Find History in Sendai
To escape the summer weather in central Japan heading north seemed the best place to go. Hokkaido is one of the first that comes to mind, but winter seems to be the ideal time to visit Japan's most northern city. Instead I choose to go Japan's second largest northern city and capital city of the Tohoku region, the city of Sendai. Having first heard about Sendai when reading about the age of the samurai during which Sendai was the stronghold of the Date-clan the city had a certain historical appeal to it.
From Tokyo Sendai is quite easy to reach as you can choose to go by Shinkansen in under 2 hours or by the slightly cheaper highway bus which takes a bit longer.
Aobayama Park and Aoba Castle Remains
Once in Sendai, where else to start then what remains of the famous Aoba Castle on the top of Aobayama. Ordered to be constructed by Date Masamune, who earned the rights to the region after serving with distinction during the invasions of Korea, around 1600 its construction sped up the city's growth tremendously.
The region was highly profitable and one of the largest domains during the Edo period and it consequently made the Date-clan one of the most powerful families in Japan. Under the Date-clan Tohuko transformed from an agricultural region feeding the Shogunate capital of Edo, present-day Tokyo, to a bustling economic centre of foreign trade.
Unfortunately, most of the castle has been lost after much of it was dismantled in the aftermath of Japan's civil war as well as a series of fires in the late 19th century. In present times the plateau upon which the castle once stood has been revitalized as a park with some nice features such as dirt walls and the two still remaining structures of the castle serve as reminder of Sendai's past.
Although it was early September when I visited, during spring the plateau is one of Sendai's most famous spots to view the blooming cherry blossoms spread across the park.
The next major site to visit is the Zuihoden, the last resting place of lord Date Masamune and some of his successors. There is a minor entrance fee of 500 yen per adult and 200 yen for children.
What personally surprised me was the elaborate ornations of the mausuleum with its intricate woodwork and vibrant colours, it as a far cry from its sober equivalents elsewhere. However, truth be told it is not the original building as it was burned down by firebombing on the city in the second World War to be carefully reconstructed in 1974. The small forest in which the Zuihoden precinct in located offers a serine feeling making the short stroll around the precinct very pleasing.
Gyutan: Beef tongue, the local speciality
Most of the sites in Sendai can be easily reached by bus, but since I like to explore it was nice to walk around the city. By the end of the day there is nothing more satisfactory than a good dinner and apparently Sendai and Gyutan, Beef Tongue, are inseparable. Although beef remains to be a luxury product in Japan, it is not hard to find a restaurant offering beef tongue dishes for fair prices.
Rikyu, a local chain restaurant was recommended to me as it is well-known for its high quality set-dishes consisting of a beef tongue stew, soup, salad, rice and grilled beef tongue. The grilled beef tongue with its chewy and meaty texture was truly a delight together with the flavours of its side-dishes and I could not have imagined a better way to end my day exploring Sendai.