Hello there – we are Sarah and Eric. Together we co-run Chopsticks on the Loose (@chopsticksontheloose) and work as travel photographers and content creators. Thanks for checking out our Tohoku, Japan travel guide.
It was in London at a friend’s birthday party that we met. The rest, as they say, was history. Chopsticks on the Loose came about a couple of years later when we decided to leave our 9-5 jobs behind and travel full-time.
The Instagram page and blog were originally a way for us to stay connected to our friends and family and to share what we were getting up to. It has now grown to a community of 22,000 followers and we couldn’t be happier.
One Year Journey through Japan
After some helpful advice from locals, we made plans to visit the Tohoku region during autumn. We were told the northern region had some of the most impressive nature scenes. They were totally right about that.
We spent 8 days exploring Tohoku. Getting around this region is a little tricky using public transport as it’s less connected compared to other parts of Japan. This was especially true in the remote areas of Tohoku that we wanted to explore. In the end, we rented a car and went roadtrippin’.
Favourite Place in Tohoku: Yamadera Temple
We spent most of our time in Tohoku out in nature. So there weren’t many opportunities for us to meet locals. Although the locals we did meet were all incredibly friendly. One thing to keep in mind is that people don’t speak English in this region as it’s an area less frequented by travellers.
Tohoku is a treasure trove of incredible places to visit. Our favourite place was Yamadera Temple which is a thousand-year-old temple situated on a steep mountainside. It’s a short hike to the top but it’s a magical experience, especially when the temple is surrounded by autumn leaves.
Tohoku, Japan Travel Guide: Top 10 Experiences
Below you can find our top 10 recommendations for this Tohoku, Japan travel guide:
1. See the Autumn Colours of Tohoku
Autumn is a special time of year in Tohoku as the region lights up in colour. The trees become so colourful that the mountains, forests and parks all glow with this fiery red and gold hue. Some of the best autumn destinations are Mount Hakkoda (Aomori) and Oyasu Ravine (Akita).
2. Visit the Scenic Yamadera Temple
As mentioned before, the Yamadera Temple is one of the most beautiful temples in all of Japan. The temple is located in the mountains northeast of Yamagata City and extends high up a steep mountainside. Its name “Yamadera” literally translates to “mountain temple” in Japanese.
3. Chase the Majestic Waterfalls of Tohoku
Tatsuzawafudo Falls and Akiu Waterfall are just two examples of stunning waterfalls in the Tohoku region. The former is located in Inawashiro Town and is made up of two waterfalls – Odaki (the male fall) and Medaki (the smaller female fall). The latter, Akiu is another beauty located in Sendai.
4. Take a Boat Ride at Geibikei Gorge
Geibikei is a 2km long gorge carved out by the Satetsu River in Iwate Prefecture. The gorge makes for an awesome boat ride experience. Sit back and relax as you float down this gorge while your boatman paddles and sings old folk songs. Cliffs here tower overhead at heights of 50-100 metres.
5. Discover the Former Post Town of Ouchijuku
Visiting Ouchijuku feels like you’ve been transported back to the Japan of olden times. This former post town was once situated along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route. The architecture here is defined by thick-thatched roof buildings which house shops, restaurants and minshuku (traditional inns).
6. Explore the Secluded Town of Ginzan Onsen
Ginzan Onsen was one of the locations that inspired the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away. The town is a hot spring destination nestled in the mountains of Yamagata. It’s best known for its historic ryokan (traditional Japanese inns featuring tatami-matted rooms) lined along the river.
7. Stay at the Beautiful Obara Onsen
Obara Onsen was our favourite onsen in Japan. If you’re looking for a truly authentic onsen experience then this is it. The hot spring is nestled alongside the Shiroishi River. Its colourless and odourless waters are believed to have magical healing powers for the thousands of guests that visit each year.
8. Climb to the Okama Crater at Mount Zao
Mount Zao is one of the most impressive mountains in Tohoku standing at a height of 1840 metres. The mountain sits on the border between the Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures. Near the summit of Mount Zao is the surreal crater lake Okama Crater which you can view from a distance.
9. Marvel at the Bhuddist Enzoji Temple
The Enzoji Temple is a Buddhist temple located in the small town of Yanaizu. This is the birthplace of the lucky red cow of Fukushima known as ‘Akabeko’. The heritage of this temple goes back over 1,200 years and was constructed in a similar style to the Buddhist Kiyomizudera temples in Kyoto with large balconies.
10. Visit the Goshikinuma Lakes in Autumn
This group of beautiful lakes in Fukushima come alive when the autumn foliage starts. Each lake displays its own distinctive colour due to the volcanic elements and minerals that were spawned when Mt. Bandai erupted over 100 years ago. These colours and hues change depending on the season you visit.
Tohoku, Japan Travel Guide: Culinary Treats
The food in Tohoku is spectacular just like most of Japan. However, there is one particular treat that you have to try. Dango is a popular sweet rice dumpling and in Tohoku you can find something called the Flying Dango!
At the Genbikei Gorge one shop has decided to install a rope which delivers Dango in a wooden basket to customers in the middle of the gorge. After putting your money in the basket which sits on a cable overhanging the gorge, you knock the wooden board and your order is ready to go.
Watch your basket get pulled up to the shop across the gorge and then wait until it comes flying back down with dango and tea inside. You can try one of three different types of flavours: goma (sesame), mitarashi (sweet soy sauce) and an (red bean paste).
It’s one awesome and delicious experience!
Funny Memories Bathing at Obara Onsen
Our favourite memory from our time in Tohoku would have to be bathing at Obara Onsen. The onsen is set in a cave with the river water naturally flowing in and out (hence why no soap is allowed here). The only people you’ll find there are friendly Japanese locals who love to chat.
Trying to communicate using only hand gestures to naked locals will be a memory we’ll never forget. Just thinking about it makes us laugh!
Tohoku, Japan Travel Guide: Tips for your Visit
Tohoku is a large region so it’s important to plan your visit before going. Otherwise you could find yourself spending more time travelling than experiencing the region. Since it’s a nature focused place, we’d also recommend timing your trip with a particular season that interests you.
The region is beautiful all year round and the activities you do and scenes you see may change depending on the time of year. For example, Okama Crater is not open during the winter season but you can still see the heavily snow-covered trees of Mount Zao (also known as snow monsters).
That’s it from us – the duo behind Chopsticks on the Loose. We hope you enjoyed reading our Tohoku Japan travel guide. Enjoy your travels!