Since visiting Japan last summer we have since fallen head over heels for the country! With so many places around the world to explore it is always a rare treat to not only return to one but do so only 4 months after…and the reason why is because of Winter. Japan is a country that can be explored multiple times and planning itineraries that match certain seasons is where you are going to get a unique take on the country.
Everyone may tell you to visit in spring for the cherry blossoms, but we are here to convince you why Japan is a dish best served cold, in winter!
At first, hearing the word Miyagi Prefecture may not ring any bells. Tokyo [yes], Hokkaido for snowboarding could generate another yes from you too. However, we won’t hold it against you as we personally had not heard of the region (or prefecture as they are called in Japan) before visiting. Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid kept us remembering its name during our week visit, but the unique experiences we did will ensure we won’t forget this place for a lifetime.
This eastern prefecture is a place ripe for travellers wanting to see the local, slower side of Japan – the more authentic side you may say. It’s the center of the Tohoku region, home to the city of Sendai which is where we spent both nights. In the east, Miyagi Prefecture faces the Pacific Ocean, where there are incredible scenic sightseeing sites including Matsushima, one of Japan’s three most beautiful spots you must see! In the west, mountains such as Zao, Funagata, and Kurikoma are a must, appearing different in each season. Zao is where we spent our time skiing in the most stunning soft, white snow.
Miyagi Prefecture is blessed with amazing sights to see and things to do in Japan, having natural scenery with sea, mountains, rivers, and plains, historic cultural heritage, and traditional festivals and events throughtout the year!
Snow – Is white the new cherry blossom?
Ask any Australian – heading to Japan to snowboard is a lifelong bucket list.
So, as a fellow Aussie who goes sand boarding instead of snowboarding, it’s safe to say that Japan and snow sports come hand in hand when you visit during the winter – and Miyagi is an amazing place to experience that.
This was our first time experiencing Japan in the winter and we had to spend at least one day on the slopes. We headed out to Zao Sumikawa, a small snow park two hours south of Sendai in the Ou Mountains. This spot is famous for two things – its snow monsters and for being a snowboarders/skiers dream location.
You may be thinking, what are snow monsters? Zao is one of only a few places in Japan where juhyo or “snow monsters” can be seen. The trees take on curious shapes due to the heavy snowfall and freezing winds. As we have only skied a few times in our life we stuck with the easy slopes, however for those that are avid skiers we totally recommending heading up to the higher points of the mountains and experience skiing past these snow monsters!
Japanese Shrines in Winter
If you’re visiting Japan in the winter you must visit at least one shrine! Shinto is the local Japanese religion which was created during the 8th century and combines traditional worship of ancestors and nature spirits. Shinto is as old as Japanese culture itself, so those looking for both traditional style architecture and a taste of the oldest religion in the country, visiting a Shinto shrine is a must.
Also, those wanting to see the most beautiful sites sprinkled with white powder snow, check out our vlog below, you will easily be convinced!
We visited the Kanahebisui-jinja (Golden Snake Shrine), located in the Southern part of Miyagi Prefecture. The name of the shrine is represented by the three Kanji characters 金 (kin/kane; meaning gold or money), 蛇 (hebi; meaning snake) and 水 (mizu/sui; meaning water). It is also believed that this shrine was built some 1000 years ago.
During our visit we had the incredible opportunity to experience a blessing ceremony by a shinto priest. This was on the the most unique and incredible experiences we have ever done. It would easily make our top 10 best experiences, not only in Japan but the world! The ceremony itself is a sacred performance, combining sights, sounds and smells to create an almost cinematic moment.
Oosaki Hachiman Shrine
Osaki Hachiman-gu is home to the guardian deity of the Date family, built in 1607 by Date Masamune, the ruler of the region. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of war, Hachiman, and is a great example of the Momoyama architecture style of gongen-tsukuri, with black lacquer and gold leaf designs. Another shrine we totally recommend you visit in the region.
Who knew that picking strawberries would be so much fun?
Who would have thought winter would be the best season to go strawberry picking – but in Miyagi it is! One afternoon we headed out to Yamamoto to find these famous green houses filled with strawberries.
Yamamoto is quite famous around Japan as a strawberry picking city. The areas signature brand “Sendai Ichigo” can be often found in supermarkets across the country. Since this location is an all you can eat farm, we set off for our allotted 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat strawberry feast!
We had always wanted to go strawberry picking, but never thought it would be on a snowy, winters day in Japan!
Seafood – don’t ask questions – just try what you are given!
Miyagi has some of the most delicious seafood in all of Japan and we spent two days straight eating and eating… and eating! Our two favourite spots for some delicious, fresh seafood was the food district of Sendai Iroha Yokocho and the sushi restaurant Kaisen Don.
Iroha Yokocho consists of two long and narrow enclosed alleyways lined with small shops, situated on the Ichibancho Mall in the center of Sendai. After walking through the alley we decided to have dinner at Sukezoh and ate some of the most delicious, fresh seafood we have ever tasted. We decided to be a little more adventurous than normal and tried an array of new dishes like jellyfish, fish liver and fresh water eel! You will need to watch the vlog below to see what we thought of each dish.
Looking back at our time in Miyagi, I can’t help but place so many activities into a “must do” column. Yes, go out and see Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima – but if you have the extra time Miyagi is less than 2 hours on the bullet train out of Tokyo and is a spot we will always remember!
A big thank you to All About Japan and the Miyagi Tourism Board for supporting Flying the Nest and sponsoring our incredible trip to Japan.
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