Things to do in Sendai? Where is that you ask? Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture, is the largest city in the Tohoku region of Japan. Although it’s only about 1.5 hours by bullet train from Tokyo, this city has been under the radar for many foreign travelers. Impressions of Sendai’s name may come up because it suffered through a devastating earth quake in 2011 that made international news. But people have yet to discover this resilient gem that has bounced back from the disaster and shown its vibrancy more than ever!
Sendai has a very special place in my heart. It’s where I have been calling home in Japan for the last two year. So take it from me guys, this city is an awesome destination to put on your Japan adventures list! Amongst its beautiful nature, drool worthy food, dazzling festivals, and friendly people, I fell in love with Sendai, and you just might as well. Since I will be saying sayonara to Japan this year (fanning the hot tears in my eyes right now), I decided to birth this huge listical of awesome things to do in the “City of trees”. Whether you are visiting as a traveler, or moving here to live, I hope you enjoy these bucket list ideas!
Psst check the Table of Content for activities organized by interests. I know…You can thank me later. 😉
Nature and Shrines
Walk down Jozenji Dori
Well it’s not called the “City of trees” for no reason! Jozenji Dori is the definition of this name. Running through the heart of the city, this long street is lined with many beautiful zelkova trees. If your timing’s right, you might catch a festival going on during your stroll.
Learn about Date Masamune at the Zuihōden Mausoleum
You will inevitably hear the name “Date Masamune” if you stick around long enough. He is the mighty Edo period warlord who founded Sendai. You can visit his extravagant tomb at Zuihōden Mausoleum. The ancient buildings have ornate and colorful designs that are super photogenic.
Pray at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine
Going to shrines is a big part of Japanese culture. The Osaki Hachimangu Shrine has been designated as one of the National Treasures of Japan. People come here to pray and appreciate nature. Let the serene energy of the grounds envelop you. You’ll forget that you are even in a city!
Take a hike to the Aoba Castle ruins
The Aoba Castle is located on Aoba Mountain. It used to be the home of the Date clan but it was sadly destroyed during the 90th century. Today, you can still admire the castle walls, the great views on top of the mountain, and the iconic statue of Date Masamune that often appears on posters about Sendai.
Have a cherry blossom picnic in Tsutsujigaoka Park
Hands down the prettiest place in Sendai during the spring (in my opinion at least). Imagine being surrounded by weeping sakura trees, with pink petals dropping down occasionally, while you sit on a picnic blanket, eating and drinking with friends. Pure bliss.
Bike around Dainohara Forest Park
Dainohara Park will make you feel like you are away from civilization. Take advantage of the beautiful trails and the forest. A great place for jogging, biking, and outdoor activities in general.
Sendai has several famous food. The most representative has got to be grilled beef tongue, aka “gyutan”. Now if that doesn’t sound too appealing to you now, don’t knock it till you try it. So juicy and tender, these beef pieces will have your taste buds dancing! The most famous chain to try gyutan in Sendai is Rikyu. But my personal favourite place to get delicious gyutan for cheap is 一仙 (Issen) near Hirose Dori station.
Another quintessential food of Sendai is zu zu zu zunda! Zunda is a sweet paste made with green soybeans, aka edamame. Zunda mochi is the traditional treat, but you must also try a zunda milkshake! You can find Zunda Saryo in Sendai station that whips up this popular sweet drink.
Have a seafood bowl breakfast
Seafood lovers rejoice! Sendai is renowned in Japan for fresh sea products. One of the best places to eat seafood is 杜の市場 (Mori no ichiba). The mouth watering offerings are reasonably priced. Try a mixed fish bowl, or oysters as big as your hand!
**Note**Concerns about food safety in Sendai post 2011 earthquake + radiation disaster? Here in Sendai, along with all of east Japan, food goes through rigorous testings to ensure that they are safe to consume. Read this article here to find out more about radiation measuring in Sendai.
Stuff your face with sushi
Not only is Sendai a proud producer of seafood, it’s also famous for tasty rice. So that makes a killer combo for…you guessed it! Sushi! There are many places to eat scrumptious sushi in the city, but check out this list for some of the finest gourmet sushi experiences.
Eat sasa kamaboko
One more local seafood delicacy is sasa kamaboko, a fish cake made in to the shape of a bamboo leave. It’s typically grilled and eaten with rice. Keep an eye out for these at restaurants!
Join an imoni (芋煮) party
If you are around during autumn, imoni is a popular fun food experience in Miyagi. Imoni is a taro and meat soup usually cooked and eaten outdoors with friends. Drink some comforting soup, appreciate pretty fall leaves, chill out with some good company…it’s the ultimate outdoor party!
Learn local history at the Sendai City Museum
For cultural and history buffs, the Sendai City Museum is a good place to start. So many fascinating artifacts that tell the stories of the Date clan and Sendai. Most pieces out of these collections are over hundreds of years old.
Dance in the Aoba festival
This grand celebration is a 350 years tradition that takes place every spring. The streets are filled with music, festive floats, food stalls, and most importantly, colorful dancers performing the Sendai Suzume Odori (sparrow dance). The energy is infectious and you will inevitably start dancing and clapping along. If you live in Sendai, you can even find a dance team to join yourself and perform in Aoba Matsuri, like I did.
Make a wish at Tanabata
The Tanabata Festival takes place all across Japan in the summer time. However, The one held in Sendai is indisputably the most famous. It’s a festival where people pray for good fortunes and write wishes on colored paper, which they tie to bamboo trees. During this time, gorgeous paper decorations adorns the city, especially the downtown core.
