Off Route

Sendai and Matsushima: A Story of Ikemen Onigiri and Questionable Couches

By Amanda Lynn Marcroft

I’m not gonna lie, Sendai is my favourite city in Tohoku. Is that because there’s actual life in Sendai? Because there are food options? Because there’s shopping? Because there are people under fifty and they have good hair? All of these things, probably, plus the fact that there’s an H&M with clothing I actually fit into. But honestly, there are so many reasons to love Sendai.


Ah, shopping malls. Hisashiburi, my friend.

First off, let’s start with the fact that Sendai is still in Tohoku. Is Tokyo bigger? Yes, but it’s also about twice as far. Sendai is just a couple hours away and while it’s not as big as the Big City, once you’ve been in the inaka long enough, you’ll hardly be able to tell. Also, Sendai has shopping—just about everything you’ve been missing, and it’s all right outside the train station!

sendai_shiroishi_castleMoreover, Sendai has history! That ikemen guy with the eyepatch and pointy hat? He’s from Sendai. And you can even visit his family castle which protects one of the few virgin forests in Japan. Moreover, Sendai is very close to Matsushima—the beautiful Pine Tree Islands that inspired Matsuo Basho, the father of haiku, to write

Matsushima, ah!
Ah! Ah! Matsushima, ah!
Matsushima, ah!

Trust me, I’ve read Basho’s works, the dude was not short on words, so if he’s struck speechless, I figure it’s gotta be good. So way back when I first got here, I trekked out to Matsushima and I gotta say, those are some pretty trees. Maybe not anything I’d write ballads about, but to each their own. It is a lovely little boat cruise though and there’s a red bridge connecting one of the islands that makes for some lovely pictures. It’s also rumoured that crossing with a lover will result in guaranteed break-up, so if you’ve been looking for a way to dump someone, here’s your chance.


Relationship freedom can be yours in 1000 steps!

The one thing I will say is lacking in Sendai is hostels. Trying to find a place to crash without having a reservation or selling your first born can be an uphill battle. Manga cafes are plentiful, however, and if you go early enough you can rent a couch to crash on that isn’t too scummy (sadly, I was not early enough and the places I found were….questionable). But life is an adventure!


The couch I slept in was deemed unsuitable for public viewing. Instead have this super ikemen onigiri.

If you’re feeling like adventuring out of the ken sometime soon and craving some big city life (but not the big city price), check out Sendai. It’s got something for everyone and you’re guaranteed to have an interesting time if nothing else.


And the original dude the onigiri stole the hat from

More Info:

  •  Sendai is particularly known for two festivals:
    Tanabata—held in summer and part of Tohoku’s Top 3 along with Nebuta
    Pageant of Starlight—a big illumination show held around Christmas

Getting There:

  • Train
    The shinkansen obviously runs straight to Sendai and is a great option if time is more important than price
  • Bus
    Pretty much every city in Tohoku will have a regular bus to Sendai (expect the ride to take a few hours, though)

Getting Out:

  • Matsushima is a short train ride away and contains some beautiful scenery as well as the famous Beef Tongue
  • Cat Island and the Fox Village are both within reasonable driving distance and are definitely worth a visit but are hard to access without wheels

Travel Tip:
This seems like a great time to talk about Japan’s hotel-alternative sleeping options—and I don’t mean sleeping on the street (though that can be tempting after the fifth place turns you down). Manga cafes and karaoke parlours are popular choices and know it—sometimes they even have special prices to reflect it (rarely do these special prices benefit you). Love hotels are a good option for those a bit more daring but can get complicated for groups larger than three. And then there’s McDonalds. With its 24hour policy and coveted electrical outlets, good ol’ McD’s can be a lifesaver for those too tired to care anymore.


One thought on “Sendai and Matsushima: A Story of Ikemen Onigiri and Questionable Couches

  1. Pingback: April 2015, Vol. 1: Letter from the Editor | Good Morning Aomori produced by Aomori AJET

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