Iskandar Setiadi

Flag #19 - Discovering Tohoku in Autumn

Opening Note: If you're interested, you can read about 2016 Tokyo & nearby areas trip here and 2017 Hokkaido trip here.

Hi there! Thanks everyone for reading my blog, it has reached 80 thousand visitor counts!

You might wonder why I wrote "Autumn" in the title while it is almost Spring now, but I am fascinated with my own procrastination that has brought me this far :claps: The trip itself is done around 5 months ago, and finally, I have a motivation to write my journey down here.

So, Tohoku is located at the northeastern part of the main island. It is not a famous destination for people who come to Japan for the first time, since the default template is usually located around Tokyo - Osaka - Kyoto area. If you like to enjoy scenic nature with less people in the vicinity, Tohoku is one of the strong option. As an example, the worldly famous Ginzan Onsen is located in Yamagata, which is part of Tohoku region.

Tohoku Region

Before we started with the main story, let me introduce the members of this trip: (1) The veteran who loves her sister, (2) The first-timer to Japan who loves the smell of burning forest, (3) Your Excellency Hoshikawa Kenji, (4) Me. Two of them came directly from Indonesia and they have purchased cheap airplane tickets from months ago. Everything looks seemingly well, until the first-timer tried to postpone creating his visa until the last moment. Thanks to God guidance, everyone arrived at Japan safely, even though I didn't quite understand why they rode the train separately to my house from the airport. Internal family problem, probably, let's not digging it too far xD

Day 1: Tokyo

On the first day, we simply wandered around Tokyo. In the beginning, we went to Shibuya stations since those gaijins need to exchange their JR Pass vouchers. If you haven't known yet about JR Pass and have a planned trip to Japan, check them out since it can cut your transportation costs by half if you want to visit a lot of places. For example, a round trip Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Aomori will cost you 35000 yen while you can get a 7-day JR Pass with 30000 yen. Lucky gaijins <(") Oh, and also, if you're by any chance a student in Japan, you can get a university student discount after printing a certain discount form from your campus. Lucky students <(")

After finished making a reservation for the next day train, we decided to go to Odaiba. Our first destination was an Instagram-able teamLab Borderless. From what I heard, they are utilizing hundred of GPUs to simulate the entire showcases and the projection result is totally cool!

There's also a cafe which has a cool digital projection. Right after they put a cup of matcha on the table, they're showing an animation of blooming flower and it will follow your cup even if you move it to the other spot.

Lovely flower animation

They also have other kinds of digital art exhibitions, so I recommend you to check their website out!

Afterwards, we simply went to see the famous bridge of Odaiba and ended our day with a bowl of warm Ichiran ramen to accompany this cold weather.

View from Odaiba

Day 2: Towada-ko, Aomori

The awaited day finally came as we started heading out from 6 AM! We took Hayabusa Shinkansen from Tokyo station and arrived at Shin-Aomori station at 11 AM. Aaannddd, welcome to the wilderness! There's exactly nothing except a Shinkansen station and a cold wind gust (5 - 10 degrees colder than Tokyo) which tried to give you a warm welcome to Aomori.

Aerial view of Shin-Aomori Station, from

At Shin-Aomori station, we had exactly 45 minutes to get our bus ticket and lunch. As seconds started to ticking by, we found the savior of humanity: Lawson! We could get both of those bus ticket and lunch boxes (bento) from here. It took around 2 hours and half from Shin-Aomori station to Towada-ko. Along the way, there are a lot of small waterfalls and river streams, known as Oirase Stream.

Oirase Stream

If you have enough time during your trip here, I recommend you to make several stops along the way, since the trail itself is around 10 km long and I could only see them from inside the bus orz

At the lake itself, we decided to stop at Nenokuchi and continuing our journey with a ferry that connects Nenokuchi with Yasumiya (~30 minutes ride). While the view is beautiful, unfortunately for us, we probably arrived here at the early stage of autumn. We could see some leaves turning red, but most of them were still green-colored.

