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Sendai City is most known for 3 things; Date Masamune, Gyutan, and being Tohoku Region’s largest city. With a history as a castle town, it is no wonder many history buffs love visiting Sendai for a cultural experience. With greenery and a river, it is a place of beauty.
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Sendai’s history began as a castle town centred around Sendai Castle that was built by Date Masamune during the Edo Period. Located more than 100 metres above sea level, the castle made for a mighty fortress with natural defences. Another reason Date Masamune chose this location was Sendai’s central location accessible by ocean and roads. He proceeded to pave Sendai’s future with many wondrous achievements including the first voyage by Japanese to Europe which became known as the “Keicho(-era) Mission to Europe”.
There are many half-day or full day tours dedicated to Date Masamune. These tours bring you to places relevant to the general. There are also food tours where you will be introduced to Date Masamune inspired food - it is said that the samurai general loved food and enjoyed cooking.
※ Sendai City, “History”
One of the best times to visit Sendai is during summers to escape the Tokyo heat. Since it's in the northern area, the average temperatures are lower than central and southern parts of Japan.
Also known as Green City - sometimes going as far as to say the Greenest City - Jozenji-dori and Aoba-dori in Sendai City are lined with rows of Zelkova Serrata trees, better known as Japanese Elm or Keyaki 欅 in Japanese. These trees, the Serrata variation, are unique to Japan. The trees are a vibrant green in summers and provide adequate shade. The Jozenji-dori area in particular has a European vibe.
Without further ado, let’s look at some places you don’t want to miss when visiting Sendai.
Also known as Sendai Castle, Aoba Castle Ruins is what’s left of the once great castle built by Date Masamune. Aside from a grand statue depicting Date Masamune on horseback, you can see the remaining guard towers and stone wall foundations of the castle. There is also a museum dedicated to the history of the castle which is worth a visit for a look at a castle model of how Aoba Castle looked in its prime. Last but not least, the great view of Sendai City day and night tops the cake.
※ Travel to Tohoku, “Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)”
A must visit on any Date Masamune tour is Osaki Hachiman Shrine, commissioned to be built by Date Masamune himself. The shrine’s main hall with fine ornate decorations is a designated National Treasure of Japan. The Sendai clan believed that the shrine’s deity protected the city as well as blessed them. The shrine celebrates many grand festivals including a purification ceremony called the
The tomb and resting place of Date Masamune is a must-visit for Japanese history lovers. The mausoleum has been reconstructed in its original style - Momoyama ornate architecture - making it a grand sight to see with bright colours and intricate woodwork. Nearby Zuihoden is Kansenden, the second Date Lord’s mausoleum, and Zennoden, the third Date Lord’s mausoleum. The Zuihoden Museum exhibits grave treasures excavated together with the three Date Lord’s skeletons as well as statues made in their likeness based on their skeletal remains.
Sendai Mediatheque alongside Jozenji-dori is a community centre with a modern design. With glass walls that let its visitors overlook Jozenji-dori and its rows of keyaki trees, the view is especially beautiful during winter illumination as the building practically glows with the soft glow of Christmas lights. Aside from a library and an open square, the building also has a cafe to enjoy a coffee break and exhibition spaces for events you can visit.
This gigantic 100 metres tall statue of Kannon was the tallest statue in the world for 3 years when it was first completed in 1991. The ivory white statue depicts Kannon standing with a jewel in her hand. The jewel is said to grant the people’s wishes. For 500 yen, you can even enter the statue for a look around. The inside consists of 12 floors exhibiting various sacred statues and the Buddha sacred jewel at the heart of Kannon.
King of Gyutan is what Sendai is known as when it comes to food which is why you need to give it a try. Gyutan is beef tongue; it is one of the best beef parts and an extremely popular meat choice when it comes to yakiniku, or Japanese barbecue. Let’s have a look at a selection of restaurants to try the best Gyutan in Sendai.
Photo Credit: Aji Tasuke
Established by Keishiro Sano, the creator of Sendai’s well known local specialty Gyutan-yaki. Since the restaurant first opened in 1948 till now, the original recipe created by Keishiro Sano is still being used. For over 70 years this restaurant has remained, serving one of the best Gyutan in Sendai at an affordable price.
There are also branch restaurants you can try, especially since the Honten (flagship store) can get pretty crowded.
Named after Date Masamune, Date no Gyutan is a Gyutan specialty restaurant that first opened in 1991. They have six branches in Sendai City, the most popular of course being the flagship restaurant near Sendai Station. If you’re in a rush for time, they also sell Gyutan in souvenir packs.
Keishiro Sano’s disciple established this restaurant which has been operating for around 50 years now. Using the traditional method of preparing Gyutan, the classic salted beef tongue sells out fast thanks to its sheer deliciousness and reasonable (cheap) price! You can enjoy a 6-piece Gyutan set meal for only 1,400 yen.
If you’re looking to get to Sendai as fast as you can, the Shinkansen is your best bet. Using the Tohoku Shinkansen, you can get there in 1.5 to 2 hours. From Tokyo Station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen directly to Sendai Station for around 10,000 yen (one-way). Prices may be higher during peak seasons. This route is covered by the Japan Rail Pass - more about it here at our dedicated article - which means big savings!
If you don’t mind travelling overnight, there are highway bus services from Shinjuku Station to Sendai. This is a super cheap option that costs from 2,000 ~ 5,000 depending on route, travel time, and seat option. There are night bus options so you can sleep through the night and arrive at Sendai in the morning ready for a day of fun!
Your best friend when it comes to getting around Sendai will be
Loople Sendai. A bus service dedicated to bringing tourists to the various tourist attractions in Sendai City. With easily accessible stations and frequent buses every 15 minutes, you’ll not have to worry about transport whatsoever. A single ride costs a hefty 260 yen (Adult) so we recommend getting a 1-day pass costing 630 yen (Adult) for unlimited use. If you find your itinerary needing the use of a subway, they also have a pass covering that too!
Sendai is frequently depicted in anime/manga as a high school trip destination or history buff's dreamland. Sendai’s charm is entirely hidden until you visit the city itself so take that opportunity as soon as you can. Follow the footsteps of Date Masamune as you go on a historical tour through the city, enjoy nature in the wondrous green avenues, and dine on the best of Sendai’s local delicacies. There’s plenty of fun (and learning) to be had in Sendai!
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