Springtime in Miyagi: Dive Deep into Northern Japan
Tohoku is one of the best areas to visit in Japan if you are the type of person exploring who wants to explore the natural beauty of local areas. You can avoid the crowds and chaos of Japan’s “Golden Route” and have some truly unique experiences. Sendai is a major bullet train hub in Tohoku, which makes getting to the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture from Tokyo (or anywhere else) a breeze! From there, it’s really easy to explore all the prefecture has to offer. Whether you are looking to try the local food, visit hot springs, hike through nature or find some local, unique activities, Miyagi has all that and more!
Hanami “Flower Viewing”
No matter where you go in Miyagi in spring, one thing is for sure—hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is one of the major events! Thanks to its northern location, hanami season in Miyagi is a little later than other parts of the country, typically from mid-April. All over Miyagi, you have many public parks where you can picnic and watch as the beautiful petals flutter to the ground in the gentle yet crisp breeze. While it is very easy to visit some of the local parks in Sendai directly from the bullet train, areas like Matsushima’s Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, Tome’s Naganuma Futopia Park, and Ishinomaki’s Hiyoriyama Park are all beautiful views that capture Miyagi in a light outside the perspective of an urban Japan, and will require venturing outside of the capital city.
If you are looking for some adventure areas, Rifu’s Uma no Se (literally “The Horse’s Back”) is perfect for an afternoon hike along the peninsula, or spectacular for viewing the sunrise over the bay in the early morning, or stargazing at night. If you have children with you, Ogameyama Forest Park in Tomiya has a hiking and obstacle course pathway for children, as well as playground equipment and a giant slide where you can rent sleds.
Special Animal Attractions
Maybe your idea of nature has less to do with landscapes and more to do with cute critters! Well, forty-five minutes by ferry off the coast of Ishinomaki is Tashirojima. Tashirojima is Miyagi’s Cat Island. About 150 cats live on the island, compared to the 50 or so human residents.
What makes spring so special for the Island is that their tourism department opens April 1st, and that means you can rent one of their cat bungalows in the area called “Manga Island” where the cats tend to congregate to meet the island’s visitors. Piece of advice: visitors are prohibited from feeding cats – please treat these animals with the respect they deserve!
If you want something specifically unique to Miyagi, head to Fox Village near Mount Zao, just outside of Shiroishi. There you can be one with the foxes and see as they begin to shed their winter coats for summer. April and May also tend to be when foxes give birth to their kits, which means there’s a good chance you’ll see a mom and kids spending some quality time together.
While the majority of foxes are domesticated enough to allow humans near them, please be advised that you should not pet, touch or get too close to the foxes, no matter how cute they look! If you want to pet them, they have a certain few specific foxes that are completely tame you can hold at a specific time for a small fee. They also have treats for the foxes you can purchase, and a safe place from which to feed them.
Scenery and Hot Springs
Exploring the prefecture is sure to tire out even the most season traveler, and leave them looking for a little R&R! Well, Miyagi has some great springtime hot springs for you! There’s nothing better than a nice soak and Japanese hospitality to leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready for more.
My personal favorite in Japan is at Sakunami Onsen. They have multiple baths, including a standing bath right on a riverbed where you can see fish swimming freely while blossoms fall and the trees become green. Keep in mind that the male and female baths switch throughout the day to accommodate the guests.
Akiu in Sendai is also another place to visit for hot springs. Akiu is located at the foot of the mountains in the Sendai area and has a breathtaking view of the range from the outdoor baths. For those a bit shy about baring it all in front of strangers, some Akiu hotels have private baths or family baths that are separate from the public bath area. That way, you can enjoy all of the luxury without worry!
Naruko is another must-visit place in Miyagi to visit for hot springs. Some hotels in the area have natural sulfur outdoor hot springs, which are so hot that they stay open in winter. While the hot springs are a plus, the scenery around Naruko is incredible. The abundance of Japanese maples that make fall such a gorgeous season turn a lush green in spring, leading into summer.
Local Food in Spring
But no trip to Japan is complete without sampling some local delicacies and cuisine! From April to May you will find many different strawberry-picking locations all over Miyagi. My personal recommendation is Berry Farm Fushimi in Ishinomaki. At these strawberry picking places, you pay a flat fee and can eat as many strawberries as you like during the allotted time! To keep up with the demand for strawberries and keep enough strawberries for those who want to pick, Berries Farm is only open on the weekends in April and May.
Looking for seafood maybe? No problem! Outside of markets in Sendai, the Shiogama Fish Wholesale Market is the largest in the area. Almost everything you find in their massive warehouse is caught right there off the coast of Miyagi! You aren’t going to get closer to the source than that. They have everything from shrimp to salmon and even tuna heart. You can expect that all seasonal fish will be in stock when you visit. You can also purchase certain items and have them cooked for you in their patio area if you’re just interested in getting a quick bite to eat.
The Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery is also another great option when visiting Miyagi. You can tour the distillery, and it is on the way to both the Akiu and the Sakunami hot spring areas. Nikka Whiskey is only made in Miyagi and Yoichi (in Hokkaido), but the Miyagi distillery has a special single malt that can only be found there! Rightfully so, the whiskey is named Miyagikyo. Not sure what you like? They have a tasting room where you can find your favorite!
Lastly, while you are visiting Miyagi, beef tongue (gyutan), edamame paste (zunda), and fishcakes (kamaboko) are some of the major specialty dishes found here. You can find them year-round throughout the prefecture and I highly recommend trying them.
Touring Miyagi, you’ll find many differences compared to urban areas like Tokyo or Osaka. If you are looking for nature, locally grown food, and attractions that are not well known even to veteran travelers of Japan, Miyagi may be your greatest adventure yet!