15 Best Places to Visit in Miyagi Prefecture - Hot Springs, Samurai Relics, and More!

Miyagi is one of six prefectures that make up the Tohoku region of northern mainland Japan. Rich in samurai history, striking natural wonder, and irresistible local food, Miyagi Prefecture has plenty worth making the trip up north for. Here are 15 must-visit Miyagi destinations to add to your next Japan travel itinerary!

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy through them, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Where Is Miyagi Prefecture?

Miyagi Prefecture is located to the north of Tokyo on Japan’s Pacific east coast. Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture, is around 1.5 to 2 hours from Tokyo by bullet train.

Miyagi Prefecture sits at the southern end of Japan’s northern Tohoku region next to Yamagata on its west side. It also brushes against Fukushima in the south, and Iwate and Akita in the north, making it a convenient starting point for those setting out to explore Japan’s often-overlooked Tohoku region.

What Is Miyagi Prefecture Like?

Miyagi Prefecture is an incredibly varied land, with both long beach-studded coastlines and vast forest-covered mountain ranges, as well as major urban cities. Miyagi’s development owes a lot to Date Masamune, a powerful 16-17th century samurai lord whose legacy can still be seen across the region today. Masamune's victories in battles against neighboring clans and astute intelligence gained him control of a huge chunk of Tohoku, much of which makes up modern Miyagi Prefecture.

It was Date Masamune who founded the city of Sendai when he relocated there in 1600. Today, Sendai serves as the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, and shines bright as the largest metropolis in the Tohoku region, with a sizable population of just over a million residents. In total, around two million people live in Miyagi Prefecture, which has largely recovered from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Outside of city limits, Miyagi Prefecture is blessed with diverse natural landscapes, attracting adventurers seeking unspoiled nature. The east of Miyagi is home to a long and beautiful coastline, while central and western Miyagi is rich in breathtaking forests and sweeping mountain ranges. Along with virtually endless hiking opportunities, Miyagi’s snow-covered mountains are also perfect for skiing and snowboarding in winter.

What to Do in Miyagi Prefecture

Sendai - The Dazzling Urban Heart of Tohoku

Sendai is a bustling contemporary city with historical tidbits around every corner. Alongside Sendai's main attractions (which we’ll feature individually below), there is plenty going on to keep visitors entertained for multiple days and nights.

At the heart of Sendai is Jozenji-dori, a wide, leafy street lined by shops and restaurants. Each December, the entirety of Jozenji-dori is decorated by a dazzling festival of lights, which are a part of the city’s wintertime celebrations.

Sendai is also famous for its Tanabata Festival, held on 6-8 August every year. Interestingly, this is a month later than most Tanabata festivals in Japan, which generally fall in July, as Sendai hosts the event in line with Japan’s old lunar calendar, allowing one to feel its original seasonality. Enormous colorful streamers are hung from bamboo poles throughout the main streets, engulfing the city in vivid, electrifying color. The Sendai Tanabata Festival draws in over two million visitors to Sendai each year.

History fans wanting more information on the region can get their fill at the Tohoku History Museum, near Sendai. Meanwhile, foodies will love Sendai Asaichi, a lively market open the entire day with up to 70 stalls selling local delicacies and fresh seafood, right near JR Sendai Station. For partygoers, Sendai’s Kokubuncho is the largest nightlife district in Tohoku, and is packed with thousands of bars and restaurants guaranteeing an unforgettable night out.

Recommended Hotel in Sendai: Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East

Sendai Castle (Aoba Castle Ruins) - The Former Home of the Date Clan

To the west of the Sendai city center lie the ruins of Sendai Castle, also known as Aoba Castle. It was built in 1602 upon a 130-meter-high hill by Date Masamune, the samurai lord who founded Sendai, and was expanded and upgraded by his son over the following decades.

The castle served as the headquarters of the Date Clan for well over 200 years, but underwent a lengthy period of destruction through both purposeful dismantling and accidental fires over the Meiji period (1868-1912), before being finally obliterated during WWII air raids. Designated a National Historic Site, only a few traces remain of its original grandeur, including the castle’s stone walls and a reconstructed watchtower, and it is now a part of Aobayama Park.

