Sendai is the largest city of the Tohoku Region, an area of Japan that may not be as well-known as other parts of Japan, however, is worth a visit. Sendai is the gateway to this beautiful area and also the capital of Miyagi prefecture. The city is not only an ideal base for exploring the region, it offers fascinating places to visit, one of the most famous summer festivals in the country, and popular local specialties. In this article, we introduce the best things to do in Sendai.
What is Sendai famous for?
As mentioned above, Senday operates as the gateway to the Tohoku region. The city is only 1.5 hrs away from Tokyo by Shinkansen. So you can easily travel to Sendai for a weekend trip of even a day trip. Today, there are about one million people living in Sendai, also known as the City of Trees or Forest City. Major streets are lined with towering green trees which change to a beautiful golden color in autumn and are magnificently illuminated in winter.
The modern-day city of Sendai was founded in 1600 by Date Masamune, who was one of the most powerful feudal lords of the Edo period (1603-1867). Date Masamune was called One-eye Dragon because of his childhood illness that resulted in the loss of his right eye. In the Sendai City Museum, you can see his impressive black armor and helmet. This iconic black armor is said to be the inspiration for Darth Vader’s armor in the Star Wars movies.
Sendai was the closest major city to the epicenter of the great earthquake of March 11, 2011. Despite this, the tsunami ‘only’ devastated the city’s coastal outskirts. Luckily, it did not cause major damage in the city center.
Traveling to Sendai from Tokyo
Sendai Station can be easily accessed from Tokyo Station and Ueno Station by Shinkansen (about 1.5 hours). There are also daytime and overnight highway bus services from Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station (between 5 and 7 hours).
Getting around in Sendai
For getting around the city, take advantage of Loople sightseeing bus for hop-on, hop-off access to major tourist spots. Buses run from 9am to 4pm, every 15 to 20 minutes, and offer multilingual announcements with information along the route. You can take the Loople from Sendai Station west exit bus terminal #16. One day passes cost ¥630.
1. Aoba Castle Ruins (Sendai Castle)
Aoba Castle was built in 1600 by the powerful feudal lord Date Masamune. The castle was located on Mount Aoba, 100 meters above the town. Currently the castle is almost completely gone after a fire left only its stone walls as a reminder to what once must have been a majestic castle. The inner citadel houses the Gokoku Shrine, a shrine built to defend the country and frequently visited by military personnel.
Part of the castle ground has become Aoba Castle Park, and a famous statue of Date Masamune on a horse overlooks the city of Sendai, giving an idea of the panoramic view of the city Date Masamune once looked over. Additionally at the former site of the inner citadel there is Aoba Materials exhibition hall and shop. In the exhibition hall you can see a CG replica of Aoba Castle and other documentation. The statue of Date Masamune and several of the stone walls are lit up every day from sunset until 11pm, and it is known among locals as a spot you can enjoy during both day and night.
Take the Loople sightseeing bus from Sendai Station, get off at Site of Sendai Castle (about 20 min).
2. Tanabata Festival
Sendai is known for Sendai Tanabata Festival in early August. Tanabata is an ancient Japanese tradition based on a legend about the doomed romance between the weaving princess Orihime and the cow-herding Hikoboshi. When the lovers pay more attention to their relationship than their responsibility, Hikoboshi’s cows escaped, wreaking havoc among the heavens. The father of Orihime decided to only allow the couple to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month once a year if they work hard. And this day became Tanabata.
Tanabata is celebrated in many Asian countries but Japanese tradition on Tanabata is that people write their wishes on colorful strips of paper (tanzaku) and tie them to a bamboo tree.
During Sendai Tanabata Festival, the city is filled with Tanabata decorations. All designs feature a large paper ball with sturdy streamers hanging low enough to touch and walk through. These decorations have wishes for good health and business prosperity, and there is a competition to decide the best design of all! There are countless bamboo trees throughout the city for people to hang tanzaku with their wishes written on them.
5 minute walk from Sendai Station.
3. Pageant of Starlight
The Sendai Pageant of Starlight is the largest winter illumination in the Tohoku region. Every December, beautiful avenues in downtown Sendai called Jozenji-dori and Aoba-dori lined with 160 zelkova trees are illuminated with over 600,000 lights. The beautiful lights and magical atmosphere attract many people to the city. In addition to enjoying the scenery while strolling down the street, you can also have some tasty food and drinks, listen to a concert, or even go ice skating. A good starting point is Kotodai Station at the eastern end of Jozenji-dori.
From Sendai Station, take Namboku Subway Line, get off at Kotodai Station (3 min).
Zuihoden is the mausoleum of Date Masamune built after his death in 1636. Zuihoden was completed in 1637, four years after the death of Date Masamune. The design of the Zuihoden is in the ornate style of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603). It has gorgeous wood carvings and decorations with various vivid colors. The son and grandson of Date Masamune are entombed in nearby mausoleums.
Huge cedar trees which surround the paths in the area are meant to symbolize the long history of the Date clan. A museum next to the Zuihoden main building shows some of the personal artifacts of the Date family.
9am – 4.50pm
Admission fee ¥570 (¥460 for Loople day pass holders)
From Sendai Station, take the Loople Sendai bus, get of at bus stop #4 (about 15 minutes).
A 40 minute train ride will take you to Matsushima, one of Japan’s most scenic views. The Matsushima Bay is dotted with over 200 small islands covered with pine trees. The view appears much the same today as it did centuries ago.
The best way to experience Matsushima is by boat. Daily sightseeing boats take passengers around Matsushima Bay, passing by islands which have been carved into delicate and intriguing shapes by the wind and water.
Cruises depart from Matsushima Pier, a 5 to 10 minute walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station. To get to Matsushima Kaigan Station, take the JR Senseki Line from Sendai Station (about 40 min).
6. Try local specialties
While you are in Sendai, you cannot miss out on the local specialties which are famous nationwide.
Gyutan-yaki is said to have been born in Sendai after WWII. Gyutan means beef tongue and yaki is grilled. It is a representative of local gourmet which has grown rapidly in popularity and spread throughout Japan. In general, all shops have thick slices, and the seasoning of the meat is different depending on the restaurants, and you can enjoy a variety of flavors at many restaurants in Sendai.
Zunda-mochi is a traditional Japanese dessert. Zunda is a vibrant green sweet paste consisting of mashed edamame beans, and mochi is a boiled rice cake. In Sendai, you can find some cafes specialized in zunda, where you can enjoy a variety of zunda sweets such as zunda shake and zunda ice cream.
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
Sendai & Matsushima 1–Day Highlight Private Walking Tour (7 Hours)
We can arrange your tour according to your request, e.g. Zuihoden (the Mausoleum of a Shogun), Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (a Shinto shrine and one of the National Treasures of Japan), Matsushima (One of the three most scenic spots of Japan), a Whiskey distillery, a Sake brewery, a Winery, the Shiogama Shrine, and so on. Let’s explore the city together!
This tour gives you an opportunity to visit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. If you want to know the real situation of Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake and interact with locals and hear some stories of how they get through the difficult situation, please join this tour. Let’s think together with how to revitalize the area.
What did you think about Sendai? Sendai has good access from Tokyo and you can visit major spots in the city conveniently with sightseeing buses. You can enjoy the city any time of the year but especially during the seasonal events such as Tanabata and winter light illuminations will be extra good!
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