Miyagi – Pine islands, painting-like environment and Sendai, home of the Date clan
Miyagi is not just the name of our favourite karate teacher but also the name of the fourth Japanese prefecture. It is home to the biggest city in the Touhoku region, Sendai, an amazing canvas of autumn colours, small islands filled with pine trees and is rich with Japanese history, specifically the Sengoku period. Join us on our trip to the Japanese Miyagi prefecture.
Miyagi shares its borders with the prefectures of Iwate in the north, Akita in the north-west, Yamagata in the west and Fukushima in the south. The only body of water on its borders is the Pacific Ocean. Along this coastline is the famous Sanriku Coast, a rocky coastline filled with countless bays and cliffs. Tiny islands dot the coastline and deliver a certain serenity combined with the openness of the ocean. Sadly, a number of these natural wonders were destroyed during the Touhoku Disaster in 2011 and are lost to both nature and time. Today, we know that the Sanriku Coastline was actually an amplifier for the strength of the tsunami due to its countless bays, coves and cliffs, making the tsunami larger and stronger. Miyagi was also the prefecture that was hit the worst by the disaster. A lot of places were rebuilt because it is thought that tourism is the best way to repair the region. For instance, in 2012 23% of Miyagi’s land area was assigned as Natural Parks, so if it’s nature you’re looking for, this is the place to go to. The capital of the Miyagi prefecture is Sendai, the largest city in the Touhoku region, and it has a population of just over 1 million people.
The history of the region is quite comparable to the history of the surrounding prefectures. During the biggest part of Japanese history, Miyagi was part of the Mutsu Province, the province that was made by taking the land from the local Emishi people. During the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603 CE), a period known for a lot of fighting and fragmentation of larger provinces, it was ruled by the Date clan, a strong ally of the Tokugawa family. They created the city of Sendai. During the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the province formerly known as Mutsu was divided into 4 smaller provinces. What later would be known as Miyagi was part of the Rikuzen province but in 1871 the Sendai prefecture was established and a year later, its name was changed into the Miyagi prefecture.
Miyagi has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you. We do have to say that there is a island completely devoted to cats. This island is called Tashirojima and it was already a topic in one of our articles about ‘6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan’. If you want to read more about it, just click here.
The first location that you simply must visit is the city of Sendai and its surroundings. A castle, historical sites, temples, local food, nature, this city just has it all. Sendai is the place to visit if you are interested in the rich history of the Sengoku period. Historical sites from the Date clan are spread out through the entire city. The most important one is the Zuihōden, the tomb of Date Masamune who was the leader of the Date clan. You can also find a lot of artifacts from the Date clan such as Date Masamune’s armour in this beautiful city and her museums. Of course, there is more to see here than history. Around different onsen resorts you can enjoy the natural beauty of the region. One of the three greatest waterfalls, Aiku waterfall, is found in the lush autumn forests surrounding the city. Last but not least, a must-visit location about 40 kilometers from the city of Sendai is Kinkasan. This small island is one of the three most holiest places in the Touhoku region. It is told that if you visit the Koganeyama shrine on this island three years in a row, you’ll never have financial problems again.
It wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t an amazing natural sight or location in Miyagi. Enter Matsushima, a collection of small islands covered in pines. In total, there are about 260 small islands that you can cruise around by boat. These islands are part of the Three Views of Japan and should be visited by everyone who visits Japan. Thankfully these islands were not damaged a lot by the Touhoku Disaster and only a few islands like Chōmei-ana collapsed. The Miyagi prefecture has established four unique viewing points to look at the small and beautiful islands. These viewing points are the Magnificent View or sōkan (壮観) at Otakamori, the Beautiful View or reikan (麗観) at Toyama, the Enchanting View or yūkan (幽観) at Ogidani and the Grand View or ikan (偉観) at Tamonsan.
Just 70 kilometers away from Sendai we find an astonishing gorge called Naruko Gorge. This gorge is located in the north-western part of Miyagi and only 2 kilometers away from the small onsen town Naruko. You can walk through the breathtaking nature around and in the gorge on two different trails. The first one is called the Naruko Gorge Walking Trail and it runs along the two kilometer long gorge. It is definitely the most scenic route but sometimes it is closed due to the possibility of falling rocks. The second trail is the Ofukazawa Walking Trail that passes past the Ofukazawa Bridge and runs through the forested area around the gorge. The best time to visit the Naruko Gorge is during the autumn, especially from the end of October until the beginning of November. All the trees change their colours and the gorge transforms in a natural canvas with warm colours.
The last location on our list is the Okama Crater, an old volcanic crater that is now the home of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The Okama Crater is located in the Zao mountain range in south-west Miyagi on the border with the Yamagata prefecture. The name is derived from the shape of a typical Japanese cooking pot called a kama. The lake is also called the Goshikiko or Lake of Five Colours due to the different shades of emerald green during the different times of the day. Due to its highly acidic water, no animals or plants can survive in and around the lake. To get to the Okama Crater, you can go by foot, take a ski lift or go by car to a viewing deck. It is recommended though to visit the crater during the spring or summer. In the winter it is not possible to hike to the crater and you can only watch it from afar.
How to get there?
As most prefectures in the Touhoku region, you can easily reach Miyagi from Tokyo or other big cities in Northern Japan. You can get there by train thanks to the great amount of train lines that run through the prefecture, by car, by plane to the Sendai airport or even by boat. The possibilities are enormous.
This was our short intro to Miyagi. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Miyagi, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this page.
We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in May when we will tell you more about Akita.