4 Tours That Take You On A Journey To Tohoku’s Off-The-Beaten Paths

Explore Japan's Tohoku Region Through Culinary Tourism

Breathtaking scenery. Delicious food. Incredible people waiting to reconnect. Tohoku has so much to offer! If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, search no further — these four organized tours, available throughout the year, take you to Tohoku’s most beautiful and still unknown destinations.

Occupying the northeast of Japan, the region of Tohoku allow visitors to see some of the best sides of the nation including incredible scenery, delicious local food and beverage, and old traditions that continue to live on. Best of all, Japan’s efficient bullet trains and conventional rail network makes it surprisingly accessible from Tokyo — Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Yamagata and Aomori prefectures are just a few hours away from the capital.

Yet, there’s still so much in the region that we don’t know about, especially after the devastating 3.11 earthquake and tsunami has prevented most of us from heading there.

In a bid to show tourists and local travelers the best of the region and help Tohoku revive, Tokyo-based publishing company The Cuisine Press has developed a travel tour product entitled “Fooding Tourism” that allows tourists to sample Japan’s food culture while enjoying the beauty and charm of Tohoku’s farming and fishing villages.

The “Fooding Tourism” project encompasses a series of approximately 15 year-round and reasonably-priced tours, ranging from one-day experience plans to multi-day excursions, and include set courses as well as tours that can be customized to suit guests’ interests and activity level. Here is a list of our top recommended four tours fit for a travel with the family, friends, or even solo.

1. Iwate: Scenic kotatsu boat ride & visit to the World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi

Iwate Prefecture is one of Japan’s northernmost prefectures with stunning natural scenery. Highlights of this tour include cruising down the river through the Geibikei Gorge. Participants ride on a small motor-less boat which is carried downstream by the current and steered only by the pole of its helmsman, making for a serene journey.

The cruise operates in all seasons, but wintertime is especially magical as guests experience the tranquility and spectacular snowy scenery from the warmth of the boat’s kotatsu — a traditional Japanese table with a heater installed underneath that is covered by a futon blanket to keep one’s legs warm.

Visitors will also be transported to the beautiful World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi, an area that is normally difficult to access without arranging transportation. This town is home to Chusonji Temple as well as many other historic Buddhist temples and gardens. A special treat includes a mochi dish, the specialty cuisine of Ichinoseki, one of Iwate’s most prominent towns.

Cost: ¥11,000 (Includes transportation within Tohoku, Mochi set meal, Kotatsu boat fare, Audio guide). For more details and booking, see here.

2. Yamagata: Experience the life of a mountain monk for a day

Picture yourself being a Japanese monk, touring the beautiful mountains of Japan’s countryside and finding your way toward a national treasure pagoda in a quiet, peaceful setting far, far away from Tokyo’s hustle. If you enjoy this, this is the tour for you.

Set in Yamagata Prefecture’s Tsuruoka City, this tour allows visitors to go beyond simply viewing Japan’s religious buildings and venture out on this one-day tour as a yamabushi (mountain priest). This unforgettable opportunity allows visitors to experience Japanese religion and cuisine with actual yamabushi practicing in the mountains as their guide.

Wearing the traditional white garments of yamabushi, participants head into the forest to visit a five-story pagoda designated as a national treasure, worship at a mountain-top temple, and savor a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegan cuisine) meal at the temple guest house. You’ll find that in this region, eating goes beyond nourishing the body: it is considered an act shared with deities and spirits that exist throughout nature.

Cost: ¥20,000 (Includes Ascetic monk guide, English-speaking guide, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine meal, taxi and road tolls from Ideha Cultural Museum to Mount Haguro summit, Headdress fees). For more details, itinerary and booking, see here.

3. Yamagata: A visit to Tsuruoka food culture market “Foodever”

This one is for the truly dedicated foodies. Yamagata’s Tsuruoka also happens to be Japan’s only city certified by UNESCO as a Creative City of Gastronomy. This guided tour offers a peek through “Foodever,” an advanced food complex facility established to provide information about Tsuruoka’s rich food culture.

Visitors can enjoy Tsuruoka’s cuisine through the facility’s restaurants as well as its select seasonal ingredients, and taste local sake at its sake bar. This enormous food market is a great place to pick up edible delights and other unique souvenirs.

Cost: From ¥5,000 (Cost may vary depending on the type of meal you choose during the tour.) For more details and inquiries, see here.

4. Iwate: Home-style cooking and traditional handicrafts at a farmer’s house

The ultimate homestay experience! Iwate Prefecture’s Tono City calls itself the “timeless rural heart of Japan” for a good reason. Enclosed by mountains and filled with nature, Tono is a place where traditional ways of living, religion and culture are still part of everyday life.

Tour participants will see all of this firsthand by staying overnight at a local farmer’s home, and learn about Tono’s legends as well as folk stories of specters and mythological creatures. They can also enjoy home-style dishes made using local and seasonal ingredients, and try their hand at creating local arts and crafts. This and so much more from communicating with the hosts!

Cost: ¥16,500 (Includes transportation expenses to the meeting location, accomodation and meals). For more details, itinerary and booking, see here.

While many tours are self-guided, participation even without Japanese language ability is not a problem and English and Japanese bilingual support staff can be contacted should any difficulties arise.

So go ahead and take a break from the frenetic pace of Tokyo and discover a different side of Japan in Tohoku! There’s just so much to see and experience. 

To learn more details about these trips as well as the other tours promoted by The Cuisine Press, please visit its official website.