We’ve compiled the best of the best in Tohoku - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Chuson-ji Temple

    Founded in AD 850, this temple's highlight is its Konjikido (Golden Hall), which was completed in 1124. The first Ou Fujiwara lord, Kiyohara, commissioned many temples and pagodas during his reign, perhaps as many as 40, not to mention residences for 300 priests. Nearly all were destroyed by fire except for Konjikido, and it is the only structure in Chuson-ji that remains unchanged. More than 3,000 objects have survived and are now kept in the treasure house (Sankozo Museum). It's a 20-minute walk from JR Hiraizumi Station or a 10-minute bus ride.

    202 Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi, Iwate-ken, 029-4102, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥800
  • 2. Ginzan Onsen

    Ginzan Onsen is known for its unique landscape and distinguished Taisho period (1912–26) architectural design. A flood once destroyed the village in the valley, but it sprung back up with 14 ryokan. A magnificent wooden four-story ryokan from there is depicted in Miyazaki's animated film Spirited Away. The Hanagasa dance shows take place Saturday evenings from May to October. From Yamagata, take a train to JR Oishida Station, then hop on the Hanagasa-Go bus bound for Ginzan Onsen (45 minutes).

    Ginzan Onsen, Obanazawa, Yamagata-ken, 999-4333, Japan
  • 3. Ginzan Onsen

    Ginzan is another relaxing hot spring close to both Yamagata and Sendai, but this one is more isolated than Sakunami. It's about two to three hours from Sendai by bus, but probably more accessible from JR Oishida Station using the Hanagasa-Go bus, which takes about 45 minutes depending on the season.

    Ginzan Onsen, Obanazawa, Yamagata-ken, 999-4333, Japan
    View Tours and Activities
  • 4. Hoon-ji Temple

    On the outskirts of Mt. Atagoyama is a temple district where a dozen temples are clustered. This one houses 499 statues of Buddha's disciples that were carved between 1731 and 1735, in a time of severe famine and increased religious devotion. Each is unique, and if you look hard, you will see disciples laughing, chatting with their neighbors, eating, drinking, and even napping. Behind Ho-Onji are a small cemetery and a tranquil Japanese garden. Monks ring a bell periodically; the sounds echo through the premises and the city. It is a bit out of the way, but if you enjoy wooden architecture, you will not be disappointed.

    31--5 Nasukawacho, Morioka, Iwate-ken, 020-0016, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥300
  • 5. Osore-zan Mountain

    If you have a car, a day trip to the uppermost "hook" of the Mutsu/Shimokita Peninsula is highly recommended. A 30-minute drive north of Mutsu takes you to Osore-zan, which literally means "Scary Mountain." On the ash-gray shores of the Lake Usori caldera, an otherworldly landscape awaits, with boardwalks that lead over sulfur pools and past shrines to the dead. There's even an enclosed onsen where you can shuck your clothes and bathe in the water. At festivals held in July and October, itako (traditionally blind female shamans, but most who do this are not blind now) open stalls to tell your fortune and communicate with your deceased loved ones. It's a memorable day at the end of the world.

    Mutsu, Aomori-ken, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥500 for the onsen, Closed Nov.–Apr
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  • 6. Risshaku-ji Temple

    Yamadera is like something conjured out of the ethereal mists of an ancient Japanese charcoal painting. Built in the year AD 860, Yamadera's complex of temples including Risshaku-ji, is perched high on the upper slopes of Mt. Hoju (Hoju-san), from where you can enjoy divine vistas. Just inside the temple-complex entrance is Konpon Chudo, the temple where the sacred Flame of Belief has burned constantly for 1,100 years. Near Konpon Chudo is a statue of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644–94), whose pithy and colorful haiku related his extensive wanderings throughout Japan. During a visit to the temple, he wrote, "Stillness . . . the sound of cicadas sinks into the rocks" and buried the poem on the spot. The path continues up many steps—nearly 1,100 of them, well-tended though they may be. At the summit is Oku no In, the hall dedicated to the temple founder, Jikaku Daishi. But if you've come this far, keep going. Of all the temples hanging out over the valley, the view from Godaido is the best. The path becomes crowded in summer and slippery in winter.

