[From July Issue 2010]
Sendai City is the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in the Tohoku (northeastern) region, with a population of over one million. It is also famous as a place deeply associated with DATE Masamune, (a.k.a. “Dokuganryu” – the one-eyed dragon) a warlord of the Sengoku period. And while his home, Sendai Castle, known as Aoba Castle, no longer exists, many people still visit the castle ruins, which offer a panoramic view of the city below. Sendai’s climate is mild, being not too cold in winter and not too hot in the summer.
Each summer, Sendai hosts a big event – The Sendai Tanabata Festival. It is one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region, along with the Nebuta Festival of Aomori Prefecture and the Kanto Festival of Akita Prefecture. Held from August 6th to the 8th, it is a traditional festival that continues to be observed since the early Edo period, attracting over two million yearly visitors. A myriad of Tanabata (Star Festival) decorations are put up around Sendai Station, and throughout the shopping arcades. And, a fireworks display takes place the night before the festival officially begins.
The Jozenji Street Jazz Festival is held yearly on the second Saturday and Sunday of September, with this year marking its 20th anniversary. About 700 bands gather from across the country and perform on a number of stages set up throughout the city. In addition to Jazz, visitors can enjoy various other genres of music.
Sendai is also known as “The City of Trees,” as its avenues are lined with beautifully tended zelkova trees. In December, the Pageant of Starlight festival is held, in which these trees are illuminated by some 600,000 light bulbs. Many couples visit this place, especially around Christmas time.
Sendai is also home to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, their professional baseball team. Whenever there is a game, their home field at Kleenex Stadium Miyagai is packed with spectators all wearing caps in the team color of dark red. Their soccer team, Vegalta Sendai, is also well-supported by many of the locals.
Sendai is also knows as a “study capital.” The city is home to a number of universities, technical colleges and educational institutions, where many people come to study, not only from within Miyagi Prefecture, but also from outside the prefecture and abroad. Tohoku University is especially famous for its high standard of research and for having produced a Nobel Laureate.
Many tourists visit Sendai, fascinated by not only its various events and beautiful scenery, but also by its rich food culture as well. Throughout the city there are numerous restaurants specializing in gyutan (beef tongue), which is considered to be a luxury food item. Zunda, sweet paste made from crushed edamame (young soybeans), is commonly served with rice cakes, but has more recently been used in milkshakes and parfaits. There are many other Sendai specialties available, including Sasa-kamaboko (a bamboo-leaf-shaped fish cake made from whitefish, sake and salt).
From Sendai, it’s easy to take the JR Senseki Line to Matsushima, known as one of Japan’s Three Great Views, along with Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima. The sea stretches out right in front of the station, where small islands covered with pine trees seem to highlight the water’s blue color. Throughout the year, tourists from home and abroad visit to enjoy this beautiful view. And, there are even some haiku and tanka poems written about it.
Matsushima is also famous for its fish and shellfish. Since oysters are especially plentiful here, there are special cruises available during the winter and spring months on which you can enjoy oyster pot dishes. Because the Shiogama fishing port is located near by, you can further enjoy fresh seafood in the number of sushi shops and other restaurants serving sashimi.
One of Matsushima’s more popular tourist attractions is the Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium. Opened in 1927, it is Japan’s second oldest aquarium, displaying many kinds of sea creatures, including sea lions, sea otters and dolphins.
Matsushima is also a great place for viewing the moon. Kanran-tei was a teahouse that was inherited by DATE Masamune from feudal lord TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi. Also known as Tsukimi-goten (the Moon-Watching-Palace), it had long been cherished by the Date family. There is even an anecdote about the beauty of the moon over Matsushima: it is believed that Albert EINSTEIN once said, “No great artisan could reproduce its beauty.” Many of the great figures in history have also been mesmerized by the beautiful moon over Matsushima.
A number of important cultural assets remain in Matsushima. One example is the Buddhist temple Godaido, first built in 807 AD, then later rebuilt by Date Masamune in 1604. Zuiganji Temple, designated as a national treasure, was also built by Date Masamune, and is currently under renovation. That work is scheduled to continue until 2018. A beloved place of the Date family, Matsushima has many historic buildings associated with Date Masamune.
Sendai also offers the Izumigatake Mountains where you can enjoy skiing, and the renowned Akiu hot springs. The famous Zao ski resort is also located nearby. Traveling from Sendai aboard the JR Tohoku Honsen, you can arrive at Shiroishi in about 50 minutes, which is quite popular with Japanese history buffs. The reason for this seems to be that the castle of KATAKURA Kojuurou, who served under Date Masamune, is in Shiroishi, and has recently been popularized through an historical video game. So, as you can see, the Sendai area offers a variety of fascinating places to discover.
Text: INAIZUMI Shuko