South Tohoku - An autumnal treat by rail for Rugby World Cup travelling fans
The Tohoku region of Japan is found in North East portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. South Tohoku includes the prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima and has plenty to offer travel-weary Rugby World Cup fans.
The tournament happens to fall at the beginning of the Kouyou season – ‘the autumn leaf season’. South Tohoku is an ideal location for fans to unwind over the course of the tournament.
The region is also easy to access using the rail network – namely using the JR EAST PASS.
JR EAST PASS
The East Japan Railway Company (JR East) offers the JR EAST PASS for international visitors to Japan which allows sightseers unlimited travel for 5 days on the JR East network. JR East also provides useful information on special pass conditions as well as information on many of the region’s must-see tourist spots.
The Naruko-onsen-kyo Hot Spring Village is made up of the hot springs of Naruko, Higashi-Naruko, Kawatabi, Nakayamadaira and Onikoube, boasting a history dating back 1,100 years. Of the 11 types of hot spring water from the natural hot springs that well up in Japan, nine types gush out at Naruko-onsen-kyo. The area is renowned in this part of Japan due to its easy access by train. Travelling rugby fans can try out many hot springs with a special ‘yumeguri’ ticket.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Furukawa station and transfer to the JR Riku-East line to Naruko ?Onsen station. It is about 45 minutes from Furukawa station to Naruko onsen.
Naruko Gorge is one of the most breathtaking sites of natural beauty in the Miyagi Prefecture. Luckily for rugby fans, Autumn is the perfect time of year to visit the gorge, as it transforms into one of the region’s most popular spots to experience autumn colour spots.
A number of steep paths lead down to the bottom of the gorge, which then allows visitors avail of the Naruko Gorge Walking Trail, which runs the length of the ravine. The accessible sections are open between 9:00 and 16:00, so be mindful of your time.
Those who make it as far the eastern end of the gorge will find the Japan Kokeshi Museum, which exhibits a large number of Kokeshi dolls from the various prefectures of the Tohoku Region. The dolls highlight the regional differences in their shapes and designs.
For a small fee, you can also try painting your own dolls.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Furukawa station and change to a local train on the JR Riku-East line to Naruko Onsen. The entire trip takes approximately 90 minutes and costs about 3000 yen one way. Alternatively, take a local train on the JR Tohoku Line to Kogota and transfer to the JR Riku-East line there.
Matsushima Autumn Leaves light up
The Entsuin Temple was built in 1646 next to Matsushima’s most important temple, Zuiganji Temple, to house the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, the son of the ruling local feudal lord Date Terumune. But don’t worry if the intricacies of ancient Japan culture aren’t your thing, the sheer aesthetic majesty of this place makes the visit worth it.
The maple trees at Matsushima’s Entsuin are lit up at night with various colours; yellow, white, or green – a sight that is pretty much unique to this location. The entrance to the main Light Up would be at Entsuin Garden where visitors would pay their entrance fee and wind their way around inside the garden. There is a bit of a hike with the stairs involved, but its definitely worth it. Admission is 500 yen.
It’s about 40 mins from Sendai station to Matsushima Kaigan Station on the JR Senseki line, and a further walk about 7 mins to the Matsushima Foliage Light show.
A specialty of autumn in Miyagi, this dish is made from salmon caught in local rivers. Firstly, thin slices of salmon are simmered in a broth prepared from soy sauce, sake, mirin (a sweet specialty of autumn – a sort of rice liquor) and sugar. The broth is then used to cook the salmon roe. Finally, the salmon and roe are scattered over rice that has been cooked in the same savory broth. Harako is another word for ikura (salmon roe). To the locals, Harako Meshi is something to be enjoyed at home, and not outside. The peak season for Harako Meshi lasts from mid-September to late November, so perfectly timed for Rugby World Cup fans.
Several places to sample Harako Meshi available from JR Sendai station.