Apart from enjoying the refreshing greenery, visitors can learn about the fascinating history of the castle at Aoba Castle Museum, and take in stunning views of the Sendai cityscape. Also on the grounds is an impressive statue of Date Masamune on horseback clad in his iconic samurai armor. The statue and the castle’s stone walls are illuminated from sundown until 11:00 pm.

Matsushima - One of the Famous Three Views of Japan

Matsushima is one of the most beautiful of Japan’s many coastlines, and is reachable in just 40 minutes by train from Sendai. In fact, Matsushima Bay is one of the “Three Views of Japan,” a title bestowed upon three scenic spots that captured the heart of a 17th century philosopher. Matsushima Bay is famous for its scattering of small pine tree-covered islands. There are over 250 islands in total, with dozens of lookouts across the area to take in the spectacular scene from all angles.

One of Matsushima’s most famous landmarks is Fukuurabashi Bridge. This 252-meter-long vermillion bridge connects Matsushima with Fukuura Island, which has walking trails presenting wonderful views of the bay. Other popular lookouts include Shintomiyama and Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, and there are also sightseeing cruises for a close-up look without the walking.

The town of Matsushima also has plenty to enjoy. Just off the shore is Godaido, a small temple on an islet connected by yet another photo-worthy bridge. Nearby is Kanrantei, a historic teahouse serving matcha complemented by bayside scenery.

Behind the main town center is Zuiganji Temple, one of the most important Zen temples in the Tohoku region, boasting a history tracing back to 828. Zuiganji Temple is known for its beautiful sliding doors, among numerous other elaborate decorations. Next to Zuiganji Temple is Entsuin, another historic temple built as a mausoleum for Date Mitsumune, the grandson of Date Masamune, complete with its own gorgeous grounds flaunting a moss and rose garden.

Recommended Hotel in Matsushima: Komatsu-kan Kofu-tei

Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory (Miyagikyo Distillery) - Tour a Japanese Whisky Distillery

Founded in 1934, Nikka Whisky is one of the most famous Japanese whisky brands. First established in Hokkaido, Nikka opened a distillery around 25 km west of central Sendai in 1969, located on the banks of two rivers.

Nikka Whisky was the brainchild of Masataka Taketsuru, who traveled to Scotland to learn how to make whisky in 1918. After two years in Scotland, he returned to Japan to produce the first ever Japanese whisky for Suntory. In 1934, Masataka launched his own company, and the first bottles of Nikka Whisky went on sale in 1940.

Visitors can join a guided tour of the Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory to discover how the distillery makes each of its different whisky varieties. The factory tours are free and include a tasting, and those wanting more can pay for extra shots at the tasting bar. Comprehensive tasting sessions with guidance from whisky experts can also be booked for a fee. Reservations are required for all tours, and can be organized by contacting Nikka Whisky on their official website (tours are in Japanese).

Zuihoden Temple - The Final Resting Place of Date Masamune

Zuihoden Temple is the mausoleum of Date Masamune, the feudal samurai lord who once ruled most of modern day Miyagi Prefecture and founded the city of Sendai. It is tucked inside an atmospheric forest of towering cedar trees and is reached by climbing a grand stone staircase. At the center of the temple stands Date Masamune’s hugely impressive mausoleum, decorated in stark black lacquer and vivid, bold colors. It also features spectacularly carved woodwork depicting birds, animals, and mythical beasts, and is in a totally different league from most Japanese temples!

Date Masamune is considered one of the most fascinating samurai figures in Japanese history, and learning about his life will deepen your understanding of Miyagi Prefecture. Masamune took charge of the Date Clan at the age of 17, and led it for over 50 years. He gained a reputation as both a formidable general and man of education and culture with excellent people skills, and was nicknamed the “One-Eyed Dragon of Oshu” owing to his missing eye. Masamune was rewarded for his service to the Tokugawa Shogunate by being given the lordship of the Sendai Domain, where he relocated and founded the city of Sendai.

