It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県).
Miyagi Prefecture is part of the Tohoku region (東北地方) in northern Honshu, and its capital city is Sendai (仙台). Last year I was lucky enough to visit Sendai and a number of other places in Miyagi Prefecture, including Matsushima (松島), Shichigahama (七ヶ浜), Naruko (鳴子) and Shiogama (塩竈). I even paused briefly in Kesennuma (気仙沼). Some of these names, including Ishinomaki (石巻) as well, will probably be familiar to many of you from the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which hit this region. For me too, the news was where I first heard the names of some of these towns.
The whole of Tohoku is recovering well from the damage caused by this disaster, and having visited quite a bit of Miyagi Prefecture I can honestly say it’s beautiful and probably my second favourite prefecture in Japan (after Aichi of course, but we’ll come on to that later in the year). Sendai is of course a highlight, and if you can visit at any time of year I would recommend visiting between 6th and 8th August when the Tanabata (七夕) Festival is held. Tanabata is celebrated all over Japan, but it s Sendai which holds one of the biggest festivals celebrating this legend of star-crossed lovers. Uncovering Japan also commented last week that this festival was ‘gorgeous and worth the hype’.
Sendai is a great city, and one that I thought would be very easy to live in. It reminded me a little of Nagoya and also Sapporo – not somewhere you would necessarily go for the best sightseeing, but somewhere that would make a very good sightseeing base or home.
A great day trip or overnight visit from Sendai is Matsushima. Japan Australia commented that this is considered to be one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan (Nihon Sankei / 日本三景) and, having visited myself last year, I would have to agree. Taking a sightseeing cruise through the pine-clad islets is a really lovely thing to do, and the mainland area is quite a charming place to explore.
Another highlight of Miyagi has to be Naruko, the hot spring town, and Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡). This is a top spot to visit in autumn, but I also enjoyed it very much when I visited last May.
Tohoku is famous for its wooden kokeshi (こけし) dolls, and Naruko is the home of these traditional crafts and their craftsmen. They are all over the small town, like little guardians keeping watch.
Zooming Japan reminded me of one slightly less famous spot in Miyagi Prefecture which is definitely worth a mention: Tashirojima (田代島). Tashirojima is a small island in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, and it is known as ‘Cat Island’. The cat population on the island is now larger than the human population, and dogs are prohibited from the island! I’ve not been to this island (I can’t – I’m allergic), but luckily Zooming Japan has and you can read all about it here. Another great post about Tashirojima can be found here on Life To Reset.
Miyagi has so much to offer, and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but there is just one more place I would like to mention today: Zao (蔵王). Zao is a ski resort but is probably most well-known for its ‘snow monsters’. Snow is swept by the wind into the trees, turning them into monster-like shapes which look like works of art. These ice trees are known as ‘juhyo’ (樹氷) in Japanese. Even if you’re not a skier, you can enjoy the incredible view of these white monsters from a nearby ropeway.
Finally, I must mention Miyagi Prefecture’s mascot: Musubimaru (むすび丸). Musubimaru is really cute, and you’ll see him everywhere in Sendai and all over Miyagi Prefecture. He’s dressed up like a samurai warrior, wearing the crescent-shaped helmet of Date Masamune (伊達政宗) (the founder of modern-day Sendai). His face is an onigiri rice ball or ‘musubi’, representing rice harvested in Miyagi.
The Omiyage Section
I couldn’t write about Miyagi Prefecture’s famous souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ) without mentioning ‘zunda’ (ずんだ). Although not exclusively from Miyagi, and actually a souvenir of the whole of Tohoku, zunda is without a doubt the flavour of the north! Zunda is basically squashed sweetened soy beans, and it’s a flavour I absolutely adore! In Miyagi you can get zunda flavoured everything – from Kit Kats to Pretz, cake to ice cream! Hagi no Tsuki (萩の月) – centre image below – is another famous souvenir from Miyagi Prefecture. Pictured below, it’s a fluffy sponge cake shaped like a moon, filled with custard cream. Yum. Finally, as suggested by readers Nathaniel and Japan Australia, there’s gyutan (牛タン) – pictured centre right. Gyutan is grilled cow’s tongue, and that’s not something I will ever be trying myself! Gyutan originated in Sendai in 1948, and is now one of Miyagi’s specialities.
Next week I will be writing about Akita (秋田県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!