If you have a lengthy stay in Japan and you grow weary of the noisy, electro-town of Akiba, or if the bright and vivid outfits of Harajuku folks tire your eyes, then Sendai is the place to go. Located 300 km away from Tokyo and only 2 hours by Shinkansen (high-speed train), Sendai is an amazing place for a relaxing and enjoyable travel experience full of breathtaking landscapes, beautiful nature and narrow streets.
So what is so unique about Sendai that would encourage you to take the time to visit and to spend the money on the Shinkansen to travel there?
First of all, unlike overpopulated Tokyo, Sendai has a population of only 1 million! If you are like me coming from a country with a population of 16 million, this number probably would not stun you, but again think about it: it is 12 million less than in Tokyo! There is a much more calm and serene atmosphere and people do not rush around like crazy so you won’t feel overwhelmed by crowded streets, like you do in Tokyo. Besides more space to walk, people in Sendai like in any other small city in Japan, are more relaxed and friendly. There is no way I will try to demonize the image of the capital city folks, it is just all about the pace of life. With more space and less speed, the people of Sendai seem to be less stressed and as a result you feel very comfortable and welcome.
Secondly, Sendai is very green! Zelkova trees occupy all the streets and alleys giving Sendai the name, “City of Trees”. It is no wonder, that majority of hotels and resorts use the word “Green” in their names. The beautiful river Hirosegawa (the water in this stream is exceptionally clean and known to have ayu fish which inhabits only very clean-water rivers), which runs through central Sendai, gives this green paradise an absolutely magnificent and picturesque look. Sendai is a place you can experience fresh air, the outdoors, river views and green landscapes. Doesn’t it sound alluring enough already?
Thirdly, Sendai has that homely and cozy atmosphere. If you are seeking a memorable vacation in Japan not spoilt by long commutes from one place to another, then Sendai is the place for you. Being a fairly small city, you can basically walk from the center of the city to the main attraction of Sendai castle in about an hour. Sendai has a metro of course, but there is no real need to take it unless you are in a hurry or there is bad weather. And speaking of the weather: the climate of Sendai is known for being quite mild, therefore summer here is less hot and humid than in Tokyo! With all these advantages in mind, what else can one see and experience in Sendai. Here are some of the places that we recommend you visit:
The main and the largest attraction of Sendai is, without a doubt, Sendai (Aoba) Castle.
Sendai was established by Date Masamune, the first lord of the Sendai Clan who built Aoba Castle (Green Leaf) in 1600 . Masamune, the powerful feudal lord chose the location of the castle on Mountain Aoba close to the sea and within easy travelling distance to Edo (Tokyo).
For a long time (till the start of WWII) the heads of the city and prefectural administration were encouraging people to plant trees in their gardens. As a result, whole forests were appearing close to buildings, shrines, and the city center. These domestic forests were also used as household resources. Unfortunately during the WWII bombings, most of the domestic forests were destroyed, but thanks to the people’s own initiatives and efforts many of them were restored.
Carpet bombings of 1945 affected not only the trees but the castle as well. All that is left now are remnants of the outer stonewalls and a guard tower. Despite this, Sendai castle preserved its grandeur and rich history. The statue of Masamune on top of the hill where one can see the breathtaking view of the city, acts as a memorial to the feudal lord.
Just to mention the importance of Sendai castle, Doi Bansui (1871-1952), a famous Japanese poet, dedicated his poem Kojō no Tsuki (Moon Over the Ruined Castle) to Sendai castle. It became a musical hit and remained so for some time, and non-Japanese bands such as the Scorpions have also covered it. This poem invites the reader to think about the transience of life, in which the remnants of a once grand castle acts as a metaphor for this poignant point.
Even today, one can see a panoramic view of Masamune’s visionary town planning from the ruins of his castle. The heritage of its great founder is still found in elaborate urban planning with all the modern buildings and abundant greenery coexisting in harmony.
In addition to the great view from the top, a traveller going up the hill will be rewarded by such sights as Gokoku Shrine and Aoba Castle Museum.
Gokoku Shrine is the prefectural branch shrine of Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and features a museum focusing on modern Japan’s military history.
Aoba Castle Museum (open: 9.00- 17.00/ 700 yen) tells the history of Sendai castle. It presents a model of the castle during the Edo Period, historic relics from the castle and a short movie about the castle.
How to get there: Aoba Castle can be reached in about 20 minutes from Sendai Station by the Loople Sendai bus. Get off at bus stop #5 for the Sendai City Museum or bus stop #6 for the former castle grounds. A day pass for the Loople bus costs 600 yen, otherwise one ride costs 250 yen. It takes about ten minutes to walk between the city museum and the former castle grounds.