My Japan Airlines flight is seamless and the fastest bag claim I’ve experienced – even with my oversized snowboarding bag. I am out of the airport and on a train to Tokyo in record time. From Tokyo, it’s an easy bullet train to Sendai, the capital of the Tohoku region.
Tohoku is located in the northern part of Japan’s main island, Honshu. As a lover of the outdoors and Japanese culture, I was drawn to its six prefectures of Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Iwate, Akita and Aomori, known for their natural beauty.
You could spend a few days in Sendai alone checking out the bright colours of the Zuihō-den
Mausoleum or cuddling a fox at the Miyagi Zao fox village or spotting ‘snow monsters’ on Zao Mountain, but I choose to head north by bus to visit Matsushima, regarded as one of the top
three most scenic places in Japan.
Orange sunrise, golden temple
Arriving at Matsushima early in the morning, the orange and yellow streaks of sunrise still glow across the 260 islands of the beautiful bay. The small islands have formed into interesting and unusual shapes, and I gaze at them from Godaido, a small Buddhist temple. If you'd like to see them up close, they are also viewable through a number of boat tours
After visiting Zuiganji Temple, I try the snack of choice in Matsushima: white fish cakes that the kids can cook over an open grill.
In Hiraizumi – an hour-and-a-half north – is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Chusonji Temple. It is my favourite historic site in Tohoku with a museum and 15 pagodas, each dedicated to different prayers, like a pavilion to pray for eye health (maybe I won’t need laser eye surgery?). The museum holds a number of invaluable Buddhist relics preserved for over a thousand years, but most impressive of all is the Golden Hall, completely decorated with gold leaf and gold dust, adorned with mother of pearl, hand-carved birds and gold coins.
I have lunch at a nearby Buddhist restaurant. Being vegan doesn’t look so bad in Japan, with tofu served in four equally delicious ways alongside a variety of mushrooms and miso soup.