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Every month, our Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist Amy Tadehara brings us insider knowledge on how to access semi-impenetrable experiences, avoid crowds, and find hidden delights well away from those tourist-worn pathways. This month she’s giving us the run-down on Tohoku’s delicacies.
Tohoku, the northern part of Japan’s main island, has everything Japan is famous for, from cherry blossoms and sake to historical treasures, onsen hot springs and powder-covered mountain slopes. But where the region really excels is in its diverse and delicious regional cuisines, making it the perfect place for a gastronomic tour.
Nokke-don in Aomori
In Aomori, head to the Furakawa Fish Market to make your own nokke-don, a rice bowl topped with fish and sea food. You will need to buy tickets and a bowl of rice, then off you go browsing through the market, topping up with fresh sashimi in exchange for a ticket. Furukawa Fish Market offers an authentic and fun way to have a meal, and the fish is the freshest I have ever tasted.
If raw seafood is not up your alley, Aomori is also famous for its apples. Pick your own or simply sample the wide array of apple-flavored goodies – from apple pies to sparkling apple cider.
While in Aomori, nearby Lake Towada is a must! Unwind on a guided canoe tour of the lake, stroll by crystalline waters and seemingly endless waterfalls along the wooded Oirase Gorge path or immerse yourself in the culture at the Towada Modern Art Museum.
Oysters in Matsushima
A short train ride from Sendai, the emerald waters of Matsushima Bay are dotted with over 200 pine-covered islets carved into intriguing shapes by years of wind and water. Enjoy a cup of tea at the Kanrantei Teahouse overlooking the bay and you’ll understand why it’s celebrated as one of Japan’s “Three Most Scenic Spots”.
Matsushima is most famous for its oysters, which are at their best between October and March. An oyster hotpot cruise is a great way to see the best of the bay while sampling some of these ocean-fresh delights.
Also noteworthy are the Autumn Illuminations at Entsu-in Temple in early November, the natural beauty of the season is lit up spectacularly by thousands of LED lights, stroll the lantern lit paths around the temple leading to a still pond that reflects the array of lighted trees.
Wanko soba in Morioka
If all-you-can-eat soba noodles sounds enticing, you’ll love Morioka. Head to a wanko soba restaurant and they’ll continue to top you up with steaming noodles until you manage to cover your bowl with a lid — inspiring many an eating competition!
Besides noodles, Iwate Prefecture is known for its traditional crafts. Tour Iwachu Casting Works to see the how Nambu cast ironware is made, or visit the Kuji Amber Museum to have a go at making your own amber accessories.
Beef in Yonezawa
Along with Kobe and Matsusaka, Yonezawa produces some of the best beef in Japan. Japanese beef is known for its marbled texture, which results from the mineral-rich diet of rice straw that’s fed to the cows. Try Yonezawa beef teppanyaki-style (expertly grilled while you watch), shabu-shabu (dipped in a bubbling hotpot), or char-grilled on your own tabletop barbecue.
While you’re in Yamagata Prefecture, I recommend taking a river boat ride down the scenic Mogami River stopping along the way for a hot sake to warm you up. (Note: The Mogami River Boat Ride is for the people on the more adventurous side of life as it is narrated in Japanese only.) Then trek to nearby Yamadera, a mountain temple that extends high into the steep mountainside. Yamadera is perhaps best known for being immortalised by the famous poet Basho in his haiku about the stillness and silence of the area. This hike is not for the faint of heart as it takes over 1000 steps to get to the top – but the fantastic views alone are worth it!
Kiritanpo in Akita
Originally a portable meal for woodcutters and hunters, kiritanpo is made by forming mashed rice into cylinders on cedar skewers and toasting them over an open hearth. Kiritanpo is often glazed with sweet miso or served as dumplings in soup, but I suggest heading to a restaurant where you can grill it yourself at your table.
While in Akita, check out the Nagabashiri Wind Caves (once used as a natural refrigerator for Tsugaru apples) or check out the Isedotai Site, a major archaeological site of Japan built roughly 4000 years ago by the Jomon people, the ancient ancestors of modern Japanese people. While these sites are accessible by local transport, having a rental car would make the experience more enjoyable!
Interested in traveling to Tohoku? Check out our Northern Soul Small Group Tour!
For the more adventurous, why not try our Northern Highlights Self-Guided Adventure?
Or let us tailor your vacation for you!
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