    4456--1 Yamadera, Yamagata, Yamagata-ken, 999-3301, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥300
  • 7. Shirakami Mountains

    South of Mt. Iwaki are the Shirakami Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to the world's largest virgin beech forest. The area is truly pristine and great for hiking. If you don't have a car, take the Konan bus from Hirosaki Bus Terminal or Hirosaki Station bound for Tsugaru Touge from June to October, getting off at Tashiro (55 minutes) and walking about five minutes to the visitor center or at Aqua Green Village, Anmon (90 minutes) to see get to the Anmon Falls. If you want to see the Mother Tree—the forest's largest, and presumably oldest tree—get off at the last stop, Tsugaru Toge (two hours, 10 minutes); the tree is a five-minute walk from there. Only a few buses run daily and only at certain times of the year, so check with the visitor's center or your hotel to be sure of departure times and bus stops. Also note that the road beyond Aqua Green Village only opens around July each year.

    61--1 Kanda Tashiro, Nishimeya-mura, Nakatsugaru-gun, Aomori-ken, 036-1411, Japan
    0172-85–2810-Shirakami Visitor Center
  • 8. Towada-Hachimantai National Park

    For walking among the splendid and vast virgin beech, pine, and cedar forests deep in the heart of Tohoku, you could not pick a better destination than Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The mountains afford sweeping panoramas over the park's gorges and valleys, crystal clear lakes like Towada-ko, gnarled and windswept trees, and volcanic cones. The park straddles Aomori, Iwate, and Akita prefectures, and sprawls over 330 square miles (855 square km). Hot springs and tiny villages lost in time are secreted here, and the fresh tree-scented air promotes a feeling of true wilderness. Most facilities are closed between mid-November and April.

    Towada, Aomori-ken, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed mid-Nov.–Apr
  • 9. Zuihoden


    The grand mausoleum of Masamune Date, the most revered daimyo of ancient Sendai, was made in the style of the Momoyama Period (16th century), where figures of people, birds, and flowers are carved and inlaid in natural colors. Looking like the world's fanciest one-story pagoda, there is so much gold leaf that in the right light it practically glows. Having burned during the firebombing in 1945, Zuihoden was reconstructed beginning in 1974. During the excavation, Date's well-preserved remains were found and have been reinterred in what appears to be a perfect replica of the original hall. The mausoleum is a 10-minute walk uphill from the Zuihoden stop; it's well worth it as it's a delightful change from other ancient architecture.

    23--2 Otamaya-shita, Sendai, Miyagi-ken, 980-0814, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥570
  • 10. Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center

    If you are not in town for Akita's famous Kanto Festival, this museum is the next best thing. Try balancing one of the poles topped with paper lanterns on your palm—local veterans will coach you, but it's more difficult than it looks. There is also an informative video about this and other Akita festivals. Your ticket also includes entry to the former residence and kimono-fabric shop of the Kaneko family, along a corridor beside the entrance. Don't miss the bats carved above the sliding doors.

    Oomachi 1--3--30, Akita, Akita-ken, 010-0921, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥100, Closed Dec. 29–Jan. 3
  • 11. Akita Museum of Art

    One of the best reasons to visit this museum is the building, designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando. The museum's highlight is the enormous Annual Events in Akita, painted by local artist Fujita Tsuguharu (1886–1968) in just 15 days. The painting of three local festivals merged into a single scene was rendered on one of the world's largest canvases at the time, measuring 11 feet by 66 feet. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions relating to Akita life and art.

    1--4--2 Naka Dori, Akita, Akita-ken, 010-0001, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥310 (some exhibits are extra), Check in advance for closures
  • 12. Ando House

    A visit to this miso and soy sauce business, still located in the historic home of the Ando merchant family, is a treat for both the eyes and the taste buds. Beautiful seasonal flower arrangements and artifacts decorate the tatami rooms, while the unusual redbrick storehouse houses some fine painted screens. And don't miss the inner storehouse, where you can find free miso soup and pickles.

    27 Shimoshinmachi, Kakunodate, Semboku, Akita-ken, 014-0300, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun.
  • 13. Aomori Museum of Art

    This contemporary arts museum houses a collection of works by Munakata Shiko (1903–75), Nara Yoshitomo (1959–), and Terayama Shuji (1935–83). Another highlight is three of Marc Chagall's backdrops created for the ballet Aleko (the fourth belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Unlike many museums in which gift shops are near the entrance and packed with people, the gift shop here sits quietly in a corner upstairs, seemingly asking visitors to enjoy art first before shopping. Outside, don't miss the statue of Aomori-ken (ken sounds like both the words for prefecture and dog) waits in front of his food dish.

