The Sanriku Coast or Sanriku Kaigan stretches from southern Aomori Prefecture, through Iwate Prefecture and northern Miyagi Prefecture, along the Pacific Ocean. The 250-km-long coastline of Sanriku offers popular tourist attractions with beautiful coastal sceneries, breathtaking views, rock formations and beaches to enjoy. The northern part of Sanriku consist mainly of cliffs, while the southern half of the coastline is blessed with beautiful sandy beaches and calm water. There are also quite a few places that are good for surfing.
In 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck the Sanriku Coast and the region was badly damaged. Many cities and villages along the coast were completely destroyed and 20,000 people lost their lives. Although the reconstruction will take some more years, the region is open for visitors to enjoy beautiful sceneries, delicious local fresh food, and unique culture. The region showed its strength and resilience and some tourist attractions were opened quickly, just months after the disastrous events. Tourism is seen as an important contributor to rehabilitation and revival of the Sanriku Coast. In this article, we introduce the best places to visit along the Sanriku Coast.
- Getting to the Sanriku Coast
- 1. Sanriku Fukko National Park
- 2. Kitayamazaki Coast
- 3. Tashiro Island
Getting to the Sanriku Coast
Located in the Tohoku region, the Sanriku Coast line stretches about 250 km from north to south, about 350 km north of Tokyo, and can be easily accessed by Tohoku Shinkansen. The bullet train stops at Sendai or Morioka and from there you can travel into the region. Anyone with a foreign passport can purchase the JR East Pass Tohoku. This JR Pass let’s you travel for 5 consecutive days on all JR trains and Shinkansen covered. The pass costs ¥20,000 for adults and ¥10,000 for children (6-11 years old).
However, to explore the whole Sanriku Coastline, we recommend you to get a rental car, which offers you more flexibility and freedom. The public transportation in the area is limited and infrequent. Driving in Japan is safe and easy, read more about the rules and more in our blog driving in Japan.
1. Sanriku Fukko National Park
Sanriku Fukko National Park stretches approximately 220 kilometers along the Pacific coastline from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture through Iwate Prefecture, to Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The park was created after the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, to show people the beautiful, rich nature of the area. Fukko means reconstruction in Japanese and the park is created to symbolize reconstruction and coexistence between people and nature. This national park has quaint fishing villages, unspoiled beaches, and some of the most magnificent sea cliffs.
In the park, you can enjoy hiking, ocean cruises, guided eco tours, camping, and excursions to outlying islands. The area is also famous for delicious seafood because the sea along the park is where warm and cold currents merge. There are several hotels and inns within the park so that visitors can enjoy the area over the weekend.
2. Kitayamazaki Coast
Located in the northern part of Sanriku Fukko National Park, the spectacular Kitayamazaki Coast consists of 200-meter steep cliffs that stretch across about eight kilometers. It is considered as one of the most beautiful coasts in Japan.
The scenery from the observation decks of the Kitayamazaki Observatory overlooking the ocean, are just breathtaking. The first observation deck, which is on the same level as the parking lot, is accessible for people in wheelchairs and strollers. To reach the second and the third observation decks there is a network of walking trails with stunning views of the coastline. You will have to walk in the woods from the second deck to the third, and you can descend to the ocean level if you walk down the 700 steps from the observation deck.
Another option to enjoy the spectacular coastline of Kitayamazaki is by boat. From the nearby port, daily cruises operate from April to November.
From June to July, you can also enjoy the white Shirobana-shakunage (a kind of Rhododendron) in bloom.
3. Tashiro Island
Tashiro Island is a small island belonging to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. This island is known as Cat Island because there are several hundreds of cats living here. The cats were originally brought over to help with pest control around the island’s silkworm farms. Today, the number of cats outnumber the island’s human population by almost four to one, and they are taken care off and worshiped by the island’s residents. There is also a cat shrine located on the island, local fishermen thought the cats would bring them luck and good fishery and decided to build a shrine for them.
In recent years, Tashiro Island has gained international attention at Manga Island, with famous manga artists having designed cottages at the island. However, even though the island has been attracting an increasing number of people from inside and outside Japan, (tourist) facilities are limited.
How to get to Tashiro Island
From Ishinomaki Station to the boat terminal, take Miyako Bus to Ajishima Line (~20 min). From the boat terminal, take a ferry to Tashiro Island (~45 min).
