Best Things to Do in Tohoku

Tohoku Region, a Treasure to be Discovered

Unveiling Japan’s less-trodden path, Tohoku captivates travelers with its enthralling blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. Its six prefectures unfold a panorama of rugged mountains, tranquil hot springs, historic towns, and verdant valleys.

For the lucky travelers who visit this region, there is no shortage of activities, such as witnessing the majestic cherry blossoms in Hirosaki, traversing the timeless streets of Ouchijuku, or joining in the joyous Nebuta Festival. Add to this an impressive culinary scene ranging from fresh seafood to hearty regional dishes.

Tohoku is a travel destination that invites you to delve deeper, explore further, and taste the authentic spirit of Japan, so for your next trip plans, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Tohoku!

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Tohoku Region, a Treasure to be Discovered

Among Japan’s colorful patchwork of regions, from the snowy cap of Hokkaido to the coral reefs of Okinawa, there lies an often overlooked gem: the Tohoku region (東北). Located in the northeastern part of Japan’s main island, Honshu, it’s distinct from the modern pulse of Kanto, the historical allure of Kansai, the mountainous allure of Chubu, the cultural richness of Chugoku, and the serene charm of Shikoku.

A mosaic of six prefectures – Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima – Tohoku captivates with its untouched nature, deep-rooted traditions, and tranquil rural landscapes. Against the backdrop of Japan’s usual hustle, Tohoku paints an enchanting picture of a serene retreat, ready to be your next travel narrative.

1. Have a Soothing Onsen Escapade (Yamagata, Akita)

Ginzan OnsenLocated in Yamagata prefecture, Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉) is a symphony of tranquility. This picturesque hot spring town transports visitors back in time with its Taisho-era wooden inns lining the Ginzan River.

In winter, the snow-dusted landscape glows under the warm light from the buildings, offering a therapeutic ambiance that echoes the healing properties of the onsen themselves. It’s an idyllic getaway, where time seems to stand still, letting you surrender to the blissful embrace of serenity.

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▶GINZAN Onsen: Nostalgic Hot Spring Town from 19th Century

On the other hand, in the remote mountains of Akita prefecture, Nyuto Onsen (乳頭温泉) presents a unique spa experience. A collection of seven ryokans, each offering a distinct, mineral-rich hot spring bath, the area promises to soothe the weary traveler.

The rustic charm of the ryokans, some dating back centuries, complements the surrounding wilderness, enhancing the overall tranquility. Regardless of being for therapeutic relaxation, a digital detox, or pure wanderlust, Nyuto Onsen is a balm for body and soul alike.

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GINZAN Onsen: Nostalgic Hot Spring Town from 19th Century

2. Travel Through Time in Ouchi-juku (Fukushima)

Ouchi-jukuTucked away in Fukushima prefecture, Ouchi-juku (大内宿) is a time capsule preserving the Edo period’s rustic charm. The village’s thatched-roof houses, free of modern distractions, offer an immersive peek into Japan’s past.

Exploring the narrow lanes, tasting local delicacies, or witnessing the annual snow festival in February, it’s a journey through time that leaves one feeling humbled by the simplicity and warmth of this preserved historical village.

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Ouchi-juku: Edo Period Post Town in Aizu Fukushima

3. Watch Cherry Blossoms at Hirosaki Castle (Aomori)

Cherry Blossoms at Hirosaki CastleSpring at Hirosaki Castle (弘前城) in Aomori prefecture is nothing short of breathtaking. The castle grounds come alive with the blush of cherry blossoms in April, creating a spectacular canvas that is a feast for the senses.

The cherry blossom tunnel, petal-filled moats, and the majestic Hirosaki Castle at the heart of it all make it an iconic spot for hanami (flower viewing). It’s a celebration of spring’s ephemeral beauty, under the timeless watch of the castle.

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▶Hirosaki Cherry Blossoms

4. Experience the Living Canvas of Oirase Keiryu (Aomori)

Oirase KeiryuOirase Keiryu (奥入瀬渓流) in Aomori prefecture is nature’s living canvas. This stunning mountain stream, flowing through lush forests and offering views of dynamic waterfalls, is a testament to nature’s artistry. Each season paints a new picture; the spring’s greenery, summer’s vibrancy, autumn’s fiery hues, and winter’s pristine white.

Walking or cycling alongside the streamlets one appreciates the natural beauty that Tohoku, and Japan at large, cherishes so deeply. It’s a journey into the heart of nature that reminds one of life’s beautiful transience.

5. Be Delighted at the Whimsical Zao Fox Village (Miyagi)

fox pairLet’s add a touch of whimsy to your itinerary with a visit to Zao Fox Village (宮城蔵王キツネ村) in Miyagi prefecture. This unique sanctuary is home to over a hundred foxes from six different species. Here, you can watch these charming creatures at play in an environment designed to mimic their natural habitat. Keep your camera ready; these furry inhabitants are not camera-shy! Remember, though, they’re wild at heart, so observe the guidelines to enjoy your visit safely. Not an animal lover? You may want to think twice as this place will surely convert you! Rest assured this is an experience you don’t want to miss!

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▶Zao Fox Village: Cutest Fox Heaven in Japan

6. Soar Above the Clouds at Zao Ropeway (Yamagata)

Zao RopewayReady for a thrilling ride that offers some of the most stunning views in Japan? Hop onto the Zao Ropeway (蔵王ロープウェイ) in Yamagata prefecture. As you ascend into the clouds, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking panorama of Mount Zao’s volcanic landscape, and the neighboring Pacific Ocean.

It’s especially magical in winter, where the mountain’s famed “snow monsters”—frozen snow-covered trees—create an ethereal, otherworldly spectacle. But the ride isn’t just for sightseeing, hiking enthusiasts can disembark at the peak station to explore the natural beauty on foot.

7. Be Immersed in the Colorful Nebuta Festival (Aomori)

Nebuta FestivalThere’s nothing quite like the electric energy of a Japanese festival, and Aomori Prefecture’s Nebuta Festival (ねぶた祭り) is no exception. This summer festival sees the city come alive with gargantuan illuminated floats depicting mythical figures, gods, and historical characters. The rhythmic beats of traditional taiko drums, the enchanting flute melodies, and the chanting of thousands of participants fill the air with infectious enthusiasm. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even join the parade. The Nebuta Festival is a feast for the senses, offering a deeper understanding of Japan’s cultural heritage.

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▶Aomori Nebuta Matsuri: Tohoku’s Greatest Parade

8. Journey Through History at Tohoku’s Most Prominent Temples

YamaderaThe Tohoku region, steeped in spiritual heritage, offers some of Japan’s most impressive temples that echo tales of historical reverence and architectural splendor.

Yamadera (山寺), aptly named ‘Mountain Temple’, in Yamagata prefecture is a striking complex perched on a steep cliffside, offering stunning views over the valley. It provides a serene escape, inviting visitors to ascend its 1,000 stone steps amid centuries-old cedar trees.

Miyagi prefecture houses Zuiganji (瑞巌寺), one of the most significant Zen temples in northern Japan. Renovated by feudal lord Date Masamune, its main hall exhibits intricate carvings and a mesmerizing golden altar. Nearby caves serve as atmospheric meditation spots.

Iwate’s Chusonji Temple (中尊寺) is not just a place of worship, but a journey through Japanese history. This World Heritage site houses more than 3,000 national treasures and important cultural properties, including the stunning Golden Hall, completely covered in gold leaf.