Japan remains one of Singaporeans’ favourite travel destinations. For folks who have explored much of the usual tourist spots (eg. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka), it is perhaps time to venture out to the surprisingly under-travelled but extraordinary Tohoku Japan. Located at the tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, Tohoku is made up of six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata, all of which are filled with dramatic landscapes, historical attractions and culinary delights. Follow us as we bring you through some of the amazing winter experiences that are not to be missed!
Visit Tohoku Japan – Getting There
Getting to Tohoku is not as tough as what most of us imagine. There are convenient direct flights from Changi Airport to Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Haikaido from where you switch a domestic flight to Sendai. If you would like to spend a few days at Tokyo before heading out to Tohoku region, you can opt for the Shinkansen. The travel hours to each prefecture varies but the maximum travel time is within 3 hours.
If you foresee yourself travelling quite a bit between the prefectures, make sure you purchase your JR EAST PASS in Singapore before you fly. This special discounted pass is available only to visitors from abroad entering Japan under a temporary visitor status and holding a non-Japanese passport.
You will be granted unlimited access to JR East lines (limited express and local express) within the Tohoku Region, and to Shinkansen from Tokyo that go to northern Honshu for your selected number of days. Simply activate the pass at the train station when you arrive.
Visit Tohoku Japan – Ski Lovers Paradise
Skiers do not need to go further than Japan to find their paradise. The Tohoku Region offers over six ski resorts for you to choose from!
For absolute convenience from Tokyo, Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort at Niigata Prefecture has a Shinkansen station attached to it! The resort is just 90 minutes from Tokyo and is famous for skiing and snowboarding. To experience the great outdoors, Hakkoda Ski Resort in Aomori Prefecture offers skiing or snowboarding in Hakkoda Mountains. The area is blessed with rich snowfall and is considered the Holy Grail of skiing in Japan.
If you are looking at size, Appi Kogen Ski Resort in Iwate Prefecture is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan and offers a large variety of wide, long ski courses and snowboarding activities on both groomed and ungroomed snow terrains. You should also check out their hot springs when you are there.
Folks who enjoy snow trekking will find their calling at Tazawako Ski Resort in Akita Prefecture or Grandeco Ski Resort at Fukushima Prefecture while Sumikawa Snow Park in Miyagi Prefecture is more centred towards snowshoe activities.
If you seek to relax your muscles in onsen at the end of a ski day, Zao Onsen Ski Resort in Yamagata Prefecture specializes in onsens (hot spring bath) and is also an iconic winter attraction spot famous for the field of ice trees (aka Ice Monsters).
Visit Tohoku Japan – Unique Experiences
Stay warm during winter through a memorable train ride on the Goshogawara Stove Train in Aomori Prefecture. Operated only during the winter months, this unique stove train offers its passengers beautiful winter scenery within the comfort of train cabin that is kept warm by coal operated daruma stove. It is a deluxe experience that is a real treat for the senses.
You can also experience Semboku Fire Swing “KAMAKURA”, a fantastically vivid festival was originally inspired by a 400-year old ritual that marks the start of the Lunar New Year. Originating as a purification ritual, villagers look to the ritual to drive away evil spirits for hopes of a bountiful harvest and good health! Using burning charcoal sacks tied to one-meter ropes, participants hold the opposite end and begin to swing the blazing bag vigorously in a wide circle, that ignites a spinning circle of fire. Every year this high-octane festival draws thousands of locals and visitors alike!
Animal lovers will love a visit to the Zao Fox Village at Miyagi Prefecture. Zao Fox (Kitsune) Village is Japan’s only fox-themed preserve. The village is an open-air park where more than 100 foxes roam freely outside in a garden surrounded by nature. Enjoy a view of these cute and furry foxes running around and huddling up in the thick snow across the enclosed forest!
