8 Fun Activities That You Can Experience Only In Tohoku | CoolJapan

Tohoku’s mountainous landscape and serene countryside have captivated many hikers and “hidden gem” hunters who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of city life. However, this created an image that this region is not lively enough, especially for those who are seeking adventure.

I lived in Tohoku for three years, so it has a very special place in my heart. I encourage my friends to visit this underrated region, but most of them prefer to visit places like Kanto or Kansai because they want something “fun.” But I bet this list will entice them and others to put Tohoku in their itinerary.

Here are the top eight fun activities on my list.

Pet a fox in Zao Fox Village

Zao Fox Village

Get close and pet foxes.

“What does the fox say?”

Well, foxes can’t really speak, but you can hear them howl and even pet them at Zao Fox Village in Miyagi Prefecture.

This place takes care of around 100 foxes with different fur colours — red, white, and black. Visitors can see these cuddly creatures freely roaming around the preserve, but you can’t just touch them. There’s a designated time and place where visitors are allowed to cuddle and take photos with the foxes.

Petting foxes in Tohoku

The writer petting foxes.

I grew up in the Philippines and there are no foxes there. We just see them on TV, so petting a fox was a surreal experience. The fur of the fox that I petted was white and fluffy. The foxes tend to wiggle a little bit, so you need to hold them properly and gently or else they might jump. But don’t worry, the facilitators will guide you.

Experience how locals drink at Sendai

Sendai Food on plate

Drink like a local and enjoy good food too.

Once the sun is down, the dark alleyways that are usually dim and gloomy during the daytime suddenly become bright and lively, mostly because of Japanese bars also known as “Izakaya.” 

These bars mostly have Japanese signages or sometimes a note saying “Japanese Only,” which is quite intimidating for foreign travellers. 

The good news is you can book a “Bar Hopping Tour” with Tohoku Local Secret Tours in Sendai, Miyagi and drink like a local!  On this tour, you’ll have an English-speaking guide that will introduce you to local Izakayas and tell you stories about Miyagi while drinking. 

This is one of the most entertaining tours I’ve had. The tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable about Miyagi. It’s like I was drinking with a long-lost acquaintance. I wish I discovered it earlier, so I could have recommended it to my friends. When my friends and I go out, we usually just go to the same bar because it feels safer and easier. At least now, I know there’s a convenient way to go bar-hopping.

Savour an exceptional breakfast buffet

Buffets are mostly known for “quantity over quality.” The food they offer is not something that leaves a lasting impression. Miyagi Prefecture’s Sendai Kokusai Hotel’s exquisite buffet breakfast, however, is not one of those.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food that they offer. There’s even a chef walking around and handing out croissants that reminded me of the ones I had in France. That’s how good they are!

Other than immaculate croissants, this buffet also has a lot of pastries and provide different kinds of Western and Japanese breakfast food. 

Take a boat ride in Geibikei Gorge while feeding some fish or ducks

Geibikei Gorge boat ride

Marvel at the beauty of the gorge.

Geibikei Gorge is included in Japan’s 100 greatest landscapes that you can enjoy any time of the year.

Visitors can explore it through a 90-minute boat ride where they can listen to the rower tell stories about the gorge and sing Japanese folk songs. Plus, you could see some fishes swimming along the river and even feed them.

During cold seasons, the fishes burrow themselves into the ground to hibernate. But don’t be disappointed because you’ll see ducks paddling instead and you can also feed them.

There is also a pitstop where guests can get off the boat and throw some “lucky stones” or “undama” into a hole in the cliff. It is said that you can make a wish and it will come true if you shoot a stone in the hole.

I am not good at aiming and it was freezing during the time I visited this place, hence I didn’t try it out. However, the rower who was also the guide of the boat tour did demonstrate how to do it and he did a pretty good job. My companions and I asked him what’s his secret is and he said he used to play baseball when he was a kid. I guess you can start playing baseball to prepare for when you try this activity out.

Travel to the past by riding a rickshaw around Kakunodate Samurai District

Kakunodate Samurai District display

Learn more about this side of Japan’s history.

Tohoku was home to numerous samurais during the early years of Japan. Hence, there are still a couple of “Bukeyashiki” or “samurai residences” preserved in this region. One of the best places to see them is in Akita Prefecture’s Kakunodate Samurai District.