Enjoy music at the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival
Music lover? Check out the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival that occurs every September. The main street of Sendai is filled with sweet sounds of music. Although it’s called a “jazz” festival, you can expect many genres from Rock, to Hip Hop, to Blues. Grab a beer and a seat by the side of the street while you watch a live show. Ahh vibes on point!
Feel the beat at the Michinoku Yosakoi Festival
Can’t get enough of dancing! Yosakoi is a tradition dance performed in many places in Japan. Sendai hosts one of the three biggest Yosakoi festivals in the country. The event takes place annually in October. You can observe dancers performing spectacular routines in mesmerizing costumes!
Swoon in the glows of the Pageant of Starlight
The idea of winter illumination is taken to the next level in Sendai. In December, the famous Jozenji Street is transformed into a total wonderland of lights. 600,000 of lights to be exact, all wrapped around the zelkova trees along the street. It’s super romantic and beautiful! Make sure to take a date ;).
Gain prosperity and health at the Donto Festival
Out with the old and in with the new! In January, a traditional New Year’s event happens at the Osaki Hachiman shrine called “Dontosai”. At this event, people burn New Year’s decorations in a huge bonfire, and pray for good health for the upcoming year. The more bizarre part of the ceremony is men marching around dressed in cotton clothing that only covers them from their belly to their legs. Let’s remember that this is going on in the dead of winter. Brrrrrrrr.
Paint a Kokeshi doll
Where my crafty people at? It’s super fun to make your own Kokeshi doll. These little Japanese wooden dolls have gained fame all around the world and they make perfect souvenirs. Miyagi has its own traditional types of Kokeshi. There are several workshops around Sendai where you can learn about them and paint a doll yourself. Check out this page for more info.
Have fun at Yagiyama Zoo and Benyland
Sendai has a surprising number of cool spots for animal enthusiasts. The Yagiyama Zoo is a popular place for families and kids. And after you’ve mingled with adorable elephants, you can head next door for Benyland, an amusement park with many roller coasters and rides!
Play at the Owl Café
That’s right. No need to envy Osaka or Tokyo’s Owl Cafes. Sendai got its own. There are apparently more than one, but the most convenient one to find is located right on the famous Clis Road. Check out Fukurou Café’s website here. Other than owls, they have other cute animals like rabbits, meerkats, and piglets.
Admire sea creatures at the Uminomori Aquarium
Dolphins, sea lions, penguins, and more amazing sea creatures await at the Uminiomori Aquarium. With nearly 100 water tanks, the site has many fascinating attractions as well as shows.
Live the dream on Tashirojima Cat Island
Out of the many enchanting animal kingdoms in Japan, have you heard of Cat Island? Yes there’s a paradise full of fur balls in Miyagi. Be overwhelmed with cuteness when you arrive on Tashirojima, an island 2 hours northeast from Sendai. You can even live in a lodge designed to look like a cat! A total dream!
Take a weekend trip to Zao Fox Village
A Cat Island AND a Fox Village? Yes Miyagi just has it all! Just one hour drive away from Sendai is a sanctuary for foxes. More than 100 foxes roam free in a large nature preserve. Visitors can see these foxes up close and even feed them. Eek! *Cry tears of happiness
City life and Shopping
Browse in Sendai station
I always say Sendai has all the conveniences of a big city, but minus the crowds. For those hoping for some good shopping, you won’t be disappointed. There are ample options, but you don’t have to elbow through people like in Tokyo. Sendai station is a great place to start browsing. If you are looking for quality souvenirs, this is where it’s at!
Shop in S-Pal and Parco
Right next to Sendai station, you will find several beautiful malls: S-Pal, Parco, and Parco 2. And these are just the big ones. From clothes, to shoes, to lifestyle goods, all your shopping needs are covered!
Go up the AER building
AER is a mixed used complex near Sendai station. Interesting facts: It was the tallest building in all of Tohoku region until 2010, and its initial construction was partially built by robots (whoa!).But it’s getting special mention for two other reasons. 1. It has a fricken Pokemon centre! A slightly nerdy suggestion but I’m sure all Pokemon fans would be delighted. Head to the third floor for some Pikachu magic. 2. If you go all the way to the top (the 31st floor) of the building, you can see a wonderful panorama of Sendai city.
Buy a fukubukuro
New Year is a time for sales in Japan. A big popular event for businesses is to sell “Fukubukuros”: bags filled with goodies whose value is beyond the normal price. Guess where you can get the best fukubukuros in the country? Yes Sendai! Sendai is reputed to give out the most lavish gifts to customers. Major score! So whether you are looking for some new electronics, clothes, or stationery goods, better line up for these amazing surprise bags!
Experience Clis Road and Ichibancho
It’s highly likely you will find yourself wandering along Clis Road and/or Ichibancho at some point in Sendai. These are two covered shopping arcades running perpendicularly to each other in the core of downtown. You can find many shops and entrainments, from clothing stores, to cafes, to karaoke bars.
Visit the Asaichi Morning Market
I think you can really feel the lively spirits of a neighborhood when you take a stroll through their markets. Asaichi is an open air market behind the E-Beans building near Sendai station. Fresh flowers, beautiful seafood, tasty looking snacks are just some of the things on display. Enjoy the mélange of sights and smells!
Chase waterfall in Akiu
A couple day trips have already been mentioned on the list, but there are many more worth noting! Akiu is an area near Sendai famous for its stunning natural beauty. The Akiu Great Falls is one of the iconic views that you must see!