Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cheap and scenic travel to Tohoku region, Japan

I was invited to attend Tohoku Japan seminar organised by Tohoku Tourism x JAPAN RAIL CAFE. The seminar was shared by Hungry Bird (on my left) on her travel experience to Tohoku held at the newly opened cafe last saturday. Despite living in Japan for 3.5 years, I have never visited Tohoku because when my scholarship wanted to do a study trip there, I fell ill and couldn't go 😭...

About Tohoku
Tohoku literally means North-east and it consists of 6 prefectures: Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima. Although Niigata is commonly regarded as part of Chubu (central) region, its transportation is closely tied to Tohoku so I will introduce it as well.

Getting There

There is no direct flight from Singapore to this region, so the best way is to fly to Tokyo and then take the Shinkansen (bullet train) up. Foreigners can purchase a JR East (Tohoku) pass for SG$250 that allows unlimited rides on JR lines and Shinkansen for any 5 days within 14 days of purchase. However to travel to Niigata, a separate JR East (Nagano+Niigata) pass is required. You can purchase these passes from Japan Rail Cafe!

Why Tohoku?

  • CHEAP! According to Hungry Bird, Tohoku is not as densely populated as other regions so this means everything is not as expensive as Tokyo!😍
  • PEACEFUL! Less populated means you don't have to compete with anyone to get your best scenic shot like other tourist locations! Yes you know what I mean when you want to take a photo of that beautiful temple or scenery but people just kept on flooding into the picture...
  • BEAUTIFUL NATURE! Because of the sparse population, much of the natural landscape is untouched.
  • RICH CULTURE! There are some spectacular festivals held annually with its tradition passed down for many generations.

★The 6 Prefectures of Tohoku Region★

1) Aomori prefecture 青森県

I start with Aomori first because this is the birth place of the famous Fuji apple! Like many other people, I thought it was from Mt. Fuji when I first know about it 12 years ago. But it is actually a breed developed in Fujisaki, Aomori in the late 1930s and brought to market in 1962. I love its sweetness and crunch. If I can only choose one fruit to eat for life it would be Fuji apple!✨✨

A popular place to pick own apples is at Hirosaki Apple Park and costs only 200 yen (around SG$2.50) to pick 1kg worth of apples!!! The apple picking season starts August to mid November and the sweetest apples seems to be from Sep-Oct! Maybe I should just plan a trip to go pick apples and bring a big box back to Singapore...

Aomori is well known for its "Nebuta Festival" that happens every year from 2-7th August. Together with Akita's "Kanto Festival" and Sendai's "Tanabata Festival", it forms the three great festivals of this Tohoku region. Even if you missed the dates, you can always visit the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE, where they showcase the elaborate floats and play the festive drum music all year round.

2) Iwate prefecture 岩手県

It is said that Iwate has one of the world's best fishing ground and is the second largest producer of sea urchins after Hokkaido!

It's coastline is surrounded by impressive cliffs and it has a cave leading to one of the most beautiful underground lake in Japan. Maybe I should go there to do some sight-seeing and indulge in lots of fresh seafood, especially sea urchins because it's so expensive in Singapore...

3) Miyagi prefecture 宮城県

Miyagi prefecture is well known for its scenic coastal view at Matsushima with its dotted pine clad islets. This place was voted as one of the top 3 scenic views in Japan for centuries and is recovering well from the tsunami that hit the coastline during the 311 earthquake.

Besides a gorgeous coastal view, they are famous for delicious beef tongue, zuda mochi (made with edamame) and fresh oysters too! Oyster buffet can be from 2,000 yen (SG$25)!

As mentioned, Sendai (the city in Miyagi) hosts an elaborate Tanabata Festival from 6-8th August every year. During this festival, you can see lots of large colourful streamers and you can write your wishes on pieces of paper and hang them on bamboos to pray for them to come true.

4) Akita prefecture 秋田県

Akita prefecture is well-known for its rice, sake (rice wine) and festivals: Kanto Festival and Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival. The Kanto Festival is held from 3-6th August every year to pray for good harvest.

Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival has been passed down for around 400 years and happens every 15-16th Feb at Yokote city. The festival is meant to pray to the water deity for ample water.

5) Yamagata prefecture 山形県

Yamagata prefecture is famous for its agricultural produce and cherries. It is also home to Ginzan Onsen (hot spring), a small town well-known for its traditional architecture and inns where you can enjoy hot spring bath.

6) Fukushima prefecture 福島県

Fukushima is the closest Tohoku prefecture to Tokyo and around 90% of its area is still safe for tourists to visit, especially the mountainous western part of Fukushima. It is famous for its natural landscape formed by volcanic activity.

Niigata prefecture 新潟県

Niigata prefecture is well known for its high-quality rice and popular ski resorts. I'm not a sporty person but I am into Japanese rice. My Japanese teacher once told me that the best rice is koshihikari, and the top quality comes from Niigata. When you have good rice, you naturally have good sake (rice wine) 😋

Radiation Concern?
As mentioned in my book "Eva Goes Solo", there are local groups and individuals doing sampling of soil and atmosphere everyday and reporting the readings on websites so it is actually quite safe to travel there. In fact, there are developed cities in other parts of the world with a higher radiation level! To see the latest readings, you can visit here.

Concluding Thoughts

I'm not a fan of sports but I like to eat and enjoy a nice scenery without so many people. So if I'm going down to Tohoku I might just target one festival and plan mainly for apple picking, eat lots of seafood, stay at a Ryokan with natural hot spring and enjoy the scenic mountain and coastal views. 😃

Upcoming Seminar: Driving in Tohoku

There is another upcoming event to introduce driving in Tohoku at the Japan Rail Cafe (located above Tanjong Pagar mrt) this Saturday, 17th Dec. Registration is required to attend. I have been invited again to blog about the seminar (although me no drive) so you will see me there before I catch my flight to Comic Fiesta at KL 😂 #busydieme

To register:
FB event page:

This post is sponsored by Tohoku Tourism and pictures used with permission from Hungry Bird's blog.

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