Sendai – Worth a Look!

Unless you’ve visited Japan or are planning a cross-country tour, you might not have come across this mid-sized Japanese city. Sendai is the second-largest city north of Tokyo, with a population of about one million inhabitants, making it pretty massive by Canadian standards, but nothing all that impressive for Japan. The city is nicknamed The City of Trees (Mori no Miyako),  and if it’s not already on your radar, I hope to change your mind!

Sendai is relatively easy to access by train – the city is about two hours north of Tokyo by Shinkansen (make sure to get that JR Pass!!). It’s modern, easily navigated, clean, friendly and definitely worth adding to your Japan itinerary. Here are just a few reasons why!

Matsushima

One of our days in Sendai was spent exploring the coastal area of Matsushima,  a small town who’s bay has been listed as one of Japan’s three most scenic views for centuries. The region escaped major damage in the 2011 earthquake due to its sheltered location.

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Winter isn’t exactly the best time to visit Matsushima – it didn’t snow while we were there, but it was very, very cold, so be sure to bundle up! Still, there was plenty to see and admire in this picturesque seaside town.

We explored the historic Zuiganji Temple (I would recommend visiting Sendai before Kyoto, to avoid being influenced by temple fatigue), a famous and carefully maintained zen temple. The wooded grounds are beautiful, and thankfully escaped serious earthquake damage as well. Within the temple grounds, and included with your admission, is the Zuiganji Seiryuden Art Museum, which houses centuries-old paintings, sculptures, swords, helmets, armour and other historical artefacts. English signage is limited, but the museum is still worthy of a visit should you be visiting the temple, as it has some pretty fascinating works on display, especially the dramatic samurai armour, which looks like something straight out of a film.

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We had tea and sweets in Kanrantei, a tea house that belonged to that legendary historical figure Date Masumune himself, curled up with a heater and looking out over the scenic bay. The tea house was entirely empty, which meant we could enjoy the stunning views in complete peace.

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We also discovered one of the  most adorable independent coffee shop we’d ever seen, which celebrates the proprietor’s love of Albert Einstein and extensive jazz record collection. Thank you for a wonderful cup of coffee, Cafe Albert!

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If you visit in the spring or summer, definitely consider visiting one of the incredibly scenic islands that dot the bay around Matsushima, and absorb some of that world-renowned view.

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Like many coastal towns, Matsushima comes alive in the summer, and was pretty empty when we visited, which did give the area a bit of a melancholic feel, but which also meant we had the place to ourselves!

Downtown Sendai

Downtown Sendai is compact and centered around the JR station, making it easy to explore and navigate on foot. The city is beautifully green, even in the dead of winter, with trees and parks dotted everywhere.

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While strolling through the city you can spot many places to enjoy Sendai’s signature dish, beef tongue! Born out of necessity (beef tongues were often thrown away by the occupying Americans in the years following the Second World War, making them a cheap ingredient for local residents), gyutan has become a treasured local delicacy. It can be a bit chewy if overcooked, but is otherwise pretty tasty! The city is also home to plenty of fantastic eateries representing a variety of different cuisines, should beef tongue not be quite your fancy.

The downtown public library, the Sendai Mediateque, is absolutely worth a visit, especially if you’re a library or architecture aficionado. Opened in 2001, the library is architecturally stunning, a  modern celebration of glass and steel. According to the architect,

“Sendai Mediatheque embodies our proposal for a completely new concept of architecture. …The complex includes a Mediatheque, an art gallery, a library, an information service center for people with visual and hearing impairments and a visual image media center. During the open competition and subsequent phase of basic designing, our primary effort was on demolishing the archetypal ideas of an art museum or library to reconstruct a new idea of architecture called “mediatheque” utilizing the state-of-the-art media.” 

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In winter, Sendai offers its own illumination, which is theatrically called the Sendai Pageant of Starlight. A grand title, yes, but the light display more than lives up to its name! The trees along the Jozenjidori avenue are filled with about 600,000 twinkly lights, creating a beautiful, romantic wintery stroll, and a photographer’s heaven. When we visited, the street ended in a beautifully lit and colourfully decorated park that included a tiny outdoor skating rink, a tiny Christmas market, and two beer tents, which served yet more gyutan. A lovely little winter moment!