Ouchi-juku flourished as a horse stop, or post town, along the Shimotsuke Kaido, a road that connected Aizuwakamatsu and Nikko Imaichi from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century. Efforts have been made to preserve the feel of the old-style buildings with their thatched roofs, and in 1981, the town was designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. In autumn, when the mountains are coloured red and yellow, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve gone back in time to the Edo Period.
From Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama, and from there switch over to the conventional JR East rail line.
A rich broth and thick curly noodles are characteristic of Kitakata ramen – a local delicacy. This deeply coloured broth made from locally brewed soy sauce and roasted pork fillet has made Kitakata ramen famous all across Japan. There are over 100 ramen shops in this town, each competing to perfect their flavour. Exploring the city streets and dropping in on local ramen shops for a bite makes for a gourmet experience hungry rugby fans and their stomachs won’t soon forget.
Several places are available from JR Kitakata station
Goshikinuma, the ‘Five Coloured Marshes,’ is a group of very picturesque lakes and ponds on a highland plain in Bandai-Asahi National Park, Fukushima prefecture, about 3 km north of the foot of Mt. Bandai.
Only in existence since 1887, when Mt. Bandai erupted, generating a cascade of displaced earth and rubble that blocked off various places of what had been a river, creating ponds and lakes.
A combination of naturally occurring minerals and chemicals that give the water a distinctive deep blue tint that changes subtly with the sunshine. What’s more, a combination of iron oxide and various kinds of plants and algae in the lakes produced a reddish tinge often evident in some of the lakes. Each lake or pond, therefore, has a different, unusually vivid, colour, which can change day-to-day or throughout the year.
It’s a visual treat, not to be missed.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama and transfer to the JR Banetsu-sai Line to Inawashiro Station.
Yamadera is a scenic temple located in the mountains northeast of Yamagata City. The temple grounds extend high up a steep mountainside, from where there are great views down onto the valley.
The temple was founded over a thousand years ago in 860 as a temple of the Tendai sect under the official name Risshakuji. Its popular name, Yamadera, literally means ‘mountain temple’ in Japanese. The base of the mountain is located about a five-minute walk from the Yamadera train station, and there are dozens of shops and restaurants that cater to the temple’s many visitors. There is also a small visitor centre just across the bridge along the way from the station to the temple.
A 10-minute walk from JR Yamadera Station.
Ginzan Onsen is a secluded hot spring town nestled in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. Originally developed around a silver mine; however, these days it is better known as one of Japan’s prettiest onsen towns with historic ryokan lined up along the river. Perfect for rugby fans who enjoy a good ‘onsen’.
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Oishida Station (four stops north of Yamagata Station). From there, buses depart for Ginzan Onsen every 60-90 minutes
With a height of 1841 meters, Mount Zao is one of the most prominent mountains in South Tohoku, sitting on the border between Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures. The active volcano features a beautiful crater with lake, known as Okama due to its resemblance to a traditional Japanese cooking pot. The crater cannot be approached but can be viewed from a distance.
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata station and board a train bound for Kaminoya Onsen Station at JR Yamagata Station. Upon your arrival, use the free shuttle bus to the Katta parking area; the journey takes an hour. Take the Zao-Katta ski lift and then walk a few minutes to get to the viewing platform.
The true appeal of Japanese beef is the balance of meat and fatty sections that make up its marbled texture. When grilled, the sweet fat oozes out for a melt-in-your-mouth experience. One of the three major Japanese beef brands is Yonezawa beef”>Yonezawa beef. The Yonezawa cattle are situated in the southern part of Yamagata prefecture, which holds a large variety of restaurants that feature Yonezawa beef dishes. Because Japanese beef has almost no unpleasant odour like other meats, its true flavour can be enjoyed in the shabu-shabu style where it is quickly passed through the boiling water, or with soy sauce in a sukiyaki restaurant.
Several places are available from JR Yonezawa station
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