Historic tour of Sendai, Matsushima and Aizu (2 days)

Area Map 青森県 岩手県 宮城県 秋田県 山形県 福島県 新潟県

Historic tour of Sendai, Matsushima and Aizu (2 days)

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Zuiganji Temple

A temple filled with the passion and aesthetics of the celebrated feudal lord Masamune

Zuiganji Temple
Zuiganji is the family temple of Masamune Date, a famous feudal lord of the Age of Civil Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries. The temple was originally founded in 828. After deterioration through the civil war period it was restored by Masamune Date and his aesthetic styling can be seen throughout the buildings.

The main hall and Kuri (the Zen kitchen) are designated national treasures. Inside the main hall the brilliant paintings on the sliding doors are a must see. The graceful Ume (Japanese plum) blossoms surrounding the main hall are exhilarating in spring. Visitors can also see Masamune’s aesthetics in the arabesque-pattern engravings in the Kuri.

Zuiganji offers much to see including officially designated Important Cultural Properties (Onarimon Gate, Nakamon Gate and Taiko-bei Wall), and a series of caves used for memorial services including the rock cave known as Hosshinkutsu.

The treasure house Seido-den exhibits paintings and tea ceremony items connected with the Date families along with the original paintings of the main hall’s sliding doors.

Zuiganji is one of the four temples of the Shiji Kairo Pilgrimage trail along with Chusonji and Motsuji in Hiraizumi, Iwate and Risshakuji in the mountains of Yamagata.

The renowned Entsuin temple is in the same complex and there are a number of restaurants and souvenir shops where visitors can take a break. Godaido Hall, the temple founded by Masamune previous to Zuiganji, is located nearby on the shore of Matsushima Bay.

After enjoying the breath-taking views across Matsushima Bay – known as one of Japan’s top three scenic sights – these temples are the perfect place to calm the mind and feel the spirit of the feudal Date family.
 

Entsu-in Temple

A matchmaking temple with beautiful gardens

Entsu-in Temple
Entsuin Temple is known as a matchmaking temple and a popular viewing location for stunning autumn leaves. It is located in Matsushima, whose islands have been chosen as one of Japan’s top three scenic views. The renowned Zuiganji Temple is nearby.

As the family temple of Mitsumine Date, a grandson of the famous samurai worrier Masamune Date, Entsuin is home to the mausoleum “Sankeiden” which has been designated an Important National Cultural Property. The temple also houses a precious Western painting of roses that the Date family’s retainer Tsunenaga Hasekura brought back from Europe in the 17th century. The temple is known as the “Rose Temple” for its rose garden influenced by this painting. The adaptation of Western culture can also be seen inside the small shrine of Sankeiden decorated with patterns of diamonds, clovers, hearts and spades.

Including a popular rock garden, the four distinctive gardens fascinate visitors. From late October to late November, visitors can enjoy gorgeous autumn colours and the illuminated temple at night. The view of autumnal foliage reflecting on the water of the garden pond is particularly special. The on-site restaurant serves traditional Kaiseki (multi-course) meals with an exquisite view of the garden.

Going through the main gate, the “Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) of matchmaking” is enshrined on the left surrounded by an array of Kokeshi dolls dedicated by visitors. If you would like to make a wish for love and marriage, you can write your wish on a Kokeshi doll and dedicate it to the Kannon.

The temple offers Juzu bracelet making, a popular experience for visitors. Juzu are Buddhist prayer beads that people place around their joined hands while praying. It is said that carrying Juzu brings you peace of mind. Three kinds of hands-on classes are offered using various materials (natural stone, glass or plastic beads). The Juzu making class with natural stone includes lectures on the meaning of the natural stone participants have chosen. Make something unique for yourself to take home!
 

Godaido Temple

The symbol of Matsushima - this temple sits on its own small island with a connecting vermilion-lacquered bridge

Godaido Temple
Perched on a small island jutting out into Matsushima Bay with a vermilion-lacquered bridge connecting it to the mainland, Godaido Temple is the traditional symbol of Matsushima and a scenic location from which to view the bay.