Zuihoden Temple’s imposing mausoleum befits a man of Date Masamune’s stature, whose presence still echoes throughout much of Miyagi Prefecture today. On the grounds are the smaller yet equally decorative mausoleums of his son and grandson, who were also leaders of the Date Clan, along with a cemetery for other members of the family.


Osaki Hachimangu Shrine - One of Tohoku’s Most Important Shinto Shrines

Built under the orders of Date Masamune in 1607, Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is worshiped as one of the most important Shinto shrines in Sendai and the greater Tohoku region. Hachiman, the shrine’s deity, is venerated as the god of war and protector of Sendai.

Located in the northwest of the city, Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is another prime example of the bold early 17th century architecture associated with the Date Clan. Like Masamune’s mausoleum, the shrine’s main hall is coated in thick black lacquer and lavishly adorned by decorative gold leaf, complex carvings, and splashes of color.

Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is also famous for its annual festivals, particularly the Fire Festival taking place in mid-January. At the festival, traditional “omamori” amulets, “daruma” dolls, and other talismans from the previous year are piled high and burned in an enormous bonfire, a common New Year’s tradition in Japan. The Fire Festival at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is one of the biggest in the country, and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Shiroishi Castle - A Faithful Reconstruction of a 16th Century Castle

Shiroishi Castle is a small but stunning flatland-mountain castle once occupied mostly by the Katakura Clan, who served as loyal retainers of the Date Clan. Located in Shiroishi in the south of Miyagi Prefecture, the origins of this Miyagi sightseeing spot are murky, but it is said to have been first built by the Shiroishi Clan after their victory in the Gosannen War in the late 1080s.

Centuries later, after the Siege of Odawara in the late 1590s, victor Toyotomi Hideyoshi confiscated much of the land in the Tohoku region, including Shiroishi Castle, as punishment for not participating in his campaign. This punishment extended to Date Masamune, who had been slow to join, and the castle was given to the loyal Gamo Clan, who added stone walls and renovated it into a contemporary castle.

Later on, Date Masamune attacked and took over Shiroishi Castle, which was then formally given to him by Tokugawa Ieyasu after the Battle of Sekigahara was won in 1600. Masamune then entrusted the castle to the Katakura Clan, who ruled it for more than 260 years. Interestingly, despite building Sendai Castle, Date Masamune was given special permission to keep Shiroishi Castle as part of his domain even after the enactment of the shogunate’s “Ikkoku Ichijo Rei” (Law of One Castle per Province), demonstrating the level of his political prowess.

In 1874, Shiroishi Castle was demolished after it was used as a base for forces fighting against the newly formed Meiji Government, and the castle we see today is a replica built in 1995 to showcase its former glory.

Despite being a replica, the current Shiroishi Castle was painstakingly constructed using traditional materials and techniques to be a faithful reproduction of the original. In fact, it is one of the few castles in Japan reconstructed using wood, allowing visitors to experience the same scenery and atmosphere as the original inhabitants.

Today, Shiroishi Castle also hosts a museum and 3D theater that reveals its turbulent history to visitors. There is also samurai body armor you can try on, as well as excellent views of the city from the castle’s top floor. Nearby is the Bukeyashiki, built in 1730 as the residence of the Koseki Clan, and carefully preserved as a prime example of samurai home architecture.

Okama Crater - A Colorful Lake Inside an Active Volcano

Meaning “the cauldron” in Japanese, Okama is a breathtaking crater lake tucked between the summits of the Zao Mountain Range in eastern Miyagi, close to the border of Yamagata Prefecture. The lake’s color appears to change through shades of blue and green depending on the angle and sunlight, weaving together an otherworldly view backed by rugged volcanic landscape. These shifting colors have also earned it another nickname, “Goshikinuma,” meaning “five colored pond.”

Okama is over 300 meters in diameter and around 27 meters deep, and was formed by volcanic eruptions creating a basin from which spring water, rainwater, and snowmelt accumulated. Being highly acidic, the lake is unable to support life. The area is still volcanic, and the crater can only be seen from a distance.

