South Tohoku’s best autumn views (3 days / 2 nights)

Area Map 青森県 岩手県 宮城県 秋田県 山形県 福島県 新潟県

Risshaku-ji Temple

The historic temple rising to the sky along delightful mountain paths described in the great Haiku master’s poem

Risshaku-ji Temple
Risshaku-ji Temple is popularly known as Yamadera (Mountain Temple). The rocky mountain itself is a sacred location for ascetic Zen practices. Visitors can enjoy breath-taking views along the one-hour path from the foot of the mountain to Okunoin Temple and Daibutsuden Hall at the top. The great Haiku master Basho Matsuo composed one of his best-known Haiku poems “Shizukesa ya/iwa ni shimiiru/semi no koe” in the work “Oku no Hosomichi” (Narrow Road to the Deep North) while walking this path.

The series of 1,015 stone steps to Okunoin Temple is said to steadily release visitors from their worldly desires as they ascend. The many historic sites and scenic locations along the way encourage visitors to continue the climb while enriching the mind and senses.

The path begins with Konpo Chudo Hall, the oldest cedar wood building in Japan and a designated Important Cultural Property. Midahora Rock is a lucky location that is said to bring happiness if visitors can find the figure of Buddha on the side of the rock eroded by wind and rain over thousands of years. Passing through the Niomon Gate with a pair of fierce guardian god statues brings you to the majestic Kaizando and Nokyodo Halls. The red Nokyodo Hall sitting on a craggy mountain outcrop is an iconic view of the Yamadera. The steps on from Kaizando Hall take visitors to Godaido Hall which is evocative of a traditional Noh stage offering a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. The final destinations are Okunoin Temple and Daibutsuden Hall, which is said to expel evil spirits.

After exploring the mountain temples be sure to enjoy the variety of local specialties available at the nearby shops including Yamadera Chikara Konjac, cherry ice cream and Dashi Soba noodles!

Lunch in Yamagata city (Soba, Cold Ramen)

Lunch in Yamagata city (Soba, Cold Ramen)

Kajo Park

A hub for cultural attractions around reconstructed castle buildings

Kajo Park
Yamagata Castle was constructed in 1592 by Yoshiaki Mogami, one of Tohoku’s prominent feudal lords of Japan’s Civil War period. It is recognised as one of Japan’s top 100 castles. Located in the centre of Yamagata city, the castle grounds were opened to the public as Kajo Park after World War Two. In recent years excavations and restorative works have been taking place. Visitors can enjoy the historic castle’s beauty in some of the reconstructed buildings including the main gates which were reassembled in 2018.

A heroic equestrian statue of Yoshiaki Mogami stands on the castle grounds. Yoshiaki was the founding and most popular feudal lord of the castle and dedicated resources to the city’s development.

The Yamagata Prefectural Hospital, built in 1878, was reconstructed as the Yamagata Kyodokan in 1969 and opened to the public with free admission. The western style building exhibits documents on local history along with medical equipment of that time. The nearby square pillar-shaped stone is a macabre historic site. Local folklore says that Yoshiaki placed the head of his biggest rival, Nagahisa Shiratori, on the stone when he murdered him.

Thanks to the 1,500 cherry blossom trees on the former castle grounds, Kajo Park is one of Yamagata’s best scenic locations for cherry blossoms. The row of cherry blossom trees along the east and south moats is illuminated during the peak blooming season. Besides the Yamagata Kyodokan, the park and the surrounding area have many cultural attractions popular with tourists including the Yamagata Prefectural Museum, the Yamagata Museum of Art and the Yoshiaki Mogami Historical Museum.

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.

Goshikinuma Lake

See the mysterious hues of this group of lakes and ponds

Goshikinuma Lake
Goshikinuma, literally meaning “Five Coloured Ponds”, is a group of volcanic lakes, ponds and marshes. The ponds take their name from the mysterious hues that vary in colour depending on the season, weather and angle of view. The complex actually consists of more than five ponds including the renowned Bishamon-numa, Aka-numa, Midoro-numa, Tatsu-numa, Benten-numa, Ruri-numa, Ao-numa and Yanagi-numa. Goshikinuma is formally known as the “Group of Lakes and Ponds of Goshikinuma” and was awarded one star in the Michelin Green Guide in 2016.

On the largest pond, Bishamon-numa, row boats are available for hire and large numbers of carp can be seen swimming about. Be sure to keep an eye out for the rare one with heart-shaped spots on her side which is thought to bring good luck!

Each pond has a character all its own. Aka-numa is framed with red-tinted plants thanks to the high iron content of the water. Meanwhile three different colours can be seen on the surface of Midoro-numa.

The Goshikinuma Nature Trail is a beautiful walking path linking the lakes and ponds. It takes just over an hour to walk the trail’s gently sloping hills and it is suitable for people of all abilities. Early birds may be lucky enough to catch a mesmerising view of the lakes and ponds crowned with morning mists. The clear waters of Yagi-numa is a must-see!