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Sendai is a charming, modern, mid-sized city filled with parks and trees to enjoy, and plenty of sights to see and activities to do. We only scratched the surface, with only two days to explore this delightful city. Why not add Sendai to your next itinerary?

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18 Comments

  • Reply Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

    What a fabulous place. I particularly like the sound of the tea house in Kanrantei those views over the bay are beautiful. Thanks for linking your travel memories to #MondayEscapes

    June 5, 2017 at 8:52 pm
  • Reply Ruth

    Really like to read you Japan posts! I am learning a lot about different places. Enjoy the way you approach cities. #MondayEscapes

    June 6, 2017 at 3:47 am
  • Reply Kat

    Fabulous pics! No, I haven’t heard of Sendai though initially I thought it was in Korea coz it sounds like Hyundai?? I know, I know, bad joke! 🙂 Thanks for sharing! #citytripping

    June 7, 2017 at 1:14 pm
  • Reply fifi + hop

    A place with a name like City of Trees sounds right up my alley! I can imagine winter is more melancholy like you say, but at least you didn’t have to deal with throngs of tourists :). #mondayescapes

    June 7, 2017 at 6:40 pm
  • Reply Vanessa Brune

    I would love to visit a traditional Japanese tea house!

    June 7, 2017 at 6:42 pm
  • Reply Addie

    Seems like a great place! I’d love to visit Japan again someday – I was last there when I was 13.

    June 7, 2017 at 11:28 pm
  • Reply WanderMum

    Sendai sounds utterly charming. You’ve definitely inspired me to visit. Would love to explore more of Japan. Would love to chill out at the tea house. Oh and I agree the JR pass is essential! Thanks for linking #citytripping

    June 8, 2017 at 5:44 am
  • Reply pigeonpairandme

    You’re right, it does look incredibly pretty, with all the twinkly lights! It must have been fabulous to have the tea house all to yourselves. #Citytripping

    June 8, 2017 at 9:36 am
  • Reply catdismukes

    Sounds like a great place to visit! The tea house seems delicious. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    June 9, 2017 at 6:29 am
  • Reply Shona @ paraphernalia.co

    Sendai looks cool , pardon the pun. Your photos are great, they really give us the feel of your visit. It may have been cold but how nice to have so many places to yourself.

    June 9, 2017 at 1:56 pm
  • Reply sliva (@sliva_app)

    Haven’t heard of this city before, but looks like a place to visit when traveling around Japan. Thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel

    June 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm
  • Reply Katy

    Oh Japan you are calling me! I had heard of Sendai by name only so thanks for the insight into this city. Not sure about the gyutan though and I’m pretty adventurous! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    June 12, 2017 at 6:42 pm
  • Reply RobRob @TravelLatte(.net)

    Matsushima was one of the first places on our Japan bucket list! Cafe Albert is in there now, too – always fun to meet a fellow fan of jazz and coffee. 🙂 Thanks for the tips and ideas – we’re pinning this one for planning our Japan itinerary! #FeetDoTravel

    June 12, 2017 at 11:51 pm
  • Reply Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)

    What a fabulous charming town to visit in Japan. Love how it lights up at night. Not sure about the beef tongues but love the temple and the coffee! #feetdotravel

    June 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm
  • Reply Shruti Prabhu

    Sendai looks like a lovely town. So great when you get a place all to yourself. What are those sweets served with tea? They look yummy!

    June 13, 2017 at 5:53 pm
  • Reply Primorsky Krai

    Beef tongue looks so good. However what about beer?

    June 14, 2017 at 9:46 am
  • Reply oregongirlaroundtheworld

    I had not heard of Sendai – but it definitely looks like a scenic stop! I’m a sucker for twinkly lights at Christmas, but would probably prefer to explore the islands by the sea come summer! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    June 15, 2017 at 8:10 am
  • Reply Travel Lexx

    This is pretty bad for someone who prides himself as a geography geek, but I haven’t even heard of Sendai before and I’ve now been to Japan twice! Seriously need to get my map out and make my way there at the next opportunity. Looks like a great place to explore and Cafe Albert is perfect for holing up with a book for a few hours! Thanks for the post – really useful!

    June 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm
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