Sendai is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Japan and is a rapidly expanding city that is home to over one million people. The city has strong historical connections to the samurai and its cultural history makes it a fantastic place to visit and explore.
In this article, we are going to cover everything that you need to know about Sendai, including its rich history, connection to the Samurai, and the best things to see and explore in the area.
The city of Sendai is the biggest city in the North East of Japan and is actually the capital of the Miyagi Prefecture. Although the center of the city is very compact and dense the city is rapidly expanding and draws in a large number of new residents every year.
The city itself was founded in the 1600s by one of the most powerful lords in Japan at the time. The area was originally built as a castle town for the purpose of the warlord samurai Masamune Date as a base for operations as well as a personal home.
Unfortunately, a lot of the city was lost during the second world war when it was heavily bombed. However, restoration efforts have been successful to rebuild and preserve as much of the city’s historical buildings.
What you should explore and visit when in Sendai
Thanks to its rich history there is something for everyone in the city of Sendai, from historical artifacts to modern-day shopping centers and annual matsuri or festivals.
The mausoleum of Sendai’s founder, daimyo Masamune Date is located within a forest in Sendai at the very top of a large flight of stairs. Although a lot of the buildings in this area were bombed and destroyed in the second world war, in 1979 they were completely restored to their former state.
Known as Zuihoden, this mausoleum is similar in its beauty to the famous mausoleum located in Nikko (Tokugawa mausoleum).
The original mausoleum was built during the 17th century but the vast majority of what you will see today only dates back to the 1979 reconstruction.
Located within the grounds you will also find mausoleums for the successors of Masamune Date who were Date Tsunamune and Date Tadamune.
If history or architecture is your interest then paying a visit to Sendai castle is a must while you are in the city. The Sendai castle, also referred to as Aoba-jo, was originally built in 1602 just like most of Sendai it was destroyed in the war. Unfortunately, almost all of the castle was lost in the air raids.
The surviving sections of the original castle are a few stone walls but nothing more. You can also see a reconstructed turret but this was built after the castle was destroyed and is not an original part of the castle.
In order to help you fully appreciate just how grand the original castle was historians have used computer-generated images to project images of the castle as it originally stood.
The grounds of the castle boast impressive views of the city and offer a great shot for photographers of the Masamune on horseback statue.
Temples and shrines
Within the city, there are several temples and shrines that are of interest to tourists which include the Rinno-ji temple, the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, and Toshogu shrine among others.
The Rinno-ji temple is a building that consists of three floors and is in the form of a pagoda that was constructed in the 1440s as the family temple for the Date clan.
However, at the beginning of the 17th century the Rinno-ji temple was moved from its original location to the place where it now stands. The new location has a large garden that highlights the beauty of the pagoda itself.
The Osaki Hachimangu shrine is a Japanese national treasure and was built by Date Masamune in 1607. The shrine itself is incredibly decorative and the main hall is decorated using gold leaf and a distinctive black lacquer.
The shrine was used to bring good fortune to the clan as Hachiman was a kami or deity of war.
The Toshogu shrine was constructed by Date Tadamune in honor of Ieyasu Tokugawa who founded the Tokugawa shogunate. The shrine is located on the JR Senzan Line near the Toshogu Station.
The Komyoji Temple is a temple that houses the grave of Tsunenaga Hasekura. Tsunenaga Hasekura was the ambassador to Spain and Mexico for Masamune Date.
In fact, Hasekura led one of the first Japanese ships across the Pacific ocean. The temple can be found on the Senzan line near Kita-Sendai Train Station.
Ryuun-in Temple is a temple that houses the grave of Shihei Hayashi who was a major military scholar whose work helped end the Shogunate in 1867.
The temple is located just 3 miles north of Sendai Train Station. More memorials to Hayashi can be seen around Sendai in the form of a statue located in Kotodai Park as well as a plaque in Aoba Castle.
In Sendai, there are many museums each encompassing a different and important aspect of Sendai’s historical and cultural history. Here we will take you through some of the best.
Sendai City Museum
The Sendai City Museum gives you a complete overview of the city’s history and is both informative and entertaining as it is home to some artifacts from the 1600s.
The museum takes you through the history of the city of Sendai from its construction to the modern-day, teaching you both about its conception, its use as a stronghold, and its destruction in the second world war.
The museum houses relics from the Date family, including suits of amour and other artifacts. These artifacts include both items owned by the family as well as items from Date’s ambassador Hasekura Tsunenaga’s trips overseas to Mexico, the Philippines, and Spain.
Miyagi museum of art
Opened in 1981, the Miyagi museum of art has a wide collection of artworks from the Miyagi Prefecture as well as more modern artworks by Klee and Kandinsky. In the museum, you can also see works from the Tohoku region in general.
The museum is open daily Tuesday through Sunday and has both permanent as well as temporary collections of art, meaning that the museum offers its visitors a different experience with each visit.
Annual Festivals In Sendai
If you are choosing went to visit Sendai then consider going around the time of a festival. There are three main festivals.
The Aoba Festival
The Saturday event of the festival is called Yoi Matsuri and is when people perform the traditional dance known as the “sparrow dance”. The Sunday event is called Hon matsuri and has more sparrow dances as well as a pageant and the main procession.
The Tanabata Festival
Held in August, the Tanabata is one of the biggest festivals in the Tohoku region, drawing massive crowds from all of the areas nearby. Here you will find dancers balancing very long bamboo poles that are adorned with dozens of decorative paper lanterns.
There are parades down along the main street (Jozenji Dori) and impressive Hanabi or firework displays.
The Dondo Matsuri
Known as the “fire festival”, the Dondo Matsuri is held annually on the 14th of January at the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine. The city is decorated with traditional straw decorations for the New Year Holiday and there is a large bonfire that attracts a large crowd.
Sendai’s Food Scene
If you are looking to try some of the local food in Sendai, such as a local delicacy calf tongue and oysters, then head to the Kokubuncho area of Sendai. Here there is a wide variety of restaurants and Izakayas.
As well as local delicacies you can also experience foreign options such as imported beer which can be found at the well-known Simon’s bar, which has been in operation since the 90s.
Just walking around the city there are a vast number of places to grab something to eat and drink no matter if you want to eat quickly and on the go or to sit down and experience a traditional Japanese meal.
If you are looking for exciting nightlife in Sendai then consider heading to Club Shaft which is popular for those who want to enjoy good music and dance.