Visit Tohoku Japan – Historical & Cultural Experiences
Hoshitoge Rice Terraces at Tokamachi, Miyagi Prefecture is a photogenic rice field that is known for its tiered, rolling terraces and slopes that sits along the Japanese countryside. Throughout the four seasons, the scenery is beautiful, but even more extravagant during the winter months where the snow makeup is spread out across the fields especially with the reflection of sunlight, offering a landscape that appears like a fairytale town! It’s breathtaking scenery will leave you in awe and amazement!
The “Ouchijuku” is a townscape in Fukushima Prefecture which embodies a landscape of the Edo period, providing you with an authentic time-travel experience to one of Japan’s most culturally rich era. Located just two and a half hours by shinkansen from Tokyo to Aizu Wakamatsu Station, Ouchi-juku is home to buildings dating back to 300 years old, with traditional thatched roofs and streets, with a majestic view of Ouchijuku mountains. It unleashes a sense of nostalgia whenever you come across it, in remembrance of what life is like back in the old days.
Visit Tohoku Japan – Nature Wonders
The majestic Oirase Gorge at Towada Hachimantai National Park hides a hidden gem. Known as the Oirase Keiryu Hyobaku (aka The Frozen Waterfall), this charming Oirase Stream flows powerfully from Lake Towada, accompanied by the sight of not only fresh greenery and autumn leaves but also white winter scenery. Savour the sound of gushing water pounding on the rocks while you take in the jaw-dropping sight!
You can also go for an exotic boat ride across the Geibikei Gorge. Rowing slowly across the placid river, this tranquil boat ride offers a white winter feast for your eyes. Beautiful snow blanketed the surface of cliffs, rocks and trees among the river banks surrounding the gorge. The scenic boat ride is also serenaded by the singing boatman with their traditional songs.
Catch a glimpse of ‘Snow Monsters’ at Zao Rime, Yamagata Prefecture! Formed by unique weather conditions, these ‘ice trees’ also known as Juhyo in Japanese spread across the Zao Valconic Mountains. Covered by layers of thick snow caused by hard lime (the process of excessively heavy snowfall and freezing winds), these ‘ice trees’ takes a peculiar shape that looks like snow monsters! This attraction remains one of the most iconic winter landscape to witness in winter!
Visit Tohoku Japan – Onsen Heaven
Crazy about Japanese Onsen? You are in luck! Be the envy of your friends when you soak in an Apple Onsen Bath at Minamida Onsen in Aomori Prefecture. Aomori Prefecture is very popular for their apples, the Apple Onsen is infused with the tantalizing aroma of aomori apples, promotes healthy and beautiful skin and is very popular among the ladies!
Higashiyama Hot Spring at Fukushima Prefecture and Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture are both onsen resorts that offers beautiful ryokan and authentic onsen experiences. The Ginzan Onsen is one of the most beautiful onsen resorts in Japan! It has multi-storey wooden inns that follows a combination of traditional Japanese and Western elements. It’s historical architecture dates back to the late Showa period that unleashes a nostalgic vibe.
The hot spring water is colourless containing sulfate, sodium chloride, and with the scent of hydrogen sulfide. The strikingly beautiful onsen town was featured on the set of the 1983 highly acclaimed Japanese soap opera, Oshin – the most watch Japanese soap opera in Japanese history.
Visit Tohoku Japan – Savour Local Cuisine
Take comfort in some of Tohoku’s signature foods in the cold winter. Yonezawa Beef, Hinai Jidori Chicken (Top 3 ranking chicken in Japan) and of course, the Sanriku Oysters are must try when you are in the region.
You must also not miss Aomori’s delicious tuna, Miyagi Oysters and Cracker Soup as well as Akita Hot Pot (perfect for winter time), Snow crab from Niigata prefecture and Yamagata’s Chicken Ramen!
We hope we have interested you enough to visit Tohoku Japan this winter! Make sure you download the DISCOVER TOHOKU JAPAN App before your visit. This is a tourist travel app that offers multi-language guides for sightseeing tour around the Tohoku region Northeast 6 prefectures and Niigata prefecture. For more insights on Tohoku’s winter attractions, please visit here.