Sendai (290 kilometers north of Tokyo, two hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen) is the largest city and the most important commercial center in the Tohuku (northern Honshu) region. With a population of about 1 million, this former castle town is located on the northeast coast of Honshu and sometimes called the "capital with the groves" because of its wooded parks and forested hills. There aren't many sights but is a pleasant place to stroll around.

Sendai is a center for branch offices of many government agencies and major corporations and is the site of Tohoku University and several technical schools. Several rail lines converge in the city, which has traditionally been known for Sendaihira silk and beautiful Sendai cabinets and wood products. The famous. In early August Sendai host the Tanabata Star Festival which features street decorations of bamboo poles with streamers, banners, ribbons and flowers of almost every imaginable color — all made with washi paper.

Sendai is an easy place to get around. The main train station is close to downtown and city is lad out in a grid. Many department stores and banks are located on Aoba-yama Hill. The main shopping area is around Ichibancho-don and Cho-dori. Kokubuncho-don, west of Ichibancho-don, is the main entertainment district. Sendai is known for great food and izakayas (Japanese bars that sell dishes and snacks to accompany the alcoholic drinks). Narrow streets lined with alluring red lanterns, encouraging customers to come in. Izakayas serve warm local sake and cold beer with favorites like chicken yakitori (kebabs) but also have off-beat specialities like boiled Japanese parsley seasoned with kombu seaweed soup stock. This "Sendai parsley" is harvested in Natori, where it has been cultivated for 380 years.

Miyagi Prefecture, where Sendai is located, covers 7,282 square kilometers (2,812 square miles), is home to about 2.7 million people and has a population density of 42 people per square kilometer. Sendai is the capital and largest city, with about 1 million people. It is in Tohoku on northern Honshu island and has 35 municipalities.

Tourist Office: Sendai Tourist Association: Tel: (022)-268-9577. The main tourist office is on the 2nd floor of JR Sendai station (Tel: 022-222-3269). Transport: Sendai has a single line subway system. It is possible to buy a pass for ¥600 that allows unlimited bus travel for a single day.

Websites :Sendai Traveling Information Sendai Tourism and Convention Bureau Sendai City Official home page ; Tohoku Local Secret Tours offers drinking tour in the back alleys of Sendai Address: Daini Katsuyama Bldg 2F 2-10-1 Chuo, Aoba-Ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi ,
Map: Sendai City maps Subway Map: Urban Rail Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Sendai is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Tokyo. It takes 1 hour 40 minutes to reach Sendai from Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Sights in Sendai

The ruins of Aoba Castle on Aoba Hill are the main attraction in the city. At the site is an exhibition hall with a display of swords and reconstruction of the castle with computer images. Other sights include the Zuihoden Mausoleum, built in honor of Date Masamune, the warlord who built the town's castle and the Sendai City Museum. Sendai is also the jumping off point for trips to Matsushima Bay and historic Hiraizumi.

On a hill to the northwest is Sendai Daikannon, a 100-meter-tall, skyscraperesque statue of goddess Kannon that escaped unscathed when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011. Zuihoden-the mausoleum of Sendai clan founder Date Masamune (1567-1636) features 12 vividly-colored heavenly maidens carved below the eaves. All the maidens face forward, reclined in a sensual pose while showing off the soles of their feet.

Aiku (a western suburb of Sendai, a 50-minute bus ride from JR Sendai Station.) is a hot-spring resort. Shin Usami wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: The water “is said to have cured Emperor Kinmei of a skin disease in the sixth century. Today, however, the resort is dotted with cookie-cutter hotels made of reinforced steel, making it hard to get a sense of its ancient history. One of the older establishments is Sakan, a 900-bed hotel. Here, I find an open-timbered corner, where the ceiling has been preserved since the Edo period (1603-1867).. Beneath the ceiling is an irori fireplace, where you can sometimes hear the crackling of a fire. "We've kept the fire burning for 420 years. The charcoal is replaced every three to four hours," says a hotel employee as she expertly tends to the irori.

