Travel to Tohoku Region

Tohoku region is the northeast region of Japan’s mainland and it consists of six distinct prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi, and Fukushima. A hidden gem among the tourist areas of Japan, Tohoku has countless treasures for explorers to discover all year round. It contains UNESCO world heritage sites, extraordinary nature, samurai towns and castles, irresistible cuisine, renowned hot springs, impressive festivals, and a fascinating dialect.

Tohoku is unlike any other region due to its location, mountainous landscape and coastal borders so it offers a remarkably unique side of Japan that is often overlooked, making it a must-visit region for travelers looking for a fresh destination.

Tsuruga Castle - Aizu Wakamatsu city, Fukushima

Famed for an intense, month-long siege by government forces during the Boshin Civil War in 1868, Tsuruga Castle holds a special place in Japanese history. The original castle was demolished in the early Meiji period (1868-1912), but its replacement accurately replicates the appearance of the main tower, right down to its white walls and distinctive red roof tiles.

Tsuruga Castle justified its reputation for being impregnable by holding out even when surrounded by 10,000 soldiers of the newly formed Meiji government and bombarded by about 2,500 shells in a single day. Eventually, the trapped forces loyal to the Tokugawa shogunate surrendered and the castle fell. A few years later, the badly damaged castle was demolished, although its stone walls were left in place. The main tower standing today is a reinforced-concrete replica built in 1965 based on documents including photos taken before the castle was torn down. In 2001, a turret and the Nagaya long corridor connecting it to the main tower were reconstructed using techniques and methods from the Edo period (1603-1867).

Tsuruga Castle is the only one in Japan that has a main tower with red roof tiles. The replica initially had black tiles, but these were replaced in 2011 to recreate the original appearance. The red tiles, which once were quite common on Japanese castles, have an iron glaze that enables them to withstand the Tohoku region’s bitter winter cold.

The main tower’s observation platform offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, including the many cherry trees that blossom each spring.

While the original castle is no more, one of its Edo-period structures has survived. Before the castle was demolished, a small three-story building from the castle was relocated to nearby Amidaji Temple, where it still stands today.

Matsushima - Fukuurajima and other islands

Matsushima Bay and its 260 pine-covered islands are collectively considered one of the Three Views of Japan, spots chosen centuries ago for their striking beauty. Such is Matsushima’s appeal that even legendary haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was initially lost for words when he visited the area. The four recommended observation spots around Matsushima take some time to reach but offer differing panoramic vistas of the island-studded bay. Sightseeing cruises provide closer views from the water, and three of the islands are accessible via footbridges.

Notable historical sites in Matsushima include Zuiganji Temple, the most important Zen temple in the Tohoku region. The temple was originally constructed in 828 but was rebuilt in the early 17th century by warlord Date Masamune (1567-1636), who assembled 130 master craftsmen from across Japan for the five-year project. Zuiganji’s main and kitchen buildings are National Treasures, and the temple museum features items such as Masamune’s samurai armor. Godaido Hall, which stands on a small island jutting into Matsushima Bay and has become a symbol of the area, houses five statues that are shown only during a special ceremony held every 33 years. The next occasion will be in 2039. The exterior is notable for the 12 zodiac animals carved into the wood, which are all the more precious because the seaside hall survived the tsunami of March 11, 2011. Much of Matsushima was spared significant damage thanks to the breakwater effect of the many islands in the bay.

The waters of Matsushima are not just picturesque; they also are ideal for growing oysters. Many restaurants in the town serve oyster-based dishes, and oyster lunch cruises and a handful of all-you-can-eat oyster shacks operate during the winter months. The annual Matsushima Oyster Festival held in early February is a highlight for mollusk fans, but there is plenty of other local seafood to satisfy visitors year-round.