The small temple was originally founded as Bishamondo by the famous general Tamuramaro Sakanoue in 807 and took its name Godaido when the priest Ennin installed images of the Five Wisdom Kings in 828. The temple opens its doors to the public for the viewing of these images only once every 33 years.

The present temple is the one founded by the celebrated feudal lord Masamune Date. The meticulous carvings of the 12 signs of the zodiac under the eaves reflect the artistic style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period which flourished between late 16th and early 17th centuries. Godaido Temple is designated an Important Cultural Property as Tohoku’s oldest building in the style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period.

When walking across Sukashi Bridge connecting the mainland and Godaido Temple visitors can observe the water below through the wide gaps in the bridge floor. These gaps were intentionally left so that visitors would brace themselves before praying in the temple. The original bridge was in the form of a ladder, two horizontal boards were later added to allow an easier walk.

Legend has it that one night the image of Bishamonten (Vaisravana) that was enshrined by Tamuramaro Sakanoue at Bishamondo flew away to an offshore island when the priest Ennin installed the images of the Five Wisdom Kings at Bishamondo as a part of Enpukuji (Zuiganji), after which the island took its name and became Bishamon Island.

Visitors enjoy the spectacular view of the floating islands of Matsushima Bay while reflecting on this legend. Visiting the twin temples of Zuiganji and Godaigo makes for a magical Matsushima experience!

Lunch in Matsushima (enjoy the fresh seafood of the season)

Lunch in Matsushima (enjoy the fresh seafood of the season)
 
 

Zuihoden

The gorgeous mausoleum where Masamune Date was laid to rest

Zuihoden
Zuihoden is the mausoleum of Masamune Date, the founder of modern Sendai. The mausoleum was built in accordance with his will when he passed away in 1636 at the age of 69.

The mausoleum features the gorgeous artistic style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period
which flourished between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. With motifs of plants and butterflies, the elaborate decorations were heavily influenced by foreign art.

Long recognised for its impressive representation of the traditional architecture of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, Zuihoden was designated a national treasure in 1931. It was destroyed during the Pacific War and the existing building was reconstructed in 1979.

The surrounding grove of cedar trees gives the grounds a sacred atmosphere. The site is also home to Kansenden and Zennoden, the mausoleums of the 2nd and 3rd generation descendants of Masamune Date.

The on-site museum presents a video on the excavations during reconstruction, displays of precious documents of the three Date lords along with an introduction to the history of Sendai.

The gift shop offers some exclusive regional products.

Zuihoden is conveniently reached by the local sightseeing bus “Loople Sendai” that travels around the city centre of Sendai.

Please note that walking routes include steps and steep slopes due to the hilly nature of the location.
 

Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)

A panoramic view of the city Masamune once looked over

Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)
Sendai Castle was founded by Masamune Date, the famous feudal lord of Japan’s civil war period in 1610. He was also known by the nickname Dokuganryu (One-Eyed Dragon) thanks to his missing eye. An equestrian statue of Masamune looking down at the city stands at the entrance to the castle grounds to remind visitors of this historical era. Today Sendai Castle is recognised as one of Japan’s top 100 castles.

The castle fortress was built utilising the local geographical advantages of the surrounding hills and river. Although the original main castle tower no longer stands, the remaining stone walls and restored Wakiyagura tower are a must-see for any visitor to Sendai.

The Kenbunkan Library on site stores a range of precious documents and historical information on the castle. The Aoba Castle Museum also houses a number of historical exhibits along with a CG video of the castle’s restoration works.

The castle ruins are easily reached by the local sightseeing bus “Loople Sendai” which does a circuit around the city centre of Sendai.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the “Oshu and Sendai Omotenashi Group Date Bushotai”, whose members dress period costumes offering tourism information and performances.

The Sendai Castle ruins not only offer visitors the chance to experience a glimpse of local history but are also the perfect place to enjoy tasty local delicacies and find unique regional souvenirs.

The castle hill overlooking the city is also popular for its panoramic night views. Come and enjoy a fascinating view of the city along with the illuminated equestrian statue of Masamune.

