Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in the Tohoku Region. The city is best known for the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the largest Tanabata festival in Japan and the Pageant of Starlight which takes place in the winter where the trees are decorated with thousands of lights.
The Tanabata Festival celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair) who, according to legend, are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The festival attracts more than 2 million visitors each year and is relatively quiet compared to other traditional Japanese festivals because its main attractions are intricate Tanabata decorations.
By contrast, the Pageant of Starlight (http://www.sendaihikape.jp/) which takes place during the entire month of December finds the Zelkova trees that line Jozenji-dori (a 10 minute walk from Sendai Station) and Aoba-dori illuminated with about 600,000 brilliant lights creating a tunnel of illumination. The event began in 1986 and draws millions of visitors to Sendai.
Sendai is also home to various historical sites related to the Date family. The Date clan was a Japanese samurai family that took its name from the Date District of Mutsu Province (now Fukushima Prefecture). The Zuihoden is one of these historical sites and houses the tomb of Date Masamune. Many artifacts related to the Date family can also be found there. The Zuihoden is located on a hill called Kyogamine, the traditional resting place for members of the Date family.
You can easily combine a visit to Sendai with a trip to another tourist destination in the Miyagi Prefecture, the town of Matsushima. Located only 30 minutes from Sendai and easily accessible by train, Matsushima’s seaside attractions are within walking distance of the train station and pier. The town is famous for its bay, which is dotted with some 260 tiny islands covered with matsu (pine trees). The islands can be viewed up close from various cruise boats.
Matsushima was hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, but escaped major damage thanks to its protected location. Most tourist attractions, shops and hotels reopened within a few weeks or months of the earthquake.
Whether you are drawn to the Tanabata celebrations or you just want to relax and enjoy the seascape of Matsushima, a visit to Sendai will allow you to experience Tohoku’s omotenashi (the spirit of Japanese hospitality) first hand.
Photo Credits: Shigeo Torii (Tokyo, Japan)