Japan City Guides: Sendai
Sendai/Miyagi Guide 仙台
Sendai cityscape by night
Sendai is the gateway to the Tohoku region of northern Japan with shinkansen bullet train connections to Tokyo to the south and onwards to Aomori and Akita to the north. Sendai is also connected by ferry to both Nagoya in Chubu and Tomakomai in Hokkaido.
Blessed with a cooler climate during Japan's notoriously hot summers, Sendai is a great place for visitors to base themselves for an adventure to Japan's north.
Things to see and do in and around Sendai include the Sendai City Museum; Masamune's elaborate mausoleum - Zuihoden; Sendai Castle ruins, the sculpture-lined Jozenji street, and the scenic island-dotted bay at Matsushima on the coast as well as scenic Zao Onsen in the nearby mountains. Both offer hot-springs & great views.
Mausoleum of the daimyo, Matsuname Date - Zuihoden
Ornate Momoyama-style decorations at the Zuihoden Mausoleum in Sendai
Zuihoden (Tel: 022 262 6250) is the mausoleum of the powerful daimyo, Matsuname Date, (1567-1636, known as the "One-Eyed Dragon"). It is reminiscent of the Tokugawa mausoleum in Nikko. The original, ornate 17th century buildings were destroyed in World War II but completely restored in 1979. Set at the top of a flight of steep stone steps within a forest, the site also includes the mausoleums of Date Tadamune and Date Tsunamune, the second and third successors to the father of the clan, Matsuname.
Sendai Castle, aka Aoba-jo, dated from 1602 but nothing remains today of the buildings except for the impressive stone walls and a reconstructed turret. The castle grounds do have fine views of the city and an iconic statue of Matsuname on horseback. The Aoba Castle Exhibition Hall (Tel: 022 222 0218) has computer-generated displays of what the castle looked like in its glory days.
Sendai Castle walls and statue of Matsuname Date
Moss-covered stone lanterns at the Zuihoden Mausoleum in Sendai
Other sites included on the Loople Sendai bus tour, which departs from the west side of Sendai Station, are Sendai's two major shopping streets of Aoba Dori and Ichibancho and the Bansuisodo - the preserved house of local minor poet and composer Bansui Doi.
The Sendai City Museum (Tel: 022 225 3074) introduces the history of the city and displays of Date family treasures including Matuname's suit of armor and relics from the fascinating journey to Mexico and Europe by Matsuname's retainer Hasekura Tsunenaga (1613 - 1620). This epic voyage, Japan's first embassy to the Americas and Europe, is described in Shusako Endo's novel The Samurai.
Other museums in Sendai include the Miyagi Museum of Art (Tel: 022 221 2111) and Tohoku University's Museum of Natural History (Tel: 022 795 6767). Of the temples and shrines in the city, Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (Tel: 022 234 3606) dates from 1607 and is a good example of Momoyama Period architecture. The shrine houses the guardian deity of the Date family and is the site of the Donto fire festival in January. Nearby Rinnoji Temple has a Japanese-style garden noted for its irises in June.
Sendai Mediatheque (Tel: 022 713 4483) is a modern art and film center on Jozenji Dori. Besides its library, Mediatheque hosts exhibitions, film screenings and workshops.
Sendai Castle Shrine & Sendai by night
Sendai's major festivals are the Aoba Festival on the third weekend of May with processions of colorful floats accompanied by people in samurai dress and taiko music. The Saturday is known as Yoi matsuri and features the colorful "Sparrow Dance" (suzume-odori). Sunday is Hon matsuri and features the main pageant and procession and more "Sparrow Dances."
In August Sendai's Tanabata Festival is one of the biggest matsuri in the Tohoku region drawing thousands of spectators. Bamboo poles are decorated with paper streamers and there are parades along Jozenji Dori and firework displays. The Jozenji Jazz Festival in September sees hundreds of street musicians performing throughout the city. Near Sendai Station is Gyutan dori with lots of restaurants serving the specialty.
Origami Cranes at Sendai Tanabata Festival
Sendai Nightlife & Eating Out
The Kokubuncho area in central Sendai is the place to go to sample Sendai's nightlife. There are a variety of good bars, clubs and restaurants and you can sample Sendai's specialties - gyu-tan calf tongue and Matsushima oysters (when in season). Simon's Bar (Tel: 022 223 8840) has been in business since 1990 and is a hole-in-the-wall stand-up bar (it costs more to sit down) with a fine range of foreign beers. Club Shaft has a reasonable reputation for dance nights. The nearest subway station is Kotodai Koen.
Sendai has one subway line running roughly north from Izumi Chuo to Tomizawa in the south connecting with Sendai Station at its center.
The Loople Tour Bus (600 yen for a one-day pass; 250 yen for a single ride) enables visitors to hop on and off on a circular tour of the city's main sites of interest.
The first Loople bus is at 9am and the last at 4pm. Bus are every 30 minutes. Be warned, the bus though quaint, is far too small for the number of users trying to cram on.
Sendai Loople Bus and Sendai Airport Express Train
Flight connections from Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Beijing, Seoul and other Asian destinations. Sendai Airport (Tel: 022 382 0080) is 18km south of the city center and connected by bus (40 minutes) and train (17 minutes by express).
From Tokyo JR Tohoku Shinkansen super-express to Sendai (1 hr. 36 min. to 2 hr. 32 min.) is a frequent service running on to Morioka. Two night trains from Tokyo to Sapporo - the Cassiopea and Hokutosei both stop in Sendai. Sendai is also connected by train with Yamagata, Matsushima and Sendai Airport.
There are day bus services to Shinjuku in Tokyo and Niigata and night buses to Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Osaka. Sendai is the major hub for buses in the Tohoku region which departures to most destinations including Morioka, Akita, Aomori and Hachinohe.
Both Sendai Airport and Sendai Port were damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami but are both now fully repaired and functioning normally.
There are ferries to Sendai from Nagoya in central Japan and Tomakomai in Hokkaido
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