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.
Even if you only have two days to spare, our Highway Bus itinerary ensures that you make the most of your time in Tohoku. For visitors with more time, be sure to check out our Highway Bus Itinerary Part 1, which covers the Matsushima, Ryusendo and Jodogahama scenic areas.
Begin your trip at Sendai, the capital of Miyagi and the largest city within the Tohoku region. From Sendai Station, take the express bus towards Ichinoseki Station. At Ichinoseki, board the JR Ofunato train towards Geibikei.
The Geibikei gorge area in Iwate is the star of most Tohoku tourism advertisements. Officially recognised as one of the 100 Great Landscapes of Japan, Geibikei was designated as a national natural monument. Geibikei Gorge is famous for its attractive views during autumn, where lush foliage turns shades of red and orange, creating a vibrant contrast between the clear water and its surroundings. The gorge is also surrounded by a 2-kilometer long stretch of limestone cliffs that border the Satetsu River. Hop onto one of the traditional boats where the friendly boatmen sing and guide you along a scenic tour of Geibikei. A visit to Geibikei in any season is sure to be the highlight of your trip, as the magnificent natural scenery and tranquil surroundings feels almost otherworldly. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants at the gorge before setting off towards Chusonji Temple.
Take the JR Ofunato train back to Ichinoseki Station, then take a local bus from bus stop no.10 to Chusonji Temple. Chusonji Temple is undoubtedly Hiraizumi’s most famous site. Built in the year 850, the Buddhist Temple is situated within the tranquil forest, away from the hustle of the city. The temple grounds used to consist of several buildings, but only two buildings remain presently. In 2011, Chusonji Temple was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Chusonji’s must-see attraction is the Konjikido, or Golden Pavilion. Built in the 12th century, the brilliant gold-plated hall is akin to Kyoto’s famous Kinkakuji. Chusonji’s Golden Pavilion is most beautiful from within, however, photography inside the premises is not allowed.
After a long day of sightseeing, head back to Sendai via Ichinoseki. Take the local bus from Chusonji Temple to Ichinoseki station, then transfer to an express bus heading for Sendai Station. Stay the night at a hotel of your choice in Sendai.
On day two, we leave Sendai in the morning to Nikka-bashi. Take the local bus from bus stop no. 10 to Nikka-bashi stop, and proceed to walk 10 minutes to reach the Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery. At the distillery, visitors can join a factory tour and also taste a variety of locally-brewed whiskies. Established in 1969, the Miyagikyo Distillery uses natural spring water from the Hirose and Nikkagawa rivers in Miyagi to brew the Nikka Whisky. The suitable climate and environment make it a prime location to produce top-quality malt whisky. Prior reservation online is recommended, especially for large groups. The tour is conducted in Japanese, but audio guides in English and other languages are also available.
From there, take the bus back to Sendai and enjoy the rest of the day touring the many sights within the city itself. Purchase the one-day Loople bus pass that allows you to hop on and off the sightseeing buses, giving you convenient access to Sendai’s many attractions. Be sure to check out the Zuihoden Mausoleum and Sendai Castle, two of Sendai’s most famous historical sites. Tohoku’s largest city is also famous for beef tongue, a grilled delicacy that’s best savoured in Sendai. End off your two-day trip by browsing various omiyage souvenirs from Sendai’s many department stores, and finally return to your hotel for a good night’s rest.