How to Spend a Day in Sendai, in the Tohoku Region of Japan
Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in the Tohoku region. Nonetheless, its downtown is pretty compact and can be explored within a day or two. Instead of being situated by the river like many other capital cities, Sendai is located on a hillside and its sightseeing spots can be reached more easily by bus rather than by train or subway. For tourists, taking the Sendai Loople Bus is one of the ideal ways to travel across the city, especially for the first trip.
On arrival at Sendai Station I learned that for less than 700 yen I could catch the Loople Bus to up to 14 sightseeing destinations and return to the station by the evening. So I bought a pass and packed myself into the vintage mini bus, already crowded with tourists and a group of high school students. I decided to make a first stop at Zuihoden Mausoleum, the entombment of Lord Date Masamune and his clan. This ornate style mausoleum sits beautifully on the summit of the mountain. The impressive entrance to the tomb lined with massive cedar trees and filled with birdsong. During spring, the cherry blossoms in front of the museum besides the main building is a sight to behold.
Later I made a brief stop at Sendai City Museum, a small yet well-equipped museum that emphasizes the history of Sendai during the Edo Period. The displays includes Date Masamune‘s armor and artifacts related to his family. Leaving the museum, I made a visit to Aoba Castle, the fortress that was built on Mt. Aoba in 1602. The main building has been torn down, and what’s left today is only the outer wall, the old tower and some wooden structures. Nonetheless, the ancient site is still immensely popular since it has a spectacular view of the city with the surrounding mountains rising in the distance. This historical destination is spacious, and you can find whatever you desire, be it a shrine, a museum, a souvenir shop or a restaurant complex serving local specialties. Taking a commemorative photo with the bronze statue of Lord Date Masamune, a warlord who birthed and nurtured Sendai, is the popular activity.
Next I headed to Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, one of the two most-visited shrines during the New Year holiday in Miyagi Prefecture, along with Shiogama Shrine. On 14 January the sacred site holds the Matsutaki Matsuri festival (commonly called Sagicho or Dondo-yaki in other regions), the traditional event where thousands of worshippers bring their New Year’s decorations to be burned in the large bonfire and pray for good health. During the festival, the entrance to the shrine is lined with many food stalls.
Before leaving the shrine, I took a sip of amazake served in a humble canteen-style café in the precinct. It was some of the best I ever tasted.
Then I visited Jozenji Dori, a nice leafy street lined with many shops, pubs and restaurants. The street offers an ultimate blend of chill-out tranquility and entertainment which attracts a steady stream of tourists. It is also the venue for many festivals, such as the Sendai Street Jazz Festival and the Sendai Pageant of Starlight.
Finally, I rode the bus back to Sendai Station, a transportation hub of the city equipped with restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. The area is surrounded with large malls and shopping streets, including Asaichi Market, Ichibancho Shopping Arcade, Yodobashi Camera, Loft, and Fujisaki, a local department store that boasts a history of more than 190 years. I had the privilege to explore all of them. Each had a different perspective, and I cannot tell you which one was better. It’s that little something you have to experience for yourself.
At some stage on your Sendai trip, be sure to experience the taste of gyutan, or grilled beef tongue, which is a famous local specialty. You will find restaurants serving this grilled goodness on every street corner. The dish is usually accompanied with a bowl of oxtail soup or beef stew. If you’re new to beef tongue, then start with a free tasting at one of the various souvenir shops in Sendai Station, or try gyutan wonton, gyutan sausage, gyutan hamburger, etc. According to the Loople Sendai bus driver, the gyutan restaurant on the 3rd floor of Sendai Station is one of the best in town.
A kokeshi, a traditional wooden doll, always makes a wonderful souvenir. You can also find kokeshi key chains, kokeshi pens, kokeshi chopstick rests, etc., for a smaller, less expensive yet still impressive gift. Or you might try your hand at decorating a kokeshi doll for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
- The first Loople Bus leaves Sendai station at 9.00 and the last bus leaves at 16.00.
- The one-day pass costs 620 yen for adults and 310 yen for children, for unlimited rides for the day.
- Discounts at various sightseeing spots are available by presenting this one day pass.