Sendai’s tourist appeal is based mainly around historical heritage, the many parks, and a handful of beautiful attractions just outside the city. They call it the City of Trees, and it’s easy to see why – the city seems to have a love affair with zelkova, gingko and cherry trees, each of which are spectacularly beautiful.
The Date samurai clan, and especially Masumune (the samurai who helped found the city), is highly revered here. Weirdly enough, the city’s main attraction, which was the clan’s castle, is an empty lot – it’s where the castle USED to be before it was destroyed. Today, the closest you can get to sightseethe founders is at the Zuiho Temple Shrine, where Masumune and other important clan members are interred. Other than the many shrines, historic appeal is confined to museums such as Sendai City Museum of History and Folklore and the Sendai City Museum.
Of green spaces, there are many. The city’s favourite such attraction is the Jozenji-dori Avenue, an elegant boulevard of zelkova trees. See the lovely wooded area around the old castle place. Many of the parks are on hilly areas, which brings us to the next attraction type – the lookouts. Sendai has so many excellent and atmospheric viewpoints that not bringing carrying your camera everywhere would be silly. Check the AER Lookout Terrace, Miyagikencho Outlook Hall, the gazebo at AtagoJinja Shrine and of course, the castle area itself.
Shopping is best at Mitsui Outlet Park and though the nightlife is active, it’s not really outstanding. The Mediatheque is quite an architectural achievement.
Finally, those wanting to head out of the city have a lovely combination of attractions to look forward to – the Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory Miyagikyo Distillery, the mystical Akiu Falls, the river of which flows into the atmospheric Rairaikyo gorge. All these areas bring out different shades of beauty for every season.
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What to Do in and around Sendai-shi
Enjoy 30 best Sendai-shi attractions and points of interest to choose from!
It's a little humorous that a city's main attraction is a whole lot of nothing. This is where the Aoba Castle USED to be. The poor structure, once a grand and mighty edifice built during beginning of the Edo period, was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes. Then came the Meiji Restoration and the Allied bombings of WWII, leaving naught but a husk of the former fortification. At this point, the only item of worth noticing here is the statue of feudal lord Date Masamune on horseback. There is a museum nearby on the history of the castle. Also nearby is a shrine with a small museum on military history. But before you move on, make sure to take in the view. The castle was built on a plateau atop a high hill, and the panorama of Sendai you get from here is unbeatable. You can climb up the hill if you wish, for some gruelling exercise. The view at night is quite nice too.
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Jozenji Dori, Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi-ken, Japan
12:01 am - 12:00 am
This street alone could qualify Sendai for its title 'City of Trees'. A beautiful 700 metre pathway stretching from Nishi Park to Kotodai Park runs down a shopping street, flanked on either side by twin lines of the majestic zelkova trees. The street runs east to west, marked at intervals by beautiful and elegant sculptures by various artists, including Emilio Greco. This is the city's favourite event location - the Jozenji Streetjazz Festival in autumn and the Pageant of Starlight in winter are particularly famous. Outside of the boulevard runs a moderately upscale shopping street, complete with eateries and cafes.
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23-2 Otamayashita, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture 980-0814, Japan
09:00 am - 04:30 pm
Masumune Date founded Sendai, so it is fitting that Sendai is where he was laid to rest, here in this mausoleum. Though the building you see today is not the original work of beauty (burned down in WWII), the Momoyama architectural traditions that went into the original's making have been preserved in this recreation. The grounds, which are shaded by great cedar trees, are serene, and also hold the mausoleums of the second and third of the clan - Tadamune and Tsunamune. The accompanying museum here has burial artefacts on display, portraits and relics of the rulers, and a documentary movie playing on a loop. On weekends, there are free guided tours.
It is unfortunate that for the most part, this tour will have to be restricted to Japanese speaking visitors only. It's not that foreign language speakers aren't allowed… it's that they don't have an English language tour yet. So, unless you're a whiskey aficionado who can't stand the thought of leaving behind a whole distillery unvisited (and you don't speak Japanese), you'll want to avoid visiting. For that happy crowd that does speak the language, the fascinating tour will take you not just through the distilling process, but also tell you the story of the man who founded the distillery in the first place. The site, enclosed by mountains on all sides, and at the confluence of two rivers, is worth visiting just for the scenery. The buildings themselves are utterly charming. And of course, at the end of the tour, you can sample one glass each of three different brands of wine (unless you're the designated driver, in which case they'll give you a soft drink).
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San mall Ichibancho shopping street promotion association Japan, Yubinbango 980-0811 Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai, Aoba Ward, Ichibancho, 2-5-5, Toichi Central Building 4F
10:00 am - 09:00 pm
If all shopping areas in the world were like this covered shopping arcade, shopping is all people would ever want to do. Beautiful, clean and airy, the arcade connects several shopping streets together. This has resulted in an area with every kind of store imaginable, from boutiques to upscale electronics, pet stores, cheap apparel and of course, cafes and eateries to keep you energised as you blaze your way through your wallet. Do remember to check out the Nonaka Shrine inside the arcade itself. It was established by Masumune Date 4 centuries ago. Lively on most days, it's absolutely crowded when the weather is rainy, and all the better for it.
