Hot springs and heritage in Japan’s Tohoku region
By Johanna Jainchill
Relatively few Americans have visited Tohoku, the northeast region of Japan’s main island. But for travelers wishing to go beyond the typical Japan itinerary, and for those interested in seeing this country as its natives do, a trip to Tohoku is in order.
Zuiganji temple in Matsushima is closed until 2018. But smaller temples on its grounds, like the one pictured, remain open.
For most Americans, travel to Japan
consists of Tokyo and points west: In
2010, 66.7% of U.S. leisure travelers went
to Tokyo, followed by Kyoto at 25.2%, Yokohama at 20.9% and Osaka at 16.2%.
The percentage of Americans visiting
Tohoku was 4.7%.
And while Taiwanese and Korean tourists have discovered Tohoku, it is still predominantly a popular domestic tourist
The Japanese come here to relax in hot
spring resorts; to hike and bike or just enjoy the beauty of the snow-capped mountains and ice-blue rivers; or to walk in the
serenity of hillside Buddhist temple sites,
including the temples and gardens of
Hiraizumi, Tohoku’s first Unesco World
Heritage Site and one of nine in Japan.
Visitors also flock here in the spring for
some of the country’s largest cherry blossom festivals and in the fall to bask in the
Hirosaki, the region’s northernmost
city, hosts Japan’s largest cherry blossom
festival, drawing 2. 6 million visitors.
Year-round, Tohoku hosts other seasonal festivals, several of which include
parades of ornate, colorful floats.
I visited during Tohoku’s off-season,
while the snow was still melting and one
week before the late April sakura blossoms.
Although this region was the site of major
devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that struck here just over one year
ago, most tourist sites were untouched.
Visitors should note that because Tohoku caters primarily to domestic tour-
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