The eye-catching vermillion shrine Gokoku-jinja, standing on the grounds of the former castle tower, is another popular local attraction for both visitors and locals.
 
 

Iizaka Onsen

The perfect place for Onsen hopping for both day visitors and those on an overnight stay

Iizaka Onsen
Iizaka Onsen was one of three popular hot springs in the ancient Oshu region along with Naruko Onsen and Akiu Onsen in Miyagi. With a long and honourable history, legend has it that Takeru Yamato (a mythological hero) came here for hot spring treatment in the second century. In more modern times many writers and poets have been among the town’s visitors including Basho Matsuo, Shiki Masaoka and Akiko Yosano.

The simple alkaline hot spring water is beneficial for neuralgia, arthralgia and muscle aches. A variety of inns and hotels are lined along the river. There are nine inns and public baths welcoming day visitors making Onsen hopping possible without staying overnight.

Enjoy a stroll around this Onsen town while sampling local delicacies ranging from Iizaka Ramen to Enban (disc) Gyoza, nutritious Radium Eggs (eggs poached in the hot spring waters) and Ika Ninjin (marinated squid with carrots). After your walk relax your feet in a hot spring footbath!

Fukushima is famous for its delicious fruits and the unique local experience of seasonal fruit picking is available in the farming area surrounding Iizaka Onsen. The popular road known as “the Fruit Line” is lined with fruit farms that allow visitors to pick cherries, peaches, grapes, pears and apples depending on the season.
 
 

Aizuwakamatsu Nanukamachi-dori Street

Enjoy a stroll around this nostalgic town

Aizuwakamatsu Nanukamachi-dori Street
From JR Nanukamachi station, the 700m Nanukamachi-dori Street leads to Noguchi Hideyo Seishun-dori. The street is lined with early 20th century architecture.

Visitors can travel back in time along this street lined with shops offering traditional arts and crafts such as hand-decorated candles, Aizu lacquerware and Aizu cotton. The town rewards a lingering stroll while enjoying traditional architectural designs pleasing to the eye and sampling some of the tasty treats on offer including varieties of Japanese sweets and a number of sake breweries. A retro-style sightseeing bus “Haikara-san” offers nostalgic rides through town.

The local streets are home not only to exquisite shops but also to a number of locations related to the Shinsengumi, a special police force set up to protect Shogun in the late Edo period.

The Eki Café at JR Nanukamachi station functions as an information centre. Visitors can also purchase local products, arts and crafts from 17 towns and villages of the Aizu region. This cozy café is a lovely place to unwind!
 

Lunch in Aizu-Wakamatsu city

Aizu Sauce Katsu-don

Lunch in Aizu-Wakamatsu city

Katsu-don is a nationally popular dish of a deep-fried pork cutlet (Tonkatsu) simmered in a dashi stock with onions and eggs and served over a bowl of rice. Aizu Sauce Katsu-don, a local specialty of the Aizu region dating back to the Taisho period, has a unique recipe. A bowl of rice is topped with shredded cabbage and Tonkatsu dipped in a special thick sauce. The crispy Tonkatsu and crunchy cabbage perfectly match the sauce-drizzled rice, satisfying both appetite and mind! 

 

Tsuruga Castle

Japan’s only castle with elegant red tiled roofs

Tsuruga Castle
Tsuruga Castle, also known as Aizu Castle or Aizuwakamatsu Castle, is famed as an impregnable fortress that withstood a month-long siege by the newly formed government during the Boshin war in 1868.

The castle has undergone additional repairs since being reconstructed in 1965. Reroofing work was completed in 2011 to reproduce the look of the 17th century castle. Selected as one of Japan’s most famous 100 castles, it is the only existing castle with red tiled roofs in Japan. The stone walls of the castle tower survived the devastating 1611 earthquake and today stand in their original form.

The castle keep is now open as a museum and visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Aizuwakamatsu from the top floor. After exploring the castle, the tearoom “Rinkaku” in the Tsuruga Castle Park, built by the tea master Sen no Rikyu’s son-in-law, is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea in the castle’s traditional garden.

