Day 1: Sendai City (仙台市)
I went to Sendai for a two-day trip with my sister in summer (start of August). The Shinkansen ride took approximately 2 hours on the Yamabiko train from Tokyo station. We arrived in Sendai at noon and immediately went to our hotel to drop off our luggage.
I feel that Sendai is really similar to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It looks like an old and historic city, with European buildings dotting it’s streets near the city center. What is distinct about Sendai is its cute mascot: an onigiri (riceball) with the crescent moon.
Since we still had half a day, we decided to see a few historic sites and took the Loople bus. The Loople bus circles the central area of Sendai, showing you different attractions. You can alight and board at your leisure for a day rate of 620 yen (one day pass). You just have to show the Loople bus driver the date on the back of your pass when you alight.
Sendai Loople bus pass.
Despite the lack of an actual castle, the remains of Aoba Castle (青葉城) was probably the highlight for most people. The famous statue of Date Masamune (伊達政宗) was surrounded by tourists who were taking pictures and selfies. It was a really sunny day so it was suitable for taking pictures. If you are lucky, you might be able to take a photo with a samurai! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him. 🙁
The iconic Date Masamune statue.
We also went to Aoba-dori. This is a street filled with shops – perfect for people looking for souvenirs! In addition, it was the summer sale period and there were many people, both Japanese and tourists, shopping to their fill. It was also rather crowded despite being a weekday.
Aoba-dori was also decorated with many colourful streamers, made of paper and bamboo. This was a sign that Sendai’s Tanabata Festival (七夕まつり) or Star Festival, was going to be held soon. The sheer size and brightly coloured streamers is also iconic of Tanabata Festival, making it really famous in Japan.
Colourful and innovative streamers.
We also visited the Osaki Hachimangu shrine (大崎八幡宮). The stairs to the shrine was lined with trees on both sides. It was a nice change from walking in the hot and sunny weather.
The spacious shrine grounds.
The shrine was a little quiet on a Monday; there were few visitors. The shrine’s long history was one of the attractions – the deity enshrined was worshipped as a general guardian of the Sendai area, protecting people against calamities and evils, and also a God of good fortune, safe childbirth and victory. The entire architecture was made of wood, and only the outside had a layer of black lacquer. I didn’t have access to the inside to see the difference, but you can spot some parts of brown wood on the inner foundation.
The shrine was the last stop on the map, but it was a really serene place compared to the others. Maybe it was due to the lack of visitors, or due to the atmosphere of the shrine. Whatever it was, the shrine is a very beautiful getaway.
Day 2: Shiroishi City (白石市)
We went to Shiroishi on the second day. It was approximately 40 minutes by the JR Tohoku line. Shiroishi was slightly cooler than Sendai, but the summer heat should not be underestimated! Always be prepared with sunscreen and cooling spray, or the next best thing: Biore’s facial wipes.
Katakura Kojuro (片倉景綱)’s armour, or katchu, was on display at the Shiroishi Station. It looks so magnificent, but do not be fooled into thinking that it is the only set on display. The armour is displayed at various places in the town.
One of the many armour sets of Katakura Kojuro.
The Shiroishi Castle (白石城) was only 10 minutes away and there were signs on the ground that told us the current distance we are away from the castle. It was somewhat helpful, but it is still better to have GPS on hand for directions. It was a week day, so the streets were really empty. It may be difficult to ask for directions even if you know Japanese. However, the signs cannot be depended on entirely as the route up the mini hill is hidden. You have to take a right past the nearby supermarket and up the hill to get to the castle. Our GPS came in handy at this point.
Lovely day at Shiroishi Castle!
There is nothing much to do at the castle because it is small (compared to the Osaka Castle). It is very much a sightseeing spot; you can get to the highest part of the castle and see the museum by paying a 300 yen entry fee.
You can practice your Japanese skills as they didn’t have many English translations. Or, you can just enjoy viewing the katana and the armour sets on display. The armour sets on display are from the Katakura Clan and the Sanada clan, with signs explaining the battle between the Katakura clan and the Sanada clan.
Katakura clan armour on the left and Sanada clan armour on the right.
It seems bare and empty, but the history of the place was the real draw for me to visit the castle. There were also only Japanese visitors to the castle at the time I was there.
Next, we went to the Zao Fox Village (蔵王キツネ村). It is on a mountain and really inaccessible unless you had a car or called a taxi (which is really expensive). We asked the cashier for help to call a taxi – the ride up was about 3600 yen! The ride back to the station was 3820 yen.
On a side note, taxis in Japan don’t seem to have a on-call charge, but their starting fees are 670 yen, which was twice the charge in Singapore! However, if you are interested in going but don’t speak Japanese, always have the address and the name of the place on hand. The taxi driver will know what to do.
The Fox village did not have many visitors (again, it might be the summer heat). Some of the foxes were shedding their thick fur coats, others were lying around in the shadiest area they could find.
The foxes ignore you when you walk into the enclosure, but it is still advised to not pet them as they are not tamed. We bought a bag of feed for 100 yen and we can only open that in the designated feeding area. The foxes then start gathering around, making noises.
A resting fox.
However, if you really want to pet a fox, you can pay an additional 300 yen to carry a baby fox for 30 minutes. I felt that it was rather exorbitant, but how many chances are you going to get? The fox is so cute, even if it’s shedding. Not to worry, you will be given an apron to protect your clothes, and also a towel to wrap your arm in, in case the baby fox bites.
Look at the baby fox’s cute sleeping pose!
These two days in Sendai and Shiroishi may not seem like much, but it was one of the most enjoyable holidays I’ve been on. I have been meaning to visit these places because of their historical value and my interest in them. However, I do not highly recommend visiting the Fox Village if you are on a tight budget because the taxi prices are really high.
*Header image by 小明 大失