Our hotel (Yamano Ofurumai Shinzantei) is a 5-minute walk from the ferry stop in Yasumiya, which is a traditional Japanese-style hotel known as ryokan. Of course, they also have a Japanese-style bath in it!

Delicious Japanese-style dinner! <3

And, no trip to Aomori is complete without craving for their apple products. Quoted from the internet, "Aomori produced apples make up over 50% of the apple market of Japan". Alongside the lake, there are a lot of cafes and restaurants which offer various range of apple products: From fresh "Fuji" apples, liquors, to apple pies!

Apple pie with a cup of coffee in cold weather is the best!

Day 3: Morioka, Iwate

After a wonderful ryokan and another round of apple pie, we took a peaceful walk around Towada lake. While the place has a very scenic nature, there is almost no one here and it's quite sad to see a lot of hotels are closing down around this area. Other than Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hokkaido, and Okinawa, it is a known problem that a lot of hidden gems in Japan are experiencing problems in attracting customers because of aging generation and shrinking population. Japan has a lot of places that are equally & more beautiful than popular tourism places above, so if you're planning a trip to Japan and you don't like crowded places, you should consider these kind of spots as your destination!

Morning walk around the lake

After finished eating lunch, we headed out to our next destination, Tsunagi Onsen in Morioka, Iwate. However, the trip was not easy as it took 4 hours in total (2 hours bus to Hachinohe, 1 hour Shinkansen, and 1 hour waiting for bus / train).

Arrived at Morioka Station!

Since the way to the onsen area was quite confusing, we visited the tourism board and I'm very surprised that the old man could speak English better than most tourism board in big cities! Then he kindly told us that he used to live in Europe, which explains his skill. Trust me, it's "that" hard to find someone who can speak English here even if he/she is working in tourism industry. Then, we realized we have just missed the bus several minutes and we needed to wait for another 1 hour until the next bus came. You know that you're not in a big city if you need to wait for more than 1 hour. And oh, we also received this beautiful post card from the old man, thank you!

Beautiful Iwate on the postcard

Finally, it's time to enjoy our fulfilling life with buffet-style dinner and bathing in Onsen afterwards <3

Buffet-style dinner after a long journey

Day 4: Matsushima, Sendai

View from the hotel room in the morning

The next day, we're back to the famous tourism spots. If you have never heard about Matsushima, this place is well known as "Japan's top three scenic places". The complete list of Nihon Sankei can be read here. In order to visit this place, we moved from Morioka to Sendai with another 40 minutes Shinkansen trip.

At Sendai station, for non-JR pass holder, we bought Sendai Marugoto Pass, which costs 2670 yen for 2 days of free JR trains & buses ride around Sendai. It also provided a booklet of discount coupons. At the end of our trip, after accounting the benefit of discount coupons, we realized that our total expense is only around 2500-ish yen, which was lower than our calculated cost. One bus trip only costs around 200-ish yen, which makes Sendai Marugoto Pass less profitable since we usually need to wait ~20 minutes for the bus.

An hour later, we finally arrived at our main destination of the day, Matsushima! As Matsushima is a popular tourist destination, you can expect seeing a lot of tourists, which forced us to queue for an hour at the nearby restaurant. Shortly afterwards, a civil war occurred since we didn't have enough time to do both options: whether we should take a ferry or visit a nearby tea house museum. After a bloody and epic war, the tea house faction won the battle.

Beautiful Matsushima <3

After crossed the red bridge to Fukuura Island, we could enjoy scenic sunset from a small beach. The place itself is quite hidden, as one needs to go through steep slopes with ropes. There were only around 3 or 4 small groups of people other than us on the spot.

Sunset colors of Matsushima

There's almost no one here in the evening

No trip was complete without a visit to local Animate! We tried to visit Animate Sendai but unfortunately, it's closed at 8 PM * shocked *. In contrast, Animate in Shibuya is usually closed at 10 PM. However, don't fret, we successfully paid a visit to Animate Sendai on the next day.

