Sendai is by far the most populous city in the Tohoku area and in fact the only “large” city beside Sapporo north of the Tokyo area. It has a nice collection of shrines and temples and is well known for its local delicacy, cow tongues which taste much better than they might sound.
Sendai is the center of culture and education in the Tohoku area, it is also an excellent starting point for those who want to explore this region being close to the charming village of Matsushima and the Sanriku pacific coast.
How to get there
Most people get to Sendai by train as Sendai station is the largest station on the Tohoku Shinkansen route which runs from Toyko to Aomori, the northernmost city on Honshu island. The trip from Tokyo takes about 90 minutes and costs around 10-11.000 Yen. If you are on a tight budget then you can of course also take the bus, a bus trip takes about 6 hours and costs about 6000 Yen. Another option, if you are coming from China, Taiwan or South-Korea is to fly in straight to Sendai airport. You can also fly from Haneda airport in Tokyo although this is likely to be more expensive and time consuming then taking the Shinkansen.
Things to do and See
When arriving in Sendai cow tongues (or gyutan in Japanese) should be at the top of your menu as they are surprisingly delicious, most Japanese restaurants in the central area have the dish. After eating it might be a good idea to see some of the attractions Sendai has to offer.
Lets start with old stuff, the most notable historical building is probably the Zuihoden Mausoleum, the tomb of Date Masamune, a Tokugawa era warlord and the founder of the city. The mausoleum is unusually colorful for traditional Japanese buildings, some would say over the top, but it is definitely worth a visit. Take the Loople Sendai bus from Sendai station and get off at bus stop number 4. Price for entry is 550 Yen. Another historical building is the Rinnoji temple with its beautiful traditional garden. This temple was also built by the Date clan. To get there you take the JR Senzan Line to Kitayama station, the fee is 300 Yen. Then there is the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, a family shrine of; you guessed it; the Date clan. The shrine was recently restored and is free of charge as well! You can take the Sendai Loople bus and get out at stop 11 to see it. Finally there is the site of Sendai castle, the castle itself is long gone but you will find there the Aoba Castle Museum, the Sendai City Museum and a Zoo! Prices for these attractions are 700, 400 and 400 Yen. To get there you take the Loople Sendai Bus and get out at stop 5 or 6.
When you have taken a brief look at Sendai city it is time to get out of it and see the really popular attractions in the area. First is the Yamadera, literally mountain temple, the temple is located upon a steep mountain side, the view out of the temple is wonderful and the whole setting feels like something out of a Ninja movie. The area also has a few museums related to the temple such as Yamadera treasure house, Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum and the Yamadera Goto Museum of Art. To get there you take the JR Senzan line from Sendai station, the trip takes about one hour, fee for the temple is 300 while the other attractions cost 200, 400 and 800 Yen.
Just outside of Sendai lies the town of Matsushima considered by many to be one of Japan´s most beautiful areas, the Matsushima bay is dotted with many small islands, some of which are open to visitors. There you will also find Zuiganji temple, one of Tohoku´s main Zen temples, the Entsuin temple and the Godaido, situated on a small islet. Matsushima is definitely a place you should visit if you come to Sendai, to get there take the JR Senseki Line to Matsushima Kaigan Station. The trip takes only about 40 minutes.
The Sanriku coast is also a major tourist attraction in its own right due to its natural beauty. Some of it has been designated as a natural park. Its most popular part is perhaps Jodogahama beach, especially in summer if you like swimming in the sea. For an excellent view of the area you can take the Miyako Jodogahama Boat Cruise, a 40 minute long tour of the area, tickets are 1250 Yen. If you want to explore the many caves in the area then the Blue Cave Cruise should be of interest. Visitors go on small boats to explore the caves, you can also feed the seagulls. Tickets for this are 1500 Yen.
if you cant get enough of shines then Shiogama shrine is an interesting one, nobody knows how old it is but the number 1200 is often quoted. The shrine is especially attractive during the cherry blossom season. It is about 15 minute walk from Shiogama station, roughly midway between Sendai and Matsushima on the JR Senseki line.
Also if you have time you might want to head out to Tashiro island, and island also known as cat island since the cats there outnumber the human inhabitants by 4 to 1. They were originally introduced as pest control but became a bit of a pest themselves, but being so furry and lovable, we can forgive them for that.
All in all Sendai and its surrounding area, particularly Matsushima has plenty to offer the visitor. If you are on your way to the northern part of Japan stopping for a day or two at least in Sendai is well worth it.