Japan City Guides: Sendai
Sendai/Miyagi Guide 仙台
- population - 1 million.
- Sendai is one of Japan's fastest-growing and most pleasant cities.
- old, historical castle town developed by the Samurai warlord Masamune Date but heavily-bombed in World War II and subsequently rebuilt.
- Sendai food speciality: calf tongue (gyutan) and soba noodles.
- excellent base for exploring the Tohoku region of Japan's far north.
- air, sea and rail hub for northern Japan.
Sendai cityscape by night
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 (Aoba Castle) ruins, the sculpture-lined Jozenji street, and the scenic island-dotted bay at Matsushima on the coast as well as beautiful Zao Onsen in the nearby mountains. Both offer hot-springs & great views. Shiroishi Castle is around 50 minutes by train to the south.
Miyagi Stadium in Rifu was a World Cup 2002 venue and is a planned venue for 2020 Olympic football.
Mausoleum of the daimyo, Masamune Date - Zuihoden
Ornate Momoyama-style decorations at the Zuihoden Mausoleum in Sendai
Zuihoden (Tel: 022 262 6250) is the mausoleum of the powerful daimyo, Masamune Date, (1567-1636, known as the "One-Eyed Dragon"). Zuihoden 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, Masamune.
Statue of Masamune Date on horseback at Aoba Castle
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 Masamune 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.
The Toshogu Shrine near Toshogu Station on the JR Senzan Line was built by Date Tadamune to honor Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and his great ally.
Rinno-ji Temple has a three story pagoga and a strolling garden, which are the highlights of a visit here. Rinnoji was founded in the 1440s but moved to its present location in the early 17th century. The temple is a family temple of the Date clan.
Osaki Hachimangu Shrine was established by Date Masamune in 1607 and is designated as a National Treasure. The Main Hall is decorated using a distinctive black lacquer and gold leaf. Hachiman is considered a diety of warfare.
Hasekura painted in Europe in 1615 by Claude Deruet
Komyoji Temple near Kita-Sendai Station on the Senzan Line contains the grave of Tsunenaga Hasekura (1571-1622), who was Masamune Date's ambassador to Mexico and Spain. Hasekura sailed in the Date Maru to Acapulco via Luzon in The Philippines in 1613 and went on to visit Spain, Switzerland and Rome. Hasekura's vessel of 150-180 men was one of the first Japanese ships to cross the Pacific. Hasekura returned to Japan in 1620 having been baptized a Christian, but by this time Christianity was out of favor with the Tokugawa regime and Hasekura's son (the head priest of Komyoji) and some of his servants were executed for their faith.
North west of Sendai city center adjacent to the Best Western Hotel Sendai and the Sendai Hills Golf Club is a modern statue of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) standing 100m tall.
Ryuun-in Temple (龍雲院), 5km north west of Sendai Station contains the tomb of Shihei Hayashi (1738-1793), a prominent military scholar whose writings helped to inspire the movement that led to the end of the Shogunate in 1867. There is a statue of Hayashi in Kotodai Park and a plaque commemorating his life in Aoba Castle.
Nishi Park (Sakuragaoka Park) was formerly the residential quarters of the samurai retainers of the Date clan. Tsutsujigaoka Park is known for its ancient cherry trees some of them approaching 300 years of age.
Sendai Castle walls and statue of Masamune 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.
Just north of Sendai Station, the AER Building at 145.5m is the tallest building in Sendai and the whole Tohoku region. There's a branch of Maruzen with books in English, a Starbucks, the Tohoku Pokemon Center and up on the 31st floor the The Panorama Terrace, with great views out over Sendai on a clear day.
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 Masamune'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.
The Dondo Matsuri at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine takes place on January 14 and is an annual Fire Festival where New Year straw decorations are ceremoniously burnt in a large bonfire.
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.
Near Sendai Station is Gyutan dori with lots of restaurants serving the specialty.
Sendai has one subway line the Namboku Line running roughly north from Izumi Chuo to Tomizawa in the south connecting with Sendai Station at its center. An east-west line, the Tozai Line is due to open in 2015.
