Know This to Fully Enjoy Your Trip! Basic Information About Tohoku
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The more you know about the area you're visiting, the more fun your trip will be! Tohoku is made up of 6 prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Here is some information about the area so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.
What kind of place is Tohoku?
Tohoku is in the northeastern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan, and is made up of the 6 prefectures of Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima. The 2011 Great East Japan earthquake struck in the open sea of the Pacific Ocean close to Tohoku, and the combination of the strong earthquake and the tsunami created an enormous disaster that the area is still recovering from.
In early modern times, Tohoku was split into two regions called "Mutsu" and "Dewa," and their combined name was "Ou." Japan's feudal lord system was put into place around the end of the 12th century, but a new government was implemented with the restoration of imperial rule in 1868. Tohoku was the site of the Boshin War, an intense battle between the new government military and the troops of the various fiefdoms.
The Ou mountain range cuts through the center of Tohoku, and the climate varies wildly between west and east. To the west side of the mountains, there's a lot of snow in winter, and it's very sunny in the summer. To the east of the mountains, there is a lot of rain during the summer thanks to the rainy season and typhoons. Compared to the areas bordering the Pacific Ocean, the inland areas have a vast difference in temperatures between morning and afternoon, and summer and winter. Tohoku has a very cold winter, and other than the ocean-side regions of Miyagi and Fukushima, most of the region gets heavy snowfall.
In general, people from Tohoku are said to be very hardy since they have to put up with the difficult winters of the region. However, due to the differences in history and terrain, people's characteristics vary between prefectures. For example, Aomori has very cold winters, so people from Aomori are said to be patient hard-workers, and many of them are stubborn. On the other hand, since Miyagi has a rich climate, they're considered to be polite and laid-back. Sendai, Tohoku's biggest city, is in Miyagi, so they're also said to be proud.
Tohoku dialects are considered to be hard to understand. One of the reasons is because the sounds "shi," "su," "chi," "tsu," "ji," and "zu," are very difficult to differentiate from each other in this dialect. The sounds for "i" and "e" are also vague, and these dialects have many voiced consonants and nasal sounds.
Transportation Access Guide
How to Reach Tohoku
You can reach Tohoku domestically via shinkansen (bullet train) or air. You can reach Shin-Aomori Station, the furthest shinkansen station from Tokyo, in about 3 hours from Tokyo Station, and Sendai Station in about an hour and a half. A flight takes about an hour. From Nagoya or Osaka, flights are recommended. A number of airports in Tohoku, including Sendai Airport, have regular flights to and from Asian airports.
Transportation Within Tohoku
For short to intermediate distances, JR is the standard. Each area has its own discount travel tickets, so please check that beforehand. Also, you can enjoy a lovely, leisurely ride on local railways. There are many unique leisure trains, like the Resort Shirakami train on the JR Gono Line with its gorgeous scenery, the Stove Ressha train on the Tsugaru Railway with space heaters aboard, and the Kotatsu Ressha where you sit beneath heated tables on the Sanriku Railway. However, for cities that are pretty far apart, it's best to go by shinkansen.
Famous Sightseeing Spots
Tohoku is blessed with lush nature, and there are many places where you can enjoy breathtaking scenery. Just a few examples include Aomori's Oirase Keiryu, where you can enjoy one of Tohoku's most beautiful mountain streams; Akita's Shirakami Sanchi which is full of virgin Japanese beech trees; and Fukushima's Goshiki-numa, lakes full of a spiritual atmosphere due to their vivid colors like blue and green. Miyagi's Matsushima, an astonishing sight of various islands floating in the bay, is also recommended. There are also a large number of historical spots to check out, like Iwate's Chusonji which is famous for its glittering gold temple building and Yamagata's magnificent five-storied pagoda on Mt. Haguro, which is known for being a place of mountain worship.
Regional Cuisine You Should Try
There are plenty of regional specialties to try in Tohoku. Aomori is famous for kaiyakimiso, which is made by combining scallop, dashi broth, miso, and beaten eggs inside a scallop shell, then baked. Why not try Iwate's unique wanko soba? It's eaten in small servings, with the server adding more to your bowl every time you empty it until you tell them to stop. Other recommended local specialties are Akita's kiritanpo, in which rice is mashed onto a skewer and grilled, or Miyagi's zundamochi, which is mochi filled with a sweet green paste made from mashed edamame. Fukushima's Kitakata ramen is famous all around the country, and you shouldn't miss Yamagata's famous Yonezawa beef or their cherries.
Tohoku has a lot of traditional crafts perfect for souvenirs. Aomori is famous for "koginsashi," a type of textile known for its geometrical embroidered designs, and while Akita has "magewappa," wooden items made from thinly carved Japanese cedar. Iwate and Yamagata have their own cast metal items, called "Nanbu tekki" and "Yamagata imono," respectively. Miyagi is known for "Naruko shikki," lacquerware with a beautiful texture. Fukushima has a traditional toy called "okiagari-koboshi," which is considered a lucky charm. Also, every region in Tohoku has their own style of "kokeshi," a cute wooden doll. The colors and shapes used in the dolls vary by region, so please look for your favorite.
Please use this information to deepen your knowledge about Tohoku and refine your travel plans. If you actually go to the region and experience the local history and culture yourself, you're bound to make new discoveries.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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