Day 5: Various Attractions around Sendai

It's history lesson time! Have you ever heard the name of "Date Masamune"? If you've played Samurai Warriors or watched some Japanese period dramas, you should have heard his name. Masamune is considered as one of the most powerful feudal lords in Edo period (1600-ish). During the period, he allowed foreigners to come to his land and he made some partnerships with European countries. As the result, Sendai becomes a prosperous area and a place for traders to gather. Zuihoden Mausoleum, his final resting place, can be reached in about 15 minutes from Sendai Station.

Zuihoden Mausoleum

After visited Zuihoden, we went to Sendai (Aoba) Castle. However, we didn't know that the castle was practically gone after 1945 and the main building was gone. Upon arrival, we tried searching for the main castle for minutes and realized that only remnants are remained.

Fortunately, the place offered a nice landscape view of Sendai!

View from Aoba Castle

One of our friend was obsessed with Japanese breweries. After googled some references, one name popped out: "Urakasumi Sake Brewery". The place itself is located around 30 minutes by train from Sendai station. Initially, we thought it's as big as Sapporo Beer Museum or Nikka Yoichi Distillery, but . . . the actual place was actually a shop in the middle of the city. By paying 500 yen, one could taste 3 cups of different sake and received a free "ochoko" (sake cup). The kind shop owner asked where we came from (since we talked in Indonesian language) and decided to give us extra service, so we get an extra fourth cup instead of three!

Urakasumi Sake Brewery

Since we finished our brewery trip earlier than expected, we ended up visiting a local shrine: Shiogama shrine.

Our last destination for the day was a free observatory near Sendai station. The building itself is around 31 storeys high and you can get another nice view of Sendai city!

View from AER Terrace

Day 6: Yamadera, Yamagata

Yamagata is easily accessible via 1-hour train from Sendai station. The funny part of Yamagata station is, depending on which gate you choose (East / West), you might ended up in different civilization. The east side has a lot of tall office buildings, restaurants, while the west side mainly consists of open space, hotels, and residence houses. While it means that they have a very good city planning, it threw us off when we exited on west side and couldn't find a lunch place for quite a while.

By taking a 20-minute train, we were back to Yamadera station. The area is known for its picturesque temples on the steep, rocky hills. Another short history time: Japan is mainly influenced by Shinto and Buddhism. For Shinto, we usually call it "Shrine" (神社, jinja) while for Buddhism, we usually call it "Temple" (寺, t(/-d)era). Yamadera itself has a long history, which is established around 800-ish AD.

1015 steps stairs to the peak of Yamadera

If you like climbing stairs, you should definitely add Yamadera to your bucket list. In order to reach the peak, one needs to climb 1015 steps stairs. When we reached the peak, our hard work was finally paid off by beautiful scenery and autumn colors!

Rewarding view from the peak of Yamadera

Beautiful autumn colors <3

Random cute things on the way downstairs

No Yamagata trip is complete without Yamagata beef / wagyu! Yamagata is considered one of the top three best-producing beef area in Japan. Price-wise, Yamagata beef is a bit more affordable than Kobe beef, which allows us, plebeians, to afford eating this meal.

Yamagata beef to close our Tohoku trip!

Day 7 & 8: Back to Tokyo

A sign that holiday was almost over and reality was slowly crawling behind our back: going back to Tokyo. There's not much things to report here: sushi lunch in Shinjuku, a failed conquest of Okonomiyaki in Akihabara (ended up with Ramen instead), and a great hunt of omiyage in Shibuya.

If you are looking for a peaceful place to travel during autumn in Japan, Tohoku region is definitely one of the best bet out there! The weather is nice (~15 degrees Celcius) and you can have an actual trip instead of spending most of your time in queues. Thanks for reading this long post and see you next time!

Author: Iskandar Setiadi - Type: Experience - Date: 16th Mar, 2019

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