Escorted Tour from Honolulu – Tohoku Sakura Tour
Tour Escort William here to report on our tour to the Tohoku region of Japan to enjoy the blooming Sakura Cherry Blossoms.
Our tour began with our arrival in Sendai and transferring to our first destination Matsushima, one of Japan’s great Three scenic points.
Our first stop was to the Shiogama Fish Market in neighboring Shiogama city. Shiogama is famous for having the most Sushi Restaurants per capita in Japan. We were able to experience the fish market and sample some fresh fish. They even pickled cucumber on a stick, ‘the Japanese Hotdog’
Next we visited the Shiogama Shrine, a Shinto shrine praying for the protection of fisherman and for safe childbirth. The Sakura blossoms were in bloom and the shrine complex is home to a wide variety of Sakura species.
On our way back to our hotel in Matsushima we visited Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park to take in the scenery and the cherry blossoms.
The next day we set out from Matsushima heading north in search of more Sakura! On the way we stopped by Geibikei Gorge to enjoy a relaxing and beautiful river boat cruise. I lost at じゃんけん (rock paper scissors) and had to translate for our boatman…or should I saw boat-woman! She was amazing; she knew the story behind almost every rock face and bend in the river (Which didn’t make translating easy…) and she even shared with us the traditional song sung upon the river.
Our next stop was Genbikei Gorge (Not to be confused with the previous Geibikei Gorge) for a scenic Bento picnic and Mochi Service delivered by zipline. The Mochi shop even sent ours with a special message…”Aloha!”
Our last stop for the day was Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi. Chusonji Temple is easily the most famous temple in the entire Tohoku region and boasts a spectacular inner shrine completely clad in gold!
…So I bet you want to see that golden temple, right?
Well too bad, there’s no photography allowed! I guess you’ll just have to come and see it for yourself! I did take a picture of the view from the hill the temple is on though.
Our next day began with a stop at Esashi Fujiwara no Sato, a ‘theme park’ built to recreate the Heian period of Japan’s history (8th to 12th Century). The buildings and streets within the complex are often used as backdrops for filming movies and tv shows. Sadly, there was no filming on the day we visited, but we did get to learn about the history of the period and even try our hands at archery and trying on the period clothing.
Our next stop was the Tenshochi Sakura Festival. The trees had just finished blooming and were beginning to shed their petals. Every time the wind picked, we were showered in a curtain of falling pink petals. We may not have seen them at their peak bloom, but the showering petals were equally spectacular. Our last stop for the day was just a quick break in Morioka City to see the Rock Breaking Cherry Blossom. I didn’t think it would be that impressive but up close in person…more like the BOULDER SPLITTING CHERRY BLOSSOM! All of us were so glad we got to see such a truly unique tree.
The next day we visited the scenic town of Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture. It. Was. Perfect! The weather was great, the Sakura had just come into bloom; our timing could not have been better. The blooming trees stretched all the way down the river front. A local festival was being held with the trees in the background and just across the way we strolled along the streets lined with the original houses of Samurai lords. After Kakunodate we stopped by Lake Tazawa for a lunch of Kiritanpo Hot Pot, the traditional dish of the Akita area.
Our last stop for the day was to visit the folk craft village in Iwate prefecture. Not only did we get to see the wide range of products and goods all made in Iwate, we also got to paint our own Kokeshi Dolls.
The next day was quite the drive as we made our final push north to Aomori. We stopped to make our own Kiritanpo for a quick snack and made time for a stop at scenic Lake Towada.
We then made our way to Aomori and to what may have been the highlight of the tour, Hirosaki Castle. Hirosaki Castle Park is considered by many to be the premiere place to view Sakura trees, maybe the best in Japan. And our timing could not have been better. Over 2000 Sakura trees were in perfect bloom. We enjoyed strolling through the park, sampling the festival food from vendors and taking in the beauty all around us. After the park, we visited the Tsuruga clan Neputa Village to learn about Neputa, one of the signature festivals of Aomori featuring lighted floats depicting detailed scenes of warriors and maidens. We also got to hear a performance of Tsugaru Shamisen, a traditional music style of the Tsugaru Peninsula of Aomori.
Our final day of touring began with a visit to Sannai Maruyama, an archaeological site ‘digging’ into the history of the Jomon Era peoples that once lived there. Jomon period is old, REALLY old. We’re talking 12,000 BC to 300 BC. All the buildings onsite were reconstructed through thorough excavation and investigation to help us see a glimpse of what life could have been like back then. Next, we visited ASPAM, the Aomori Sightseeing Products Manshion, a giant glass building in he shape of an ‘A’ (For Aomori) to take in the view across the Tsugaru Strait. On a clear day you can see all the way to the southern tip of Hokkaido.
The last leg of our trip was bittersweet. We had spent days making our way up through Tohoku only to return the way we came by the high-speed bullet train in less than 3 hours. We spent our last hours in Sendai city to do some well-deserved shopping before flying home to Honolulu the next day.
We all had a great time learning about the Tohoku region while viewing the beautiful Sakura. Tohoku is sometimes overlooked by travelers to Japan but I hope that all of you give Tohoku a chance. Great food, great scenery and great people.
Until next time, Tohoku!
Posted by William
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