Japan’s northern Tohoku region is full of hidden treasures, from UNESCO World Heritage temples to stunning beaches and autumn-foliage gorges. To get to all of them within a few days might seem like a daunting task. However, Tohoku’s highway buses are an easy and scenic way to get around, with the Tohoku Highway Bus Ticket offering superb value when you do so.
In this itinerary, we explore Tohoku’s most famous sights using highway buses, as well as some local buses and trains. This itinerary is perfect for those who wish to relax and take in the sights along the way, without needing to spend an exorbitant amount on shinkansen tickets or rail passes.
Start off your trip at Sendai Airport, where you take the Airport Bus towards Matsushima Kaigan Station. At Matsushima-Kaigan Station, store your bulky luggage at the coin lockers so you can explore hands-free for the rest of the day.
Next, head to the Matsushima Pleasure Cruise port, where you proceed to take a scenic boat ride across Matsushima Bay. One of Japan’s three most scenic views, Matsushima Bay is one of Tohoku’s hidden treasures. Along the bay's coastline itself, you can visit Godaido Temple and Entsuin Temple, or just take your time walking around while taking in the magnificent views. Matsushima is also known for its fresh oysters, so take a break and enjoy a fresh oyster lunch while on the island.
Afterwards, head back to Matsushima-Kaigan station to pick up your bags, and take the JR Senseki line towards Sendai. At Sendai Station bus stop no. 40, take the express bus THBT to Morioka Station, where you will stay the night.
On the second day, check out of your hotel and store your luggage at the Morioka Station coin lockers. Pack enough for a night’s stay, as we will only be picking up the luggage at the end of Day 3. From there, head to bus stop no.1 to take the local ‘THBT’ bus towards Ryusendo. Spend the afternoon sightseeing at the famed Ryusendo limestone cave.
Ryusendo is one of Japan’s top three limestone caves, whose existence was first recorded back in the 1920s. The expansive caverns are nearly 5000 meters wide, located within the mountains of Iwaizumi Town in Iwate. Ryusendo is best known for the clear blue water that flows from deep within the cave, creating a mystical sight that’s especially popular with photographers. 700 meters of the caverns are open for public visits, which are relatively easy due to the paved walkways and stairs that were built. The highlights of Ryusendo are the three lakes hidden within the cave, which are illuminated with underwater lights that add to the otherworldly blue glow. These lakes are some of the deepest underground lakes across the country.
Once you’re done exploring, leave Ryusendo and head towards Omoto station via local bus. From there, change buses to travel towards Iwaizumi-Omoto, then Miyako. At Miyako Station, take the Sanriku Railway train towards The Park Hotel Jodogahama, where you will stay the night. The Park Hotel Jodogahama boasts an impressive panoramic view of the Miyako Bay from its guest rooms, and is within walking distance to the Jodogahama sightseeing area. Other accommodation options are available in the vicinity as well.
Begin the day by taking a 5-minute walk to the Jodogahama sightseeing pleasure cruise pier. From there, enjoy the scenic boat ride around the bay area. Jodogahama Beach is part of the Sanriku Fukko National Park, an area known for its magnificent natural beauty. In the summertime, the beach is open to visitors for swimming and water activities. For the early-risers, make sure to check out the breathtaking view from the bay during sunrise.
A unique aspect of Jodogahama Beach is the natural rock formations. The contrasting colours of the white rocks versus the deep blue sea create a stunning view, even more so on a clear day. On your boat cruise, look out for the rock formations, such as the “Candle Rock”. Depending on the cruise you chose, some boats even take you within the “Hachinohe-ana” cave at the bay. Within the cave, the water is mysteriously a lighter blue, turquoise colour. The interesting rock formations within the cave itself also add to its allure.
After heading back to the hotel, check out and get ready to travel back to Morioka City. Take the local bus from the Park Hotel-Iriguchi stop towards Miyako station. From Miyako Station, take the express ‘THBT’ bus towards Morioka Station.
From there, explore Morioka City using the city loop bus “DenDen-Mushi” which offers a 1-day pass for 300 yen. Morioka also has several local food specialties, such as Jajamen — a type of noodle similar to udon, served with a meat sauce made using miso. If you’re looking for something extra filling, try visiting a Wanko Soba restaurant for lunch. Wanko Soba is all-you-can-eat soba, where servers often bring you more than 20 small bowls of handmade soba noodles. After lunch, hop onto the city loop bus that will take you around Morioka City’s sights at a more than affordable price.
The loop bus is a convenient way for free-and-easy visitors to travel at their own pace. Once you’ve finished touring Morioka City, pick up your baggage at the train station coin lockers. Then, take the ‘THBT’ bus from bus stop no. 21 towards Sendai Station. Spend the night in Sendai, where you can either opt to continue your tour for another two days, or head back to Tokyo. For those who have more time to spare, check out the second part of our Tohoku Highway Bus Tour itinerary.