It’s like you teleported back in time when you come here. Many of the houses bear traditional Japanese architecture and there a various cherry trees that grow along the streets, which are a stunning sight during spring.

Since I came here during winter, I didn’t get to see the Sakuras, but the trees were covered in snow. The whole street looked like a snow globe.

Woman at a samurai residence in Tohoku

The writer at one of the samurai residences.

Aside from stunning scenery, visitors can also ride a rickshaw, a two-wheeled carriage that is pulled by a person on foot, to roam around the town and experience how people back in the day travelled. Sadly, this service is not available during winter, but you can still enjoy exploring the district by visiting the two samurai residences here: Ishiguro House and Aoyagi House.

These houses display various artefacts from samurai ancestors and other antiques. You can also rent a Kimono or a samurai armour in Aoyagi House to further feel the vibe (and take lots of photos).

Even though I didn’t get to try out wearing a Kimono or a samurai armour, I did get to wear a traditional winter coat in Aoyagi House and my companions tried out lifting a real samurai sword.

Take fun photos at Akita Furusato Village

Akita Furusato Village photo wall display

Pose, snap and post at this fun space.

Speaking of taking photos, Akita Furusato Village is a theme park that the family can enjoy and get tons of photos in rain, snow or shine.

You can do so many things here: shopping, craft-making, trying Japanese food, learning about space in its planetarium, sliding down on a 5-meter-tall slide, and capturing some funny pictures at its Wonder Castle.

You can immortalise these visual illusions not just in photos but also in videos using Akita Furusato Village’s app called TRICKAR. Take tons of photos and videos and share them on social media. It’s a fun way to preserve your memories.

I was quite worried to go here because it was snowing a lot when I visited. I thought we would be wandering outside while snowing, but it actually offers a lot of indoor activities. I got to stay warm and take photos.

One of the interesting things I found in the trick-art section was how it has adapted for our generation. Not only you can take photos with visual illusions, but you can now do animation on your phone.

Watch how a deity punishes naughty kids in Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum

Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum display

Enjoy the play and learn a tip or two.

Disciplining kids is hard work, so parents who are struggling in this may want to ask the help of the Namahage, a demon-like being with either red or blue skin that chastens disobedient and lazy kids.

You can see how the deity does it by watching a play in Akita Prefecture’s Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum.

This museum is a Japanese traditional hut that is situated near a forest. When you enter the hut, you’ll be welcomed by the smell of burning wood from the “Irori” or a Japanese traditional fireplace. Then, you will need to remove your shoes and sit down on a straw mat called “Tatami.”

The human characters in the play wear a kimono, while the Namahage wears a red or blue mask and straw capes.

The play is in Japanese but a tablet with English translations of the story is provided. Even if you couldn’t read all the descriptions, you’ll still have fun watching how the Namahage acts because they are lively and quite interactive with the audience.

This was the highlight of my Tohoku trip. I love folklore and legends, so being able to see the play and interacting with the Namahage made me feel like I was experiencing it for real. It’s so much better than just reading or watching a video about it.

Don’t eat just ramen, try out Tohoku’s regional foods

Towada Barayaki grilling

Give your tastebuds a treat.

Japan has many delicious foods and each prefecture has its own specialities. In Tohoku, two of the things you should try are Kiritanpo and Towada Barayaki.

Kiritanpo is a delicacy in Akita prefecture. It is made from rice that is shaped like a sausage and roasted in fire. After that, it is added in a hotpot with chicken, green onions, Japanese parsley, burdock, mushrooms and more. It has a mild flavour and ideal food to have in cold weather.

Towada Barayaki, on the other hand, has a strong sweet flavour and is perfect to eat with rice. It is made from thin slices of beef ribs, onions and soy sauce mixed with sugar, honey or mashed apples. The dish is served on a grill. Customers will need to cook it until the sauce dries out a bit.

Between the two, Towada Barayaki really captured my tastebuds. Barayaki has a rich and sweet taste to it, while Kiritanpo is very mild.

I also liked that you can grill the Barayaki together with your friends or family, which is a nice bonding experience.

Explore more captivating sights and fun experiences in Tohoku here.

This story was created in partnership with Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization.

About the author

Maui Del Rosario is a Filipina freelance writer, illustrator, and amateur photographer, who is constantly looking for scenic places and hidden gems to shoot and write about.