Thanks to Tohoku Tourism, I had the opportunity to check out Tohoku for 5 days. This is my 4th trip to Japan in 2 years and I am loving Japan more and more! To access Tohoku, you can fly to Tokyo and then take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station up north. To maximise time, I took an overnight flight on ANA. There are many flights to Tokyo daily so it’s quite easy to get there.
Plane food seldom tastes good, but every plane meal to and from Japan is always much better than the usual.
I had a wonderful flight on ANA once again. I love the service, food and cleanliness. The Dreamliner is still considered new after all.
My first stop was Sendai of Miyagi Prefecture. It’s the most urban city in Tohoku. Miyagi was unfortunately partly destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami almost 4 years ago. However most of it has been restored and is beautiful once again. I got to check out Sendai and Matsushima of the Miyagi Prefecture this time. I have to say that they have both exceeded my expectations. The food was SO GOOD. I wish I had more time here to eat!
JR East Pass
To get to Sendai, I took the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho Station. From there I took the JR Yamanote Line to Tokyo Station, which is the biggest interchange. All these are included if you have the JR East Pass, which I had. It gives me 5 days of travel on the JR East lines which covers the whole of Tohoku and some parts of Kanto like Tokyo. The pass lasts for 14 days and you can select 5 days within to use. It costs ¥22000 (~S$240) and is only available to foreigners. To get the JR Pass you can purchase an exchange order in Singapore or online and then change for the pass at JR ticket offices in Japan. You can find the list of ticket offices and opening hours here.
There is little information found online with the clarity I wanted about the JR East Pass so I shall share more about it here. Basically you can take the Shinkansen and Limited Express trains as well as all other trains in the included region with the pass. You do not have to top up for Limited Express fare or seat reservation fee.
For the Tohoku Shinkansen, you may want to take the Hayabusa trains, which is the most useful and fastest train especially if you are going up north to Shin Aomori. The Hayabusa has no unreserved cars are reservation is compulsory. If you are travelling without a pass, you need to pay for seat reservation. With the JR East Pass, reservation is free.
You can reserve online 3 days before your travel, but if you do so, you must collect your reservation ticket at least 1 day before. Therefore, you should not reserve online for the first day upon arrival in Japan because you can’t collect your ticket. You need to produce your JR Pass when collecting so that you do not pay the reservation fee.
Alternatively, you can just reserve on the day itself or whenever at the ticket offices. It’s much easier and for my case in the 5 days I was there, there are ample seats available.
Shinkansen Komachi to Sendai!
Komachi and Hayabusa trains are joined together to travel from Tokyo to Morioka. Thereafter the Hayabusa will proceed to Shin-Aomori while Komachi travels to Akita. Hayabusa trains are the fastest on this line and it took less than 2h to get to Sendai.
There are food & drinks available for purchase on the shinkansen. Sorry but this is my very first time on the world famous shinkansen and I was very excited.
Upon reaching Sendai I noticed these booths everywhere! It is said that Sendai station has the most number of ekibens. Ekibens are bentos designed to be consumed on the shinkansen.
Miso Akamaru – ¥860
First lunch in Sendai was Ippudo Ramen. I know. This can be found in Singapore. I Know. This is not Sendai food. I kinda wished I has chosen something local instead (especially after a very good gyutan dinner later on, making me realise how good the food is) but Ippudo in Japan is better than Ippudo in Singapore and New York!
This one is a seasonal special spicy miso soup with curly noodles, somewhat Hokkaido style, and limited for winter only.
Akamaru Ramen – ¥830
I had the akamaru ramen, Hakata style with straight noodles, similar to the one in Singapore, but better.
At Sendai station there are several Zunda Saryo shops everywhere selling Sendai’s famous zunda mochi and other zunda products in gift boxes but there’s a sit in cafe at the lower level of the station.
Zunda is actually edamame beans ground into a delicious paste. We seldom see this anywhere else.
Zunda Mochi set.
This is my first time having Zunda and the taste was very unique. After getting the hang of it I like it! I am missing this right now.
No it wasn’t nighttime yet. This was only 4pm but it was a cold and rainy day.
Towards the west exit of Sendai station you can find such shopping streets, similar to Shinsaibashi in Osaka and Kawaramachi in Kyoto.
There are other shopping streets nearby but I didn’t venture far because it was raining all day.
In a hidden alley there’s a place specialising in Gyutan called Shinsuke. Gyutan is everywhere in Sendai and it was hard for me to choose just one place but I narrowed it down to 2 shops which were non chain after surfring Tabelog. I ended up in Shinsuke because I happened to be nearby by chance. The shop is tiny and homely. Such setting gives me confidence that it’ll be good.
The menu was simple. I just ordered the set which cost ¥1500.