4. Jodogahama Beach
Located in the Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture, Jodogahama Beach is one of the most scenic places along the Sanriku Coast. The beach is also part of the Sanriku Fukko National Park and is ranked as one of the 100 best beaches in Japan. Jodogahama means Pure Land Beach and was named by the Buddhist monk Reikyo in the 17th century.
The beach has blue clear water, a white pebble shoreline, and jagged rocky islands. The beach is especially popular among tourists for swimming and sightseeing during summer.
Sightseeing cruises are also a popular tourist attraction. Blue Cave Cruise, available from March to November, offers a 20-minute cruise by small motorboats and offers close up views of the rocky islands. Inside the cave, you can enjoy a mystical atmosphere and cobalt blue water, which changes its color depending on the weather and season.
How to get to Jodogahama Beach
From Miyako Station, take Iwate Kenpoku Bus, get off at Jodogashima Visitor Center (~15 min). The beach is 10 to 15 minute walk from the Jodogashima Visitor Center.
5. Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum
The Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum was opened in 2019 to share the story of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami which happened on March 11, 2011. The museum displays details of the March 2011 disaster along with exhibitions explaining the history of tsunami and natural disasters in Japan, and how people have been striving to recover since March 2011. There is a theater where you can watch a 12 minute movie on the events. The museum also passes down lessons to protect from future natural disasters. In the surroundings of the museum, several points of interest are located such as some ruins of buildings and short hiking trails. The museum also serves as a Michi-no-eki road side station.
Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum
9am – 5pm
How to get to Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum
From Kesennuma Station, take the JR Ofunato BRT bus line, get off at “Kiseki no Ipponmatsu” bus stop (~30 min).
6. Kesennuma City Memorial Museum
Kesennuma is one of the main cities along the Sanriku Coast and also badly affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Eight years after the disaster events, the ruins of Kesennuma Koyo High School were reopened as a Kesennuma City Memorial Museum. Although the high school was damaged extensively by the tsunami, the 170 students and all staff members, who were at the school on the day of the tsunami, were evacuated safely.
The museum consists of the ruins of Kesennuma Koyo High School, the newly built museum complex adjacent to the school, and a large outdoor playground. After the reception of the museum, you will be led to a movie theater where you can watch a video of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. You can visit the 1st, 3rd, and 4th floors and rooftop of the high school, and see the classrooms that have been left visually untouched since the disaster. As you walk through the classrooms with broken windows, exposed steel frames, and an entire car lodged in, you can really feel the danger and fear of the tsunami.
Kesennuma City Memorial Museum
9.30am – 5pm
Admission fee ¥600
How to get to Kesennuma City Memorial Museum
From Kesennuma Station, take the JR Ofunato BRT bus line, get off at “Rikuzen Hashikami” bus stop (~30 min). Take a taxi for a few minutes or walk for 20 minutes.
7. Ryusendo Cave
Ryusendo Cave is known as one of Japan’s three greatest limestone caves situated in the mountains of Iwaizumi Town in Iwate Prefecture. The length of the cave is estimated to be somewhere near 5,000 meters, currently ‘only’ 4,088 meters are discovered. Nearly 700 meters are open to the public and can be accessed using walkways, bridges and stairs. There are eight underground lakes that have been found so far, and three of them can be visited by the tourists. The water of the lake is bright blue and among the most transparent in the world.
In the cave, it is not allowed to touch, break or damage the stalactites and stalagmites. The temperature inside the cave is stable at approximately 10 degrees Celsius, so you will want to bring a jacket. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes in the cave as the floor can be wet and stairs can be steep.
9.30am – 5pm (Oct – Apr)
9.30am – 6pm (May – Sep)
Admission fee ¥1,000
How to get to Ryusendo Cave
The caves are best accessible by car. If you come by public transportation, take a train to Morioka Station and take the JR bus to Rusendo bus stop from there (~2 hrs, ¥2,710).
8. Shiogama Shrine
Established in the 800s, Shiogama shrine is one of the most revered shrines in the Tohoku area in Japan. It is the head shrine of several hundred Shiogama shrines located across Japan. More than dozen of its buildings are designated as a National Treasure and Important Cultural Property. The deity of Shiogama shrine is worshipped as the guardian of fishermen and safe childbirth.
