Shiroishi, a sleepy, quiet little town not far from Sendai. A day trip from Sendai made me wonder about things to see and do at Shiroishi and I came up with the following:
Things to see at Shiroishi
- Shiroishi Castle
- Samurai Housing
- Eat Umen (うめん）
- Yajiro Kokeshi Village
Shiroishi Castle castle was constructed during the Kamakura Era by the Karita Clan. In 1868 it was a meeting place for delegates during the Boshin War that would soon hold a giant battle. The castle was restored in 1995.
Unless you have a car, the only way to get there from Shiroishi Station is on foot or by taxi. The 15 minutes walk to the castle is an easy one to get there. There are cute signs with Samurai on them, showing you the way to the castle. Just follow the direction of the Samurai’s hands, and you will get to the castle easily.
Signs leading to the castle.
On our way to the castle we came upon a small temple. I’m unsure of it’s name, but outside of it is a white flag with a Samurai surrounded by flames. The temple was old, and made of wood. In Japan, many people buy ‘omamori’ or good luck charms. Every omamori stands for something (for example: people go to Narita Temple to pray for safe travel and buy an omamori to ensure safety while travelling). But, I usually never buy any because I’m not sure of its specific meaning. Here, I bought one though. They had omamori designed just like the white flag outside the temple. I thought the Samurai surrounded by flames was very cool looking, and if you’re looking for a souvenir, I think that this would be a great gift idea!
Sign for the temple.
Once you get to Shiroishi Castle there are a few ticket machines. Unlike many other castles in Japan, inside the Shiroishi Castle you do not buy a ticket from a staff member. You purchase your ticket from one of the ticket machines. They offer a ticket just for the castle, or a combination ticket for the castle and the museum. There were other places we wanted to visit that day so we just opted for the Castle entrance. Just put money into the machine, and push the button for the ticket that you want. Since the Shiroishi Castle History Exploration Museum is adjacent to the castle, there is not much to see in the castle itself, though the views from the top of the castle give you a panoramic look of Shiroishi.
Samurai Housing (Bukeyashiki)
Old Edo Style House
The Samurai Housing area is a small house unchanged from the Edo Era. If you are looking for a peek into the lives of the elite in the Japan’s Edo Era then this is the place to go. I have been to a couple of places like this (another example is in Aizu-Wakamatsu), but I found myself really charmed by this small home in Shiroishi. The ones in Aizu are very vast, and much is crammed into them. The one in Shiroishi has a few objects on display, and a beautiful Japanese garden to the back. It seems more like a home, and less like a museum. It made me feel like I was back in time living in the house rather than being a spectator. Another interesting point of this museum is that the house was unfinished and they kept it this way. No one knows why it was unfinished, if they ran out of money, or if the war had an effect on it. However, you are able to get a good glimpse at Japanese architecture and see inside some of the house work.
Sitting in the Japanese Garden behind the house
This house is only about a five or ten minute walk from Shiroishi Castle. If you ask a staff working inside the castle, they will give you a walking map, and trace the route for you. It is very easy to find.
The restaurant is actually the white building all the way on the right directly across from the station.
Umen is a noodle that you can only get in Shiroishi! It is made only of wheat powder, salt water , and contains no oil. Locally, it is known that the Umen was made by a man whose father had gastric disease. If you want to try local Japanese food, and like noodles I highly suggest stopping for Umen. There is a restaurant directly across the Shiroishi station that serves it.
Usually I go for hot noodles, as I like soup, but I decided to try the cold Umen because it came with three different types of dipping sauce. They had a Japanese sauce (a type of soy sauce), a black sesame sauce, and a white sesame sauce. In addition, there was miso soup and some pickled vegetables. If you are starving after a long day trip, I recommend ordering a side of their gyutan (beef tongue), as that is the food Sendai is famous for.
Umen with it’s three dipping sauces, and the beef tongue on a plate behind it.
Yajiro Kokeshi Village
Kokeshi Museum with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background.
Kokeshi are Japanese dolls hand carved out of wood. They have a simple trunk, with an enlarged head. A few lines are painted to make up the face, while the body is painted with a floral design whether in red, black, and sometimes yellow. They have no arms or legs which makes it stand out among other dolls. Yajiro village is one of the places of origin for these dolls.
Sadly, there is no bus or train that goes to this village. It is about a 15 or 20 minute drive from Shiroishi station. I went by taxi with my friend, and we both paid about $25 (about 2500 yen) each for a round trip. If you are interested in dolls, Japanese traditions, or art, I recommend Yajiro village, especially if you have people to split the taxi with.
While on a car ride to towards Yajiro village, you can experience Japan’s beautiful countryside scenery. As you near the village, large Kokeshi dolls will meet you along the road. The museum itself is on top of a mountain, outside the village, offering a picturesque views of the mountain.
The museum comprises of two floors. On the first floor there is a cafeteria, and passing the cafeteria is a Kokeshi store. Here they sell handmade Kokeshi dolls, all in many different sizes. Stop at the register and tell the staff that you would like to paint your own Kokeshi doll. For 500 yen ($5) you will be given a plain, wooden Kokeshi doll, paint, a wheel, and paint brushes. They will then leave you with a couple of Kokeshi doll samples to get some inspiration from, and a paper with written and visual instructions on how to go about painting it. I thought that this was really neat, and fun. You will not be able to try this anywhere else.
Hard at work on my Kokeshi Doll.
When you are finished, leave your Kokeshi doll on the table to dry, then head down to the basement level. There is a museum there. They have videos playing that show how Kokeshi dolls were made in the past, and how they are made now. They also have displays of Kokeshi dolls through the ages. You can see more traditional Kokeshi dolls, and modern ones too. I thought that this museum (though a little pricey to get to) was well worth it. It gives you a glimpse of traditional Japanese art.
When you’re finished, go back upstairs, ask the staff to wrap your dolls for you, and maybe even buy some as souvenirs for your friends.
My finished doll.
Other spots in Shiroishi
I didn’t go to any of these places but here are some more attractions that might interest you.
- Zaimokuiwa Park
- Hekisuien (Classical Noh Theater and tea ceremony room)
- Zao Fox Village
How to get to Shiroishi
- Sendai: JR Tohoku Line from Sendai Station (50 minutes)
- Fukushima: JR Tohoku Line from Fukushima (30 minutes)
- By car: Tohoku National Highway 4