A Guide to Tohoku - The Best Sightseeing in Japan's Northern Regions
Yamagata, Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, Akita, and Aomori, the six prefectures of northern Japan, and their beautiful nature and traditional culture, are worth your time!
For some real off-the-beaten-path travel in Japan, the Tohoku region of northern Japan is a clear destination. But as such an untraveled area, international visitors to Tohoku often don't know where to start! So check out a few of the best places to visit in Tohoku.
① Tendo City in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県天童市)
Since Tohoku is known for magnificent vistas and great places to explore the natural countryside of Japan, the area around the city of Tendo in Yamagata seems like a good place to start. The nearby Yamadera Temple and the hike to its mountainside location are popular with visitors, and have been for hundreds of years.
Haiku-lovers shouldn't miss the spot, which was a favorite of famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho. Basho wrote one of his more famous haikus here in 1689: "ah this silence / sinking into the rocks / voice of cicada."
② The Aizu Area of Fukushima Prefecture (福島県会津)
While the name Fukushima brings to mind memories of tragedy for many, the prefecture is actually extremely large, with tons to offer. Parts of the coastal area might still be recovering, but large swathes of Fukushima were so far away from the disaster zone, they were hardly affected in the long-term, and they're full of scenic views and delicious food. So don't count it out!
The Aizu area is beautiful year-round, but for winter travelers, the Tadami Train Line starting from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station has long been a popular attraction. During the colder months of the year, the train runs through glorious valleys covered in snow-laced trees, and over icy-blue lakes.
Hop on the train for a cozy ride through some breathtaking, snowy views!
- Plus, not so far away is Aizumura, a beautiful park that's popular with photographers and models throughout the year!
③ The Zao Area of Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県蔵王)
Surrounding the dormant volcano of Mount Zao is the Zao area, full of onsen (hot springs, 温泉), good food, mountain views, and... foxes!?
The Zao Fox Village is a must-see for animal lovers, with around 100 foxes calling the village home. Many of them freely roam the grounds, and some of them are friendly enough that you can even pet them!
- For some less fox-centric views of Zao, however, Mount Zao's Okama crater lake is known for its color, which changes depending on the day's weather.
④ Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture (秋田県田沢湖)
A popular lake resort, Lake Tazawa draws visitors with its steaming onsen and even nearby ski slopes. The best part of a visit, though, is seeing the lake itself, a placid blue body framed by green hills. Right on the water is this statue of Tatsuko, a local mythical figure. The story goes that Tatsuko asked the gods to grant her wish and make her beautiful forever. Instead, it's said, the gods cursed her to be a dragon in Lake Tazawa.
- Nearby are a number of different hot springs, including (rare!) baths where men and women can bathe together, a tradition called konyoku (混浴).
⑤ Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県平泉)
Hiraizumi may not be well known to travelers, but it has a rich history as the former seat of the Fujiawara clan's northern branch. Thanks to this status granted almost a thousand years ago, the city thrived, until some serious political intrigue caused Minamoto Yoritomo (who would soon become Japan's first shogun) to raze the city.
Thankfully, some of the city's cultural history remains, including Chusonji Temple (中尊寺). This temple, founded in the year 850, still maintains a little bit of traditional Hiraizumi-style architecture, and preserved Buddhist monuments are stored inside.
- While you're there, don't miss out on the local Morioka reimen noodles. The original recipe for this refreshing cold noodle dish was brought over from North Korea in the 50s, although it's changed a bit to suit local palates.