Several different hiking routes along the Zao Mountain Range offer excellent lookouts over Okama, or it can be reached by car via the Zao Echo Line and Zao Highline, just a 2-3 minute walk from the closest car park. There are also chairlifts leading to another observation point, again accessible by car. However, these roads are closed between November and April due to snowfall, and those wishing to view Okama in winter are advised to join a special tour. We particularly recommend visiting around mid-April, when spectacular walls of snow appear on the road after it has been freshly plowed.

Zao Fox Village - Get Up Close to Super-Cute Foxes

While remote, the Zao Fox Village is one of the most well-known Miyagi tourist attractions. It is home to eight breeds of over 100 foxes, including the common red fox as well as rare species like the silver fox and Arctic fox.

Surrounded by forest, the foxes roam the large open-air compound, and visitors can freely walk among them. They mostly sleep and occasionally squabble with each other, and although they’re used to humans, they are wild animals, so you should fight the urge to pet them no matter how cuddly they look.

The foxes' appearance also changes throughout the year. Typically they have less fur in the warmer summer months and a much thicker coat in winter. In spring, you can expect to see adorable young fox pups. You can also buy a small bag of fox food for 100 yen at the dedicated feeding station, where you can feed the waiting foxes who are always on the lookout for something to eat.

Akiu Onsen - Unwind in Miyagi’s Ancient Hot Springs

The natural hot springs of Akiu Onsen are an irresistible attraction luring both locals and tourists alike out of Sendai and into the verdant Akiu area. Akiu Onsen has hosted visitors since ancient times, and it is said that Date Masamune himself adored bathing in its mineral-rich waters. Abundant geothermal water wells up at a comfortable 45°C, and there are several hot spring hotels promising a rejuvenating getaway. Many facilities also have a bathhouse open to day-trippers.

Even after soaking in the hot springs, there are lots of other reasons to stick around Akiu Onsen. At the Akiu Traditional Craft Village, you can learn all about the region’s many handicrafts and even join workshops to create your own traditional souvenirs, like kokeshi dolls, lacquered chopsticks, and even indigo-dyed fabrics. Right in the middle of town is also the magnificent Rairaikyo Gorge, which flaunts dynamic rock formations carved by the Natori River, the most famous of which is the unmissable heart-shaped rock depression.

Recommended Hotel in Akiu Onsen: TAOYA Akiu

Akiu Otaki Falls - One of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls

Akiu Otaki Falls is another highlight of the spectacular Akiu region. This magnificent waterfall is 55 meters high and 6 meters wide, and is tucked behind a temple in a scenic nook of the countryside. Its enchanting, radiant aura earned it a ranking among Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls.

As well as getting up close, an elevated platform offers sweeping views of Akiu Otaki Falls, whose beauty peaks when encased in fiery autumn foliage from mid-October to early November. Nearby are a few stalls selling souvenirs and street food, along with a handful of local restaurants. There’s also a teahouse where you can relish a bowl of matcha with traditional Japanese sweets.

Naruko Gorge - Another Dose of Striking Autumn Hues

Located in the northwest of Miyagi Prefecture, Naruko Gorge presents another of Miyagi’s most picturesque views. The gorge spans around two kilometers in length, lined by steep rock cliffs that stretch up to 100 meters in height. While visitors can bask in its beauty year round, Naruko Gorge is particularly popular in the fall, when the dense forest that fills it bursts into dazzling hues of orange and red, peaking between late October and early November. There are various walking trails and viewing spots to admire these whimsical colors, including the 2.2-kilometer-long Ofukazawa Walking Trail.

Naruko Gorge’s most sought out shot is of the arched Ofukazawa Bridge, which straddles the gorge high above the river below. You can also cross over the bridge for another helping of sensational scenery, and if you time your visit right, you might just spot one of the trains passing through the tunnel that dissects the gorge.

Naruko Onsen - Healing Hot Springs and Kokeshi Dolls

Naruko Onsen is another of Miyagi Prefecture’s most beloved hot spring resorts, and is nestled amongst some of Japan’s most eye-popping natural surroundings, including the nearby Naruko Gorge. There are actually five hot spring villages in the area, with almost 400 different water types. Alongside hot spring resorts for overnight stays, there are also several day spas dotted about town for a more casual dip. As a mecca for hiking, outdoor enthusiasts often drop by to heal from their adventures.