    185 Chikano, Yasuta, Aomori, Aomori-ken, 038-0021, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥510
  • 14. Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum


    Several well-preserved samurai houses date from the founding of Kakunodate. The most renowned is Aoyagi-ke, which functions as a museum and even a bit of a shopping center (there are many restaurants and gift shops located here). The house displays an extensive collection of swords, armor, guns, and silk kimono wedding gowns as well as all kinds of historical artifacts to pore over, such as farm implements and household items. There are even some weapons and feel their weight. It also exhibits a large number of war documents, photos, and uniforms from the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) to the Pacific War (1941–45). History buffs will love it, especially when you can see how much wealth these feudal bureaucrats could accumulate. The museum is a 15-minute walk northwest from JR Kakunodate Station.

    3 Shimo-cho, Kakunodatemachi, Akita-ken, 014-0325, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥500
  • 15. Auga Market

    Fish, shellfish, preserved seaweed, and fish eggs—in short, all manner of marine organisms—are hawked by hundreds of vendors in this seafood market. It's one block east of JR Aomori Station, in the basement level of a modern building with distinctive crimson pillars.

    1--3--7 Shinmachi Dori, Aomori, Aomori-ken, 030-0801, Japan
  • 16. Chosho-ji Temple

    Thirty-three of the Soto Sect's Zen temples line up along Zenrin-gai (Zen Forest Street), at the end of which Chosho-ji temple stands with great dignity. The Tsugaru clan's family temple was originally built in Ajigasawa in 1528 but was moved here in 1610 to protect Hirosaki Castle. You'll see an elaborate gate meant to shake off greediness and complaining and 500 statues depicting Buddha's disciples.

    1--23--8 Nishi Shigemori, Hirosaki, Aomori-ken, 036-8273, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 17. Fuku-ura Island

    From Godaido Temple it's a short walk across a pedestrian bridge to the islet of Fuku-ura Jima. For the ¥200 toll you can break away from the crowds and enjoy a walk around this natural area with views across the bay. A stroll around the entire island should take less than an hour.

    39–1 Senzui, Matsu-shima, Miyagi-ken, 981-0213, Japan
    022-354–2618-Matsushima Tourist Information

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥200
  • 18. Geibikei Gorge


    The surreal Geibikei Gorge is a slightly decrepit, definitely kitschy tourist attraction. You board a gondola at the local river, and your gondolier will sing in classic Japanese style as he maneuvers farther into the echoey gorge. Your destination is an upriver sandbar, where you disembark for a stroll, and for a nominal fee you can throw kiln-fired clay divots (undama) into a crack in a cliff across the river (each divot has a character on it, and if you chuck it in the hole, that fate is in store for you). Bring bread to feed the river fish—they aggressively follow the boat and jump for joy at handouts. Those fish are also available roasted and fried where you disembark. The trip takes 90 minutes, and boats depart approximately once an hour from 8:30 to 3 most days.

    Nagasaka Asamachi 467, Ichinoseki, Iwate-ken, 029-0302, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥1,800
  • 19. Godaido Temple

    Just beyond the plaza and boat pier in Matsushima is a small temple constructed in 1609 at the behest of daimyo Masamune Date. The temple is on a tiny islet connected to the shore by two small arched bridges. Animals representing the zodiac are carved in the timbers and facing each sign's corresponding direction.

    111 Azamachinai, Matsu-shima, Miyagi-ken, 981-0213, Japan

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 20. Hanamaki Onsenkyo

    Among 12 onsen that collectively make up these gorges of hot water gushers, Osawa and Namari stand out for their quality and well-kept ryokan, offering comfort and long-cherished histories. Osawa is known as poet Miyazawa Kenji's favorite, and Namari is famous for Japan's 600-year-old deepest standing bath. Osawa is 30 minutes by bus from Iwate's Hanamaki Station (not the airport of the same name), Namari 50 minutes. From Morioka the easiest way is to take a train to Hanamaki Station and then use the bus to reach the onsen, which are on the outskirts of town. There is an information center at the station that can help you with bus connections, but be advised that it's a very quiet place, so you might be waiting. It's also possible to get to the area from Shin-Hanamaki Station (which is a different station than "Hanamaki") on a bus operated by the onsen association that stops at several different ryokan in town. If you are staying over, check with your ryokan for free shuttle times (usually only twice a day) and note from which train station and ask about pickup services from the onsen-area bus station.

    Yuguchi Aza Osawa 181, Hanamaki, Iwate-ken, 025-0244, Japan
    019-825–2021-Osawa Onsen

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: ¥700 for a day visit to either onsen

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