"According to the hotel’s brochure, the eternal flame was kindled from a votive candle from Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture to ward off fires after the hotel burned down in 1593. In 1855, water stopped flowing from the hot spring after a massive earthquake. Back then, the owner was said to have gone to Mount Yudono in today’s Yamagata Prefecture to pray for the water to start running again. Reading about these stories, I think about how the people in this region have endured natural disasters through the centuries without succumbing to them. "

Sendai Mediatheque by Toyo Ito

The Sendai Mediatheque Project is a modern architectural piece that draws large numbers of visitors. Designed by Toyo Ito and opened in 2001, it is a room-less structure made of concrete slabs and steel plates and supported by unique helical columns which are visible from the outside through double panes of glass. Sunlight striking the roof is directed through the building by optical devises. With the pillars functioning as vents the temperature of the building is kept at comfortable levels regardless of the season. Location: 2-1 Kasuga-machi, Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi 980-0821, Tel: +81-22-713-3171

Toyo Ito is a winner of Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most esteemed award in architecture. Sendai Mediatheque is cultural institution with galleries, cinema, and a library. It is one of Japan’s modern architectural masterpieces, and has received international acclaim. The intrinsic glass structure withstood the massive earthquake that shook the Tohoku region in 2011, and became a symbol for Japanese engineering ingenuity that doesn't compromise great design.

When Ito started work on Mediatheque he envisioned the seven-story glass library as an artificial forest, where people could stroll around, electronic gadgets in hand, meeting friends or retreating to hideouts to study – all the while communicating with the world. He completed the building in 2001 with 13 inner tubes branching out from bottom to top like giant tree stems. “We live inside two bodies. One is virtual, created by communication technology expanding continuously. The other is primitive, limited, and has not changed for thousands of years,” Ito said.

Kirin Beer Factory Tour and Tasting

Kirin Beer factories are located in nine places (Chitose, Sendai, Toride, Yokohama, Nagoya, Shiga, Kobe, Okayama, and Fukuoka).. Each factory offers free a tour that last around 80 minutes. The Kirin Brewery Company is one of Japan's four leading beer breweries. It was founded in Yokohama, a city that played a major role in Japan's adopting beer from the West and spreading it the rest of Japan. [Source:]

The brewery tours pass through a gallery with displays regarding the history of beer and Kirin and winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer go shooting through factory machines at incredibly high speeds! According to the guide, 2000 cans of beer are filled and packed each and every minute. Near the end of the tour, a series of panels of Kirin’s history are on display. Tours are usually conducted in Japanese, but an English guide may also be available.

Beer Production involves boiling down barley to make mash and removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer comes from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again. The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Top quality beer are often made using only the first press of the wort. Fermenting takes place inside 129 huge tanks for a period of one or two months. Visitors can try the first and second press of the wort for comparisons as well as up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks.

As the tour nears completion you arrive at the “tasting bar”. Here, you receive tickets that you exchange for three glasses of fresh beer—your choice. The selections on tap are “Ichiban-shibori”, “Lager”, and “Stout” (black beer). Location: 2-2-1 Minato, Miyagino-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi-ken Tour Hours: 9:30am, 10:00am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00noon, 12:30pm 1:00pm, 1:30pm, 2:00pm, 2:30pm, 3:00pm and 3:30pm. Closed Every Monday however, it will be open if Monday is a public holiday , year-end/New Year’s holidays, equipment inspection days, etc.If Monday is a public holiday, the facility will be closed on the following weekday. Getting There: Free shuttle bus operates from Tagajo Station on the JR Senseki Line. If you board the shuttle bus, you can participate in a tour that starts on the hour. You can board the return bus at 15 minutes past the hour. Check-in for the last Brewery tour closes at 15:30. If you wish to take that tour, please board the shuttle bus departing Tagajo Station at 14:35. Shuttle Bus Boarding Point: 1) Exit the station ticket gate and proceed to the South Exit. 2) Proceed left from the South Exit for about 50 meters. 3) You will see a bus stop with the word “KIRIN” at bus platform 3.

