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Tōhoku 東北
Autumn colours of the Oirase Valley in Aomori prefecture
Autumn colours of the Oirase Valley in Aomori prefecture.

Introduction

Tōhoku translates as 'North-East' (of the main island of Honshū). It includes the 6 northernmost prefectures of Japan's main island: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima. All of them are sparsely populated, and fairly mountainous.

The Tōhoku region was for a long time the border between "Japan" and the Ainu tribes of the far north. The latter were eventually pushed out of Honshū to Hokkaidō (then called Ezo), but the Tōhoku remained remote from the core of the Japanese civilization.

Touristically, the Tōhoku offers lots of mountains (Dewa Sanzan, Komagatake), some volcanos (Osore-zan, Bandai-san), plenty of onsen (hot springs) and two of Japan's most beautiful lakes : Towada-ko and Tazawa-ko. Aomori prefecture's Tsugaru and Shimokita peninsulas are famous in Japanese literature and deserve some exploring.

One of Japan's great landscapes, the islands of Matsushima, is possibly the Tōhoku most compelling attraction, especially if combined with one of Sendai's festivals. In general it is a good idea to plan your visits of Tōhoku cities during a festival and/or in combination with a natural attraction.

Both Hirosaki's Neputa and Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri justify the detour, for they are some of Japan's most stupendous festivals. Another notable festival is Akita's Kantō Matsuri and its thousands of lanterns carried on huge sticks.

Few cities are really attractive enough to merit a trip of their own from Tōkyō or other parts of Japan. The small towns of Hiraizumi, Kakunodate, Hirosaki and the Tōno valley, are only worth visiting if you are in the region or have plenty of time. Hiraizumi is one of the several so-called "little Kyōto" (a bit abusively) and dates back to the 11th and 12th century. Old as it is, it may be disappointing to travel all the way to Iwate prefecture just for one garden and one temple complex, unless you have a serious interest in Japanese history or include it in a tour of the Tōhoku region. Hirosaki is a pleasant 17th-century castle town, worth a stop if you pass through Aomori prefecture, e.g. on the way to/from Hokkaido, the Shimokita peninsula (Osorezan) or the Oirase Valley. Kakunodate is a medieval samurai outpost, ideally visited on the way to the Akita Kantō Festival (early August).

Morioka can serve as a base to visit Hiraizumi and Kakunodate as well as the villages and temples around Tōno. All three are within 2 hours from Morioka by train. Morioka has a few attractions of its own, direct views on Mount Iwate, and boasts some of the best food in northern Honshū.

Attractions

Attractions are listed by order of interest within each geographic section.

North (Aomori Prefecture)


Mount Osore
Hiraizumi
outstanding Osore-zan (lit. "Fear Mountain") is a 879m-high volcano in the center of the Shimokita Peninsula Quasi-National Park. It has long been considered one of Japan's most sacred...Read more
Hirosaki
Hirosaki
very good Hirosaki (pop. 175,000) is a very new city by Japanese standards. It was founded in the early 17th century as a castle town, and the old district retains all its Edo-era charm. The two best...Read more
Aomori
Aomori
good Capital of the eponymous prefecture, Aomori (pop. 297,000) attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors in early August to view its celebrated Nebuta Matsuri, one of Japan's top festivals...Read more

Centre (Akita & Iwate Prefectures)

Lake Towada & Oirase Valley
Lake Towada from Ohanabe
outstanding Lake Towada is Japan's third deepest lake (326m) and lies 400m above sea level. The volcanic crater it occupies is 44km in circumference and its rim reach up to 1000m. It is located in...Read more
Lake Tazawa & Mount Komagatake
Lake Tazawa
very good Lake Tazawa, a dozen km north of Kakunodate, is Japan's deepest lake (423m). The lake is an almost perfect circle of 20km of circumference. Tazawa-ko is noted for the clarity of its water (2nd clearest...Read more
Kakunodate
Samurai houses, Kakunodate (photo by Kmhkmh - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
very good This small town lost in the wilderness of Akita prefecture, just south of Lake Tazawa-ko, is distinguished by its well-preserved samurai quarter and renowned for its splendid cherry...Read more
Morioka
Morioka
good Expanding at the foot of Mount Iwate, Morioka is the main transport hub for central Tōhoku. Established in 1597 as a fief of the Nanbu clan, Morioka once had a mighty castle, of...Read more
Hiraizumi
Hiraizumi
very good At the heights of the Heian period (794-1185), the Northern branch of the powerful Fujiwara clan created political and cultural center that was said to rival Heian-kyō (Kyōto) itself...Read more
Akita
Akita Kanto Festival
good Akita (pop. 312,000), capital of the prefecture of the same name, is the second largest city of the Tōhoku region after Sendai. It is a bustling port and industrial city...Read more

South (Yamagata, Miyagi & Fukushima Prefectures)

Matsushima
Matsushima
very good Ranked by the Japanese as one of Japan's three great views (along with Miyajima and Amanohashidate), Matsushima has long been a popular tourist destination. The great...Read more
Aizu-Wakamastu
Aizu-Wakamastu (photo by Σ64 - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good The castle town of Aizu-Wakamatsu (pop. 120,000) lies about 8km from Lake Inawashiro. Its history revolves around the influential Aizu Matsudaira clan and the rebellion against the Meiji Government...Read more
Dewa Sanzan
Dewa Sanzan
very good The three sacred mountains of Dewa, known in Japanese as "Dewa Sanzan" have been the object of worship for centuries. The 3 mounts are Haguro-san, Yudono-san, and Gas-san...Read more
Mount Bandai & Lake Inawashiro
Bandai-san (photo by Qwert1234 - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good Mount Bandai (1,819m) is located at the southern edge of the Bandai Asahi National Park, Japan's secondest largest national park. Lake Inawashiro is the fourth largest lake in...Read more
Sendai
Sendai
good Sendai is the capital of Miyagi prefecture and the largest city in the Tōhoku region. is a clean and modern city with large boulevards and parks, but is almost devoid of tourist attractions, apart from...Read more

Wa-pedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

good : moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
very good : recommended - to visit if you have time
outstanding : outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
must-see : best of the country - shouldn't be missed
best in Europe : one of the world's great cities (beyond rating)

Natural attractions

good : interesting
very good : recommended
outstanding : highly recommended
must-see : world-class
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