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4 Chome-6-1 Hachiman, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture 980-0871, Japan
12:01 am - 12:00 am
This black shrine is dedicated to a kami of war - Hachiman, who was the Date family's patron deity. This protection thus extends to the city, making this shrine one of the most important in Sendai. It was completed in 1607. The build and layout of the shrine is quite unusual - black lacquer and gold leaf and other vivid color arrangements. It is an example of Azuchi-Momoyama architecture. On the 14th of January every year, a procession of thousands of people make their way to the shrine for the festival Donto Matsuri. The Torii gate of the shrine is magnificent.
Boil this place down to its very basic and it is essentially just a decent library. But visitors and locals of the city alike tend to freak out over its impressive architectural achievement. The most prominent feature is the transparent glass facade. The vertical steel latticeworks that rise up to the building are naked to the eye and give the structure a very free-flowing impression. You should get somebody knowledgeable at the library to explain all the architectural subtleties to you. Completed in 2001, it was envisioned as an interactive Cultural Center, a goal it has kept quite well. The center has art galleries and special event area. A beautiful zelkova tree line avenue leads up to the library.
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Otaki-11 Akiumachi Baba, Taihaku Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture 982-0244, Japan
12:01 am - 12:00 am
This waterfall makes it into the list of the top hundred waterfalls in Japan in terms of both beauty and historic significance. That said, the falls don't look all that special. It is the walk and the atmosphere leading up to the falls that make the trip fun. When you arrive at the parking lot, you'll find snack stores and a resting area. In front of you will be a Torii Gate. Walking through it takes you into the waterfall complex. At the beginning of this traile, you'll see a shrine area - this is the Akiu Otaki Fudoson temple. The stone pathway behind the shrine leads to the main observation deck. Now you can watch the 55 meter tall falls from up here or you can take the walking path down to the base. Also close to this area. Also linked by the forest trails is Rairaikyo Gorge, which has the smaller Shigure-taki Falls and Misuji-taki Falls.
Focusing on the history and origins of the city with a special look into the life and achievements of Masumune Date, this museum is probably the first one you want to visit on your trip to Sendai. It will give you great perspective into the city, even though as a museum you'll probably find better ones elsewhere. Altogether, the museum's collections number about 90,000 artefacts covering history, culture, and arts and crafts. Only about a thousand items are shown in the permanent exhibition at any one time. These are constantly cycled so every trip to the museum feels like a fresh one. However, they do follow a common theme - prehistoric era, Masumune Date's origins, the castle and the territory and the city's modern history.
When the Matsushima Marinepia Aquarium, one of Japan's oldest, was closed in 2010, much of its assets were brought over to this newer, larger and far more modern aquarium. The two floors of the aquarium has more than 50,000 animals and cover 300 species. The main attractions are a rare blue shock coma the dolphin shows, the sea lion shows and the penguins (try to be aware of their feeding times). Most of the animals are representative of the coastal waters near the Miyagi Prefecture. The aquarium also has interesting educational exhibits such as the lives of oysters and oyster farming.
Opened in 1965, the zoo has 550 animals covering a 145 species. The exhibits are arranged according to the animal’s natural habitats and occasionally according to their taxonomy. It's curious that such a non-tourists intensive city such Sendai would have such a comprehensive zoo, but it does. Let's quickly list the main attractions - African Elephant, Japanese Black Bear, Japanese Horse, Japanese Macaque, African Lion Sumatran Tiger, and the Polar Bear. The monkey's are everyone's favourite, especially as you can buy monkey food on-site and actually feed the little scamps.
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Kawauchi, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
There's not much to do in this park if you've already seen the castle, the shrine and the museum. But it has some nice pathways and areas to rest your feet, so it's worth a stroll. It's only in the spring time that the park really transforms into something beautiful. The reason, of course, cherry blossom season, and the park has plenty of cherry trees to offer.
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1 ChomeGorin, Miyagino Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture 983-0842, Japan
Anyone who hears about an extremely popular park in Japan should probably easily guess that much of the fame is owed to the cherry blossom trees. Indeed, this park is the city of Sendai's most popular hanami viewing spot in spring. The trees are planted along the park's paved lanes, especially the western end. Hanami goers can usually be found picnicking under the trees, and during festival times, food vendors will line up their stalls alongside the park.
This narrow alleyway market has a rather inspiring origin. After the Allied fire-bombings destroyed the main sources of produce for the city, locals began to grow their own crops and sold it here. Today, the 71 stalls in this alley is known as Sendai's Kitchen, and man eateries in the city source their produce here. That's why, if you're looking to actually buy something make sure to get here by 7 in the morning, 8 at the latest, as the stuff tends to get sold out quite quickly.
In Japan, the words Mitsui Outlet Park always command immediate attention, for they are always a shopper's paradise. In Sendai, this translates into a shopping complex with a hundred and twenty stores, featuring top domestic and foreign brands. The restaurants are excellent, as is the food court. For kids who want to be compensated while their parents drag them along for shopping, there's a 50 metre tall Ferris Wheel they can bully parents into stumping the fare for. All things considered, not a bad way to spend time with the family.