Among the several events held in the shrine throughout the year, the spring festival called Hana Matsuri, is the most famous. Hana Matsuri is held while the wide variety of cherry blossom trees (over 20) are in full bloom, including beautiful Shidare-zakura (weeping cherry trees) and the Shiogama-zakura, designated as a national monument. Because of the many different types of sakura trees, the viewing season lasts longer.
How to get to Shiogama Shrine
10 minute walk from JR Hon-Shiogama Station, or 15 minute walk from JR Shiogama Station.
9. Ishinomori Manga Museum
Located in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, Ishinomori Manga Museum, also known as the Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum, is dedicated to one of the most famous Japanese manga artists Ishinomori Shotaro. Mr. Ishinomori was born in 1938 in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture.
From 1964, Mr. Ishinomori started to produce his most popular works such as Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider, and Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae. He produced not only manga but also animation and live-action films. After passing away in 1998 at the age of 60, his works continued to have a significant impact on Japanese manga and film industries. In 2008, the Shotaro Ishinomori Complete Manga Works was awarded the Guinness World Record for “comics most published by one author”.
The Ishinomori Manga Museum was opened in 2001, located on a small island in the Kyukitakamigawa river. The exterior of the Ishinomori manga Museum was constructed based on a design by Mr. Ishinomori, and resembles a spaceship and largely survived the 2011 tsunami.
Ishinomori Manga Museum
9am – 6pm
Admission fee ¥800
How to get to Ishinomori Manga Museum
12 min walk from JR Ishinomaki Station
10. Kamaishi Daikannon
Kamaishi Daikannon statue was constructed in 1970 on the Kamasaki Peninsula, Iwate Prefecture. This 48.5 meter statue depicting Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, belongs to Myohozan Shakuozenji Temple.
You can climb up through the interior of the statue to the 11th floor, where the observatory is. From the observatory, located inside the fish the statue is holding, you can enjoy some amazing views of the Kamaishi Bay . Inside the statue, the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, a worship hall with three Kannon statues, and a stupa presented by a temple in Sri Lanka, can also be found.
9am – 5pm
How to get to Kamaishi Daikannon
From JR Kamaishi Station, take the bus to Kannon Iriguchi bus stop (~10 min).
11. Fish markets Sanriku Coast
Sanriku Coast is famous for a large variety of delicious seafood and has some amazing fish markets. Each city along the coast has a fish market selling the fresh catch of the day. Some of the best places to go are:
Shiogama fish market
Shiogama is one of the most important fishing ports in Japan. Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market was opened in 1965, and now houses as many as 140 shops for seafood. Although many wholesale markets are only available for dealers, Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market is also open to the public. Five restaurants are located inside the market for visitors who would like to enjoy fresh seafood!
How to get to Shiogama fish market
15 minute walk from Higashi Shiogama Station
Miyako Fish Market
Situated in Iwate Prefecture, Miyako Fish Market is one of the city’s public markets. Many locals come here for their everyday shopping because next to the best seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits are sold at reasonable prices as well. Miyako Fish Market is located inland, so it didn’t suffer direct damage by the tsunami in 2011.
How to get to Miyako Fish Market
10 minute walk from Miyako Station
Kesennuma Fish Market
Kesennuma Fish Market is one of the largest fish markets in Japan. There are lots of different varieties of tuna, swordfish, bonito, and shellfish for sale here. Kesennuma Fish Market is also famous for selling shark-related products that are harvested in a way that no parts are going to waste. From the observation deck on the second floor, you can observe auctions that are held from 6am to 8am every day except Sundays and public holidays.
How to get to Kesennuma Fish Market
10 minute from Kesennuma Station by the city’s loop bus
What did you think about the Sanriku Coast? The area offers magnificent coastline views with great beaches and impressive rock formations. Large parts of the Sanriku Coast were heavily damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and many lives were lost. However the people and places showed strong resilience and started the quick recovery. Along the Sanriku Coast there are many places to learn about the history of tsunamis and other natural disasters and many other interesting places. If you like breathtaking views, want to eat delicious, fresh seafood and want to experience something that not many travellers know about, the Sanriku Coast is your go to place! From Tokyo it is well accessible by Shinkansen or car, making it a great place to visit over the weekend.
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