pineapple for real at the fish market on the same floor. You can choose whatever catch of the day you’d like, from urchin to oyster, and ask the vendors to prepare it fresh for you. Otherwise, there are plenty of boxed seafoods, sweets, snacks, and trinkets to take home as well in the nearby kiosks.
As mentioned before, the Kesennuma Shark Museum resides upstairs where you can learn about the many varieties of sharks in Japan and how they live. There are several interactive exhibits for shark lovers of all ages, though English translations are limited. The museum also holds an exhibit on the 2011 disaster and recovery, showcasing the hardship Kesennuma faced as well as its resilience through it.
If you’re hungry after walking up and down Umi No Ichi, be sure to stop by Ria’s Deli before you leave the building to try some shark! In Kesennuma, no part of the shark is wasted. The whole animal is used to make everything from leather to burgers and this small vendor has the most unique and affordable way to enjoy it. You have the option to try shark meat nuggets or shark fin bao buns as small inexpensive snacks. If you prefer desserts, be sure to check out their “shark fin ice cream,” vanilla soft serve with shark fin marmalade topping. Click Umi No Ichi’s website here to find out more gourmet dining options!
Location and hours:
- 7-１３ Uoichibamae, Kesennuma, Miyagi 988-0037
- Open daily from 8AM~6PM
Hokkoriyu Bath House
At the end of a long day of sightseeing, the perfect way to relax is in a sento (hot bath). In Hokkoriyu Bath House, you can do just that in a variety of indoor and outdoor pools. Inside, there are multiple baths with differing heat levels to suit your preference. There is also a cooling station where you can splash icy water onto yourself to jumpstart your metabolism. If saunas are more up your alley, enjoy their sauna theater where you can watch Japanese movies while melting the stress out of your muscles.
For those interested in more unique baths, there is an electric bath with pulses of electricity that massage your muscles. Adjacent to this is a white water “silk” bath which leads into the fenced area outdoors, so you can enjoy the contrast of warm water and cool air while nourishing your skin. Also outdoors is a shallow pool which you can easily lay down in to enjoy. No matter what your style, there is a place for you here! And if you’re lucky, you’ll come on “rubber ducky day” where all of the baths are flooded with adorable bright yellow toy ducks!
Once you’ve finished with the baths, stop by their dining area for Japanese food like soba or curry rice. Feel free to browse through the manga section next door while eating and pick up a hand-made local souvenir at the gift shop before you leave! If after all this you still need to relax, Hokkoriyu also offers massages in the Hogushi Room Genkiya Honpo. They offer full body massages ranging from 30~90 minutes, starting at ¥2700.
Hokkoriyu provides all toiletries and utilities for you, including shampoo and conditioner for before the hot baths and nightstand areas for primping yourself after. You may rent a towel, though most people tend to just bring their own. Mainly, weekday prices are ¥880 for non-member adults and ¥380 for children during the hours of 10AM to midnight. Hokkoriyu is located right beside WINS Pachinko gambling parlor.
Location and hours:
- 247番地２ Saichikitasaichi, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0215
- Open every day 6AM-12AM with a 1 hour siesta 9-10AM