Sendai, The Largest City of Tohoku Region
I was relieved to leave the cold and rainy season of Sapporo, Hokkaido for a hope of a sunnier 5 days at Tohoku Region. I was excited as well, that finally after months of anticipating, I will be exploring the region focusing on both Miyagi and Fukushima Prefecture.
After the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake tragedy combined with the Fukushima Dai-chi nuclear plant disaster, even after a year had passed and several promotional campaigns were launched, the enthusiasm to visit both prefectures had died down. The fear of safety and uncertainty of the true radiation level is understandable, though I believe there are still places worth visiting and remains safe for short time visitors.
Continuing with my travels in the region, I would like to go back to the start and focus on Miyagi Prefecture capital and the largest city of Tohoku Region – Sendai.
Like any other city in Japan, establishments like shopping malls, hotels and restaurants are concentrated around the JR Sendai Station. There is a huge poster inside the station announcing that the clothing brand H&M will be opening soon. For some, this might be trivial but it is important to know that after the 2011 tragedy a lot of foreign business had decided to close their shops at the affected region. So I guess, a new foreign establishment is a good sign that indeed the city is back to business as usual.
Apart from the availability of everything you need as a traveler at Sendai City, the main reason why I would suggest on making it as your base when exploring Miyagi prefecture is the presence of Sendai Tourist Information Desk located at the train station.
I traveled extensively across Japan; with my close to zero Japanese speaking ability, finding a tourist information desk with an English speaking staff is a blessing. The staff at Sendai Information Desk made my life easy by voluntarily creating an itinerary for my many out of the city day trips. For this, I will always be grateful.
The downtown area of Sendai is quite compact and easy to walk around, though most of the tourist area is located quite far from the city center. Thus, I will suggest to anyone planning a visit to purchase the very economical, 3-day pass Sendai Marugoto Pass. For a price of 2,600 Yen, it covers an unlimited travel around town via the Sendai Loople Tourist Bus and side trips to nearby town via the JR trains.
Priding itself as a modern city in harmony with nature, the most prominent feature of Sendai is the trees covering the business area of Aoba Dori and Hirose Dori, thus earning itself a title of “City of Trees”.
If you happen to be walking along the shopping arcade, look for the Tohoku Rockenpark. Here you can help with the recovery of the region by purchasing items produce mostly by the victims of the March 11 disaster.
Proving that tourists are still scarce in the region, I still managed to stand out as a foreign one despite my somehow Japanese looks when I was asked in English by this trio to take their pictures because they are sort of famous. I laughed whenever I recall how awkward I responded to them, I don’t know how to talk in a “hip hop way” if there is such thing. Anyways, they were nice to me, even though I asked them if they are serious that their group name is “Are You Serious?”.
As my final stop, I headed to the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, constructed last 1607 under the orders of Date Masamune. Hachiman, the shrine’s diety is a Shinto god of war, another example how the city used to be a powerful military base.
I hope that the posts I have published so far regarding Miyagi Prefecture (Ishinomaki, Tashirojima “Cat Island”, Shiogama-Matsushima Bay, and Yamadera Temple) are convincing enough for you to consider a trip to the region and I hope the upcoming posts about Fukushima prefecture will convince you even more.