Raw gyutan was cooked over the charcoal grill.
Gyutan Set – ¥1500
THIS IS SO GOOD.
Surprisingly it was good, to me. I know, it shouldn’t be a surprise but the only other gyutan I’ve eaten was in Singapore at yakiniku and korean BBQ restaurants and they were pungent and tough like rubber. This one was totally different. It was almost like wagyu steak, which is why I am surprised!
The pungent smell was minimal and the texture was so tender. This is so good, and only ¥1500 (S$17)?! I wished I knew earlier that gyutan was so good. I would arrange for several meals of gyutan.
I have to return to Sendai for this.
For those who are put off by the idea of eating tongue.. well you’re missing out on something really delicious! It’s not gross at all. Really.
Shinsuke is located in this alley. It’s not secluded at all because it leads out to the shopping street on one end, and Sakurano Department Store on the other end. Restaurants hidden in such alleys tend to taste better right?
Rainy night in Sendai doesn’t stop me from taking a nice picture!
The hotel I put up at was Sendai Kokusai Hotel. The room was small and is wasn’t fantastic but it had everything I needed, including a big umbrella which I used for the whole day because it was raining from early morning to 1am.
The breakfast however, was a grander affair than the hotel room.
They sell these cakes at their souvenir shop. What a good way to let guests sample their cakes. These were not bad!
Gyudon (without rice for me) was comparable to Yoshinoya!
They were selling the curry roux at the souvenir shop too. This was delicious! This is actually my first time from many trips having curry in Japan. I love Japanese curry.
I love onsen egg! Was so happy to see this.
These weren’t so good. The gyutan wasn’t anything like what I had the previous night. Not all gyutan tastes the same so only go for the good ones!
I was so happy to see this. They are selling it at their souvenir shop too. Almost as good as Zunda Saryo’s.
Finally a clear day in Sendai!
After a half hour journey on the Senseki Line from Sendai Station, I arrived at Shiogama to take the Matsushima Bay Bassho Cruise.
Prior to my arrival in Japan I actually emailed them informing that I will be coming for the 9am boat today with intention to reserve (online reservation gets 10% off).
I arrived at Marine Gate at about 8:57 or so and they were actually expecting me with my name written on the receipt already! It costs ¥1350 for the 50min boat ride.
Best part: Whole boat was mine!
Perhaps 9am on a weekday isn’t a popular timeslot and I was so happy. It felt like VIP service.
Approaching Matsushima. I liked Matsushima. It felt really relaxing being here.
Every new place I go I will hunt for food, of course. In Matsushima the oysters are famous. I wasn’t hungry yet but headed to Matsushima Fish Market in search of some Matsushima oysters.
Oyster Burger? I didn’t try it though.
At the entrance of Matsushima Fish Market you can find an oyster eatery. They have oyster buffet too, about ¥2000 for 45mins if I’m not wrong. I wasn’t too hungry so it was better to order a small portion.
I seldom have cooked oysters and I prefer them raw most of the time, but these broiled oysters weren’t that bad. The oyster was plump and meaty. It tastes better with the ponzu sauce provided.
I’m glad I caught the last of autumn before the season ends, especially in a beautiful serene place like Matsushima.
I took the Senseki Line from Matsushimakaigan station back to Sendai which was about 7mins walk from the pier. If I had more time here, I would visit the temple and probably the aquarium which was nearby, or probably just soak up the relaxing atmosphere in the park.
Back at Sendai, I did some shopping before heading to collect my luggage to leave for Shin-Aomori. My collective haul for shopping on this trip will be posted later.
Lunch was ekiben!
Gyutan ekiben is limited to Sendai and some other stations on this line, i think. However, this is just for novelty really. For good gyutan you can get it everywhere else in Sendai. They station itself has a Gyutan Street on the 3F where you can find a cluster of chain Gyutan restaurants.
Boarding the Hayabusa this time!
Pretty bento and a Taiyaki from Taikichi near Sendai station.
Go to Shinsuke for Gyutan. This does Sendai’s reputation of Gyutan no justice.
Bitter chocolate cream taiyaki was SO GOOD! I could have another of this.
After a 2h+ ride on the Hayabusa I arrived at Shin-Aomori!
Had the other Taiyaki from Taikichi later that night. This one was Zunda cream AND IT’S THE BEST! The Zunda paste is slightly sweet and salty which makes it very interesting. This can only be found in Sendai I think!
1 day is not enough for Miyagi! I wish I could enjoy more of Sendai, probably taking the sight seeing bus, visiting Aoba Castle and trying more gyutan and food further away from Sendai Station on a day with good weather. I also wish I could explore more of the other cities in Miyagi.
I guess I’ll be back soon in the near future! Afterall I definitely will go to Japan several times a year and Sendai is easily accessible.