There are several vantage points around Goshikinuma where visitors can enjoy breath-taking views of the lakes and ponds as well as nearby Mount Bandai, one of Japan’s most famous mountains.

Lake Hibara

Enjoy the awe-inspiring views of Mother Nature’s creation

Lake Hibara
Among a cluster of lakes and ponds created by the eruption of Mount Bandai, Lake Hibara, the largest lake in Urabandai, is dotted with beautiful islands of various sizes. From spring cherry blossoms to verdant summer greens, autumnal leaves and snowy winter scenes, the lake attracts visitors with magnificent views throughout the year.

Pleasure boat rides are available from late April to early November. Enjoy the views of the beautiful islands of the lake and Mount Bandai’s crater from the water and admire Mother Nature’s creation!

Besides breath-taking views, a variety of activities are on offer around the lake from summer camping and bass fishing to ice fishing for smelt in winter. There are many B&Bs around the lake where you can enjoy an overnight stay.

The Lake Hibara Trail is a pleasant 60-minute walk providing glimpses of Lake Hibara among the trees and magnificent views of Mount Bandai. There is also a suspension bridge along the way.

The roads around the lake are a wonderful scenic drive. The roadside station “Michi-no-Eki Urabandai” offers a varied selection of local products and a great view of Lake Hibara. You can also take the retro-style sightseeing bus “Mori no Kuma-san” (taking its name from the nursery rhyme “The Other Day, I Met a Bear”) around the lake.

Naruko Onsenkyo

The perfect place for Onsen hopping with the widest variety of hot spring waters in Japan

Naruko Onsenkyo
With more than 1,000 years of history, Naruko Onsen-kyo consists of a group of five Onsen: Naruko, Higashi-Naruko, Kawatabi, Nakayamadaira and Onikobe. Featuring a range of hot spring water characteristics, visitors can experience 8 of the 10 varieties of Japan’s hot spring water in this area. Enjoy Onsen hopping and find your favourite! Naruko Onsen-kyo is home to nearly 400 hot spring water sources and many inns offer baths filled with hot spring water flowing directly from their sources.

The largest of the five Onsen, Naruko Onsen was one of three popular hot springs in the ancient Oshu region along with Akiu Onsen and Iizaka Onsen. The spectacular Naruko-kyo Gorge is in the neighbourhood. Naruko Kokeshi dolls are a popular regional craft.

The nearby Higashi-Naruko Onsen is a peaceful hot spring town popular with people coming for hot spring treatments.

The oldest, Kawatabi Onsen, is a historic hot spring town filled with rustic charms and a warm atmosphere.

Nakayamadaira Onsen is known as a hot spring promoting beautiful skin. The rich and creamy hot spring water on the skin is compared to the feeling of eel-skin.

Onikobe Onsen is well known for the Onikobe Geyser as well as its popular holiday resorts in the abundant natural surroundings. Visitors can also enjoy winter sports at the Onikobe Ski Resort before relaxing tired muscles in this hot spring!

Naruko-kyo Gorge

Enjoy the views of this spectacular gorge! One of Tohoku’s best locations to admire autumn leaves

Naruko-kyo Gorge
Naruko-kyo Gorge was created by the erosion of the Oya River. The gorge located in the Kurikoma Quasi-National Park is officially recognised as a place of scenic beauty. The 100m high sheer cliffs offer spectacular views with a range of unique rock formations and thick bushes covering the rough rock surface. Known as one of Tohoku’s greatest places of autumnal beauty, the deep gorge is particularly impressive when decorated with colourful autumn leaves. The white rock surface contrasts beautifully with a covering of colourful trees and bushes. The best time to enjoy this display of colours is from late October to early November. Visitors can enjoy the magnificent views from the observation platform at the Naruko-kyo Rest House as well as the observation decks along the local walking trails.

The beautiful arch of Ofukasawa Bridge over the Oya River is a popular scenic view of Naruko-kyo Gorge. Visitors can also enjoy the incredible view of the gorge from the bridge itself. You may even be lucky enough to see a charming local train passing from the gorge tunnel!

The 2.2km Ofukasawa Trail is a pleasant walking path from which to enjoy views of the gorge while listening to the sounds of the river flowing below. Please note that the trail is closed during winter.

Thanks to the popular hot springs such as Nakayamadaira Onsen and Naruko Onsen in the neighbourhood, Naruko-kyo Gorge is filled with visitors throughout the year.

Lunch in Sendai city

Beef Tongue

Lunch in Sendai city

A large number of restaurants specialising in beef tongue can be found along “Beef Tongue Street” at Sendai station and in Sendai’s city centre. Each restaurant has its own recipe and technique for the city’s famous grilled beef tongue, and a variety of other beef tongue dishes are available including stewed, marinated, sashimi and sushi. Enjoy the authentic grilled beef tongue and compare the flavours of each restaurant!

  • Risshaku-ji Temple
  • Kajo Park
  • Iizaka Onsen
  • Goshikinuma Lake
  • Lake Hibara
  • Naruko Onsenkyo
  • Naruko-kyo Gorge

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