Account of the March 2011 Earthquake in Sendai

20110413-US Navy Sendai.jpg
Sendai tsunami damage
Sendai was hit pretty hard by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 that left about 19,000 people dead or missing, On the earthquake Sendai resident Braven Smillie wrote in the Los Angeles Times, On that quiet Friday afternoon, a routine window-rattling rumble grew into a rolling, jerking ride as the walls seemed to dart out and snatch at us. Try to recall your worst falling dream and you'll have a sense of what it is like to lose all sense of confidence in your walls, floor and ceiling, and then even the ability to stand. [Source: Braven Smillie, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2011]

Smillie s 10-year-old, Christina said that in her school: "It shook from the floor, and almost everybody was crying.... And our teacher said, 'Duck down under your desk and save your head!' It was like we were on a big boat and we were holding on to the feet of our desks and it was going back and forth and back and forth, like rowing a boat." Smillie said the shock and terror were real but not one child or teacher at the school was seriously hurt.

When the shaking finally stopped, Smillie wrote, I jogged out into a light snow to collect my daughters Tina and Elena from their nearby elementary school. As I arrived on the playground, I was frustrated at how difficult it was to find my children, or to distinguish any of the faces of the children I knew. There was something common in their appearance. Every kid had the same mask-like facial expression a thousand-yard stare that is astonishing to see on a child.

As the assembled children waited for their parents, we looked across the playground, watching long, low, quick swells pass across the surface. Sometimes the ground seemed to rotate around us in impossible ways. We heard a series of distant explosions, and a few much closer. How, I thought, had the school building remained intact? Shouldn't there be rubble?

Damage in Sendai from the 2011 Tsunami

From Sendai CNN reported: “Many areas of the town are simply gone — mud and splintered wood littering an area where a row of homes used to stand; a vehicle upside-down among tree branches. A school, which had 450 people inside when the tsunami hit, stood with its doors blown open and a jumble of furniture — plus a truck — in its hallways. Some teachers and students were able to escape the building, but officials said others did not.[Source: Paula Hancocks, CNN March 14, 2011]

“Sendai residents said the water reached the treetops as it swept into the town. Cars were tossed like toys, windows blasted out and homes crushed or swept away completely. "As I was trying to evacuate, the tsunami was already in front of me," another young man said. "I tried to drive, but I ended up running instead." "I've been watching TV, but it looks much worse when I actually see it in person," said a third young man. "I grew up in the house that was not close to the ocean. I didn't think it would be this bad, but I'm from the west side and I guess some people could not imagine the horror of the tsunami and couldn't evacuate in time."

Damian Grammaticas of the BBC reported,”As you enter the tsunami zone, there is nothing but devastation stretching away into the distance. It begins just a few miles from the skyscrapers of Sendai city. You can see the city's tower blocks nearby but, as you head towards the seashore, everything has been destroyed. A vast swathe of land along the coast, perhaps a couple of miles deep, has been inundated. [Source: Damian Grammaticas BBC News, March 13 2011]

Field after field is flooded, the ditches along the roadside are full of cars swept away by the waves of water that poured through here, and debris from thousands of homes lies everywhere. In one flooded field alone I counted more than 50 cars. In another field is a green armchair, sitting incongruously in the middle of the water. All around are things picked up by the tsunami, now strewn here and there. Smoke billows from fires raging at the port in Tagajo, Miyagi prefecture. In the distance, men in orange suits and waterproof boots try to cut through the roof of a collapsed house. And far behind them black smoke pours from a burning petrochemical plant.

Many large reinforced concrete buildings were able to withstand the force of the tsunami that easily tore down and carried away new houses and traditional wood homes. NHK showed aerial images of columns of flame rising from an oil refinery and flood waters engulfing the Sendai airport, where survivors clustered on the roof. The runway was partly submerged. The refinery fire sent a plume of thick black smoke from blazing spherical storage tanks.

Image Sources: 1) May Japanese Guest Houses 2) itako 3) Aomori City site 4) Aomori Museum site 5) Onsen Express 6) 7) Hirosaki City site 8) 9) Akita Prefecture site 10) 11) Sendai City site 12) 13) Wikipedia 14) Japan National Parks site 15) 16) Yamagata Prefecture 17 ) Samurai Dave blog 18) Aizu Wakamatsu city 19) Niigata city site 20) 21) Sado Island site

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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