Sendai (pop. 986,000) is the capital of Miyagi prefecture and the largest city in the Tōhoku region.
Founded in 1600 by warlord Date Masamune, Sendai grew quickly as the major commercial centre for the North of Japan. Unfortunately, little remains of Aoba-jō, the great castle of the Date clan, which was partly dismantled in the Meiji era, then bombed by the USAF in 1945.
Today, Sendai is a clean and modern city with large boulevards and parks, but is almost devoid of tourist attractions, apart from its festivals, if you can make your visit coincide with one of them. Sendai is better used as a staging point for visits to nearby Matsushima or to Hiraizumi.
Sendai is famous for its char-grilled ox tongue, known as 'gyūtan' (牛タン) in Japanese, which is said to have originated there. It is said that during the hardships of the 1940's a local cook got the idea of serving cows tongues instead of disposing of them, meat being so precious at the time. It quickly became one of the Japanese's favourites.
From October to March, visitors to Sendai can enjoy Sendai's fried, raw or stewed oysters. With beef and seafood being so famous, combination of them are also perfect for another of the city's favourite, sukiyaki.
If there is a reason to visit Sendai, it will have to be for its festivals.
Perhaps the most well-known is Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri. Contrarily to other places in Japan, Tanabata in Sendai is not celebrated on 7 July, but one month later, around 7 August. It is also much more impressive than anywhere else, with giant bamboo sticks decorated with equally big and very colourful tanzaku (papers with people's wishes). The festival attracts 2 million people each year.
In May, the Aoba Matsuri is an event of great excitement, with impressive yamahoko (floats) being pulled in the streets, while people in samurai attires parade alongside. The evening festival (yoi matsuri) and sparrow's dances (suzume odori) are also worth a look.
Every Septmber since 1991, the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival attracts jazz and other music lovers from all over the world. In 2004, 600 musicians performed in Sendai's parks, plazas and boulevards, attracting and half a million spectators.
How to get there
Sendai is on the Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Aomori. As a result, it only takes 2 hours from the Japanese capital.
JAL has flights between Sendai and Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, Takamatsu, Okayama and Fukuoka. ANA has flights connecting Sendai to Sapporo, Hakodate, Tokyo, Komatsu, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Okinawa.