Tsuruga Castle Park is famous for its thousand cherry blossom trees illuminated at night. The surrounding trees are also illuminated in autumn to show off the vividly changing colours of their leaves. Meanwhile the castle fills with visitors during the “Aizue Candle Festival” each winter. The view of the snow-covered castle illuminated by traditional hand-decorated candles is unforgettable!
 

Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence)

Discover Aizu’s history and culture at this museum complex

Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence)
Aizu Bukeyashiki is a historical site of reconstructed samurai residences of the Edo period. The preserved buildings include the residences of the former chief councillor Tanomo Saigo, a magistrate’s office and a replica of the tearoom “Rinkaku” of Tsuruga Castle. 

Visitors can learn about the samurai’s lifestyle and the Boshin war at the museum on site. The residence of Tanoma Saigo is open to public from mid-December to early April.

A variety of Aizu’s traditional cultural experiences are available for visitors to enjoy including painting the local lucky charms “Akabeko” (red cattle), glass engraving, and having your picture taken dressed as a villager of the Edo period.

There is a restaurant serving regional dishes on site along with a shop offering a wide range of traditional handicrafts and local produce, a great place to find some souvenirs to take home!
 

Sazaedo

Experience the wonderland of this double-helix wooden structure – the only one of its kind!

Sazaedo
Sazae-do is a three-storied, hexagonal pagoda with the look of an optical illusion. Officially called “Entsu Sansodo”, the temple is known by the nickname “Sazae-do” as its shape resembles a turban shell. The double-helix wooden structure is the only one of its kind in the world and has been designated an Important Cultural Property.

Go inside and walk up the winding slope while observing the curved windows. Thanks to its one-way path you never have to pass anyone on your way up or down. Rumours abound about the construction of this unique structure. According to one Sazae-do was based on the design of Leonard da Vinci’s Chateau de Chambord. Another says the temple’s head priest was inspired by a revelation from heaven. Experience the wonder of the one-way spiral path within this strangely distorted interior space!

Sazae-do was once part of a pilgrimage trail with 33 Kannon statues lining the slope up to the structure. Pilgrims came here as an alternative to the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage and today the ceiling of Sazae-do is still covered with stickers from people who accomplished the pilgrimage here.

The building is part of a shrine complex at the base of Mount Iimori. The “Uga Shindo”, 19 statues worshipping the famous Byakkotai (a group of young samurai), is located nearby.
 

Mount Iimori

Reflect on the tragedy of these young worriers

Mount Iimori
Located 314 metres above sea level, Mount Iimori overlooks the former castle town of Aizuwakamatsu. You can reach the top of the mountain via a path of 183 steps or taking the convenient travelator.

The graves of the 19 members of Byakkotai (“White Tiger Force”) at Mount Iimori commemorate the tragedy of the Aizu War, a local battle of the Boshin War in 1868. The Byakkotai was made up of teenage warriors who fought for the local Aizu feudal domain. When they saw Tsuruga Castle surrounded by clouds of smoke they believed the castle was in flames and committed suicide for their master. Nowadays many people still come to memorial services for these young warriors. Visitors can see the castle exactly as it was when the Byakkotai observed it from this tragic spot. The grave of the sole surviving member is located nearby.

There are monuments from Italy and Germany honouring the Byakkotai for their loyalty. Visitors can also see the canal cave through which the Byakkotai retreated from the battlefield of Tonoguchihara.

The Byakkotai Memorial Museum, the Byakkotai Museum of History and an Important Cultural Property, Takizawa Honjin are in the neighbourhood. Mount Iimori is also home to the Important Cultural Property of Sazae-do which attracts many visitors throughout the year.

Located on the mountainside, Iimori Bunten is a convenient place to take a break and have lunch while enjoying wonderful views of the city of Aizuwakamatsu.
 
 
GOAL
  • Zuiganji Temple
  • Entsu-in Temple
  • Godaido Temple
  • Zuihoden
  • Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)
  • Iizaka Onsen
  • Aizuwakamatsu Nanukamachi-dori Street
  • Tsuruga Castle
  • Aizu Bukeyashiki (Samurai Residence)
  • Sazaedo
  • Mount Iimori

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