Geothermal waters around Naruko Onsen were first discovered in Katanuma Lake, a crater lake that formed following an earthquake almost 1,200 years ago. A flat hiking trail leads to the idyllic lake, whose color changes depending on the weather. Naruko Onsen has also long been an eminent producer of traditional kokeshi dolls, and is home to the Japan Kokeshi Museum, another must-visit Miyagi tourist attraction. The museum displays traditional kokeshi dolls from all corners of the Tohoku region, and has open workshops where you can see them being made, as well as classes to craft your own.

Recommended Hotel in Naruko Onsen: Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari Naruko Onsen Masuya


Hitome Senbon Zakura - Miyagi’s No.1 Cherry Blossom Viewing Spot

Hitome Senbon Zakura is heralded as the most breathtaking cherry blossom viewing spot in Miyagi Prefecture. Around 1,200 cherry trees stretch for about 8 kilometers along the banks of the Shiroishi River covering both the towns of Ogawara and Shibata. The trees were donated in the 1920s by a local businessman, and today form a stunning corridor of pink petals, peaking between early to mid-April.

Hitome Senbon Zakura’s cherry blossoms are backed by the snowcapped Zao Mountains in the distance. The blossoms continue into Funaoka Castle Ruins Park, where they circle a 24-meter-tall statue of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Many food stalls pop up during the flower viewing season, and there are plenty of spots to enjoy a picnic beneath the trees. You can also take a boat ride along the Shiroishi River to rediscover their magnificence from a fresh angle.

Tashirojima - Frolic With Felines on Miyagi’s Cat Island

Cat-lovers will find no happier place on Earth than Miyagi Prefecture’s Tashirojima. Known as “Cat Island,” this Miyagi sightseeing spot is home to hundreds of stray cats who easily outnumber the roughly 80 human residents. It is reachable by ferry from Ishinomaki in around 40 minutes, making it possible to visit on a day trip. Cats were first introduced to the island to help catch mice and rats when Tashirojima was home to a number of silkworm factories. Fishing has also long been one of Tashirojima’s main industries, and the cats continue to rely on fishermen to throw them scraps for dinner.

Today, Tashirojima's huge cat population has made it something of a Miyagi tourist attraction. In the center of the island is Cat Shrine, which is decorated by dozens of waving cat figurines left by visitors over the years. On the south end are a number of cat-shaped cabins that can be booked for those who’d like an overnight stay. Most of the cats and facilities on Tashirojima are concentrated in its largest town of Nitoda, but be aware that there is a lack of shops and such on the island, so come prepared with snacks and drinks.

Recommended Hotel in Ishinomaki: Guest House Active Life -YADO-

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

The Best Things to Eat in Miyagi Prefecture

Miyagi Prefecture is famous for a number of unique foods. These regional delicacies are common in restaurants throughout the prefecture, particularly in popular tourist hubs like Sendai and Matsushima.

One of the most coveted is “gyutan,” or grilled beef tongue. Seasoned and grilled over coals, gyutan is typically served as part of a larger set meal with rice and miso soup. Another popular Miyagi food are oysters, a seasonal treat available in autumn and winter. Oyster huts can be found all over Matsushima, where they’re served fresh or fried.

As one of the most high-ranking wagyu varieties in Japan, Sendai beef is also a must-try. It is sourced solely from Japanese Black cattle raised on a special diet of rice stalks and barley, and is known for its exquisite marbling and rich umami flavors. For dessert, try “zunda-mochi,” a unique type of mochi covered in a bright green paste made from boiled and crushed edamame beans.


How to Get to Miyagi Prefecture

Sendai Station can be reached in just 1.5 to 2 hours from Tokyo Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train, with no transfers necessary. There are several services running each hour during the day, so you don’t have to fret about missing your train.

Sendai itself has a subway system, JR train lines, and a sightseeing loop bus called the “Loople,” making it very easy to get around. Some regional attractions are also near train stations, but many parts of rural Miyagi Prefecture can be quite isolated, so renting a car