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 and the circuit of Sendai's tourist attractions takes about 1 hour in total. Be warned, the bus though quaint, is far too small for the number of users trying to cram on on weekdays and public holidays.
From Sendai Station the Loople Bus stops at Aoba Dori/Ichibancho, Bansuisodo, the Zuihoden Mausoleum, Sendai City Museum, Aoba Castle Museum, Tohoku University Botanical Gardens, the Miyagi Museum of Art, Traffic Park, Sankyozawa Water Power Plant, Sendai Mediatheque, Sendai City Hall on Jozenji Dori, Hirose Dori Subway Station and back to Sendai Station.
Sendai Loople Bus and Sendai Airport Express Train
As in most Japanese cities, accommodation options are centred around the main station and Sendai Station has a number of good hotels within close proximity including the upmarket Hotel Metropolitan Sendai, the Hotel Monterey Sendai, the budget Toyoko Inn Sendai Higashi-guchi No.1, Hotel Green Well and Comfort Hotel Sendai West.
Sendai is a great place to base to explore the rest of Miyagi Prefecture and also to head north into Tohoku.
Matsushima and Oku-Matsushima with the picturesque bay and fascinating temples is an easy day or half-day excursion from Sendai. Oku-Matsushima is reached from Nobiru Station, 15 minutes north from Matsushima on the JR Senseki Line.
Shiroishi to the south has a restored castle and some pretty Edo Period streets to wander.
There are a variety of onsen resorts accessible from Sendai. Naruko Onsen is about one hour by train from Sendai (JR Tohoku Line to Furukawa and then JR Rikuu-Tosen Line to Naruko Onsen). The waters at Naruko are known for their healing properties. Scenic Narujo Gorge is close by and reached by local bus.
Akui Onsen is best reached by bus from Sendai Station and hiking trails from this delightful onsen resort lead to Akui Otaki, a 55m-high waterfall and Futakuchi Gorge. The 1366m high Daito-dake can also be hiked in about 3 hours.
Sakunami has a number of hot springs and is just 38 minutes on the Sanzen Line from Sendai Station.
Hiraizumi is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site about 120km north of Sendai. Hiraizumi is known for its beautiful temples and gardens including the incredible Konjikido or Golden Hall. Built in 1124, the 5.5 meter square Buddhist altar with four pillars is coated with black laquer plated with golf leaf and mother-of-pearl inlay.
Yamadera (Risshaku-ji) in neighboring Yamagata Prefecture dates back to 860 but was in its heyday during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) of Japanese history. A number of temples and sub-temples lie in a majestic cedar forest on the mountain - Hoju-san.
Okuno-in is the highest temple on the mountain, a climb of 1,100 steps! Godai-do offers wonderful views over the valley below. The Hihokan is the temple treasury and the admission point (300 yen) up the mountain.
From Sendai Station take a JR Senzan train to Yamadera Station (just under an hour). The haiku master Basho was a famous visitor and composed a famous haiku poem here, which is inscribed in a rock memorial. The Basho Kinenkan (Basho Memorial Museum) is close to Yamadera Station.
Yamadera in Yamagata Prefecture is less than an hour from Sendai
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 Ueno Station in Tokyo to Sapporo - the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei both stop in Sendai. The Cassiopeia has stops at Omiya, Utsunomiya, Koriyama, Fukushima, Sendai, Hakodate, Toya, Noboribetsu, Tomakomai, Minami-Chitose and Sapporo. The Hokutosei follows a similar route.
Sendai is also connected by train with Yamagata, Matsushima and Sendai Airport.
Komachi Shinkansen to Sendai at Tokyo Station
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.
There are overnight ferry services to Nagoya and Tomakomai on Hokkaido from Sendai-ko (local JR train to Tagajo station on the Senseki Line then a taxi, bus or 15-20 minute walk) or a bus from Sendai Station. The ferries are operated by Taiheiyo Ferry company and reservations can be made by calling 052 582 8611 in Nagoya, 011 281 3311 in Sapporo, 022 263 9877 in Sendai or 03 3564 4161 in Tokyo.
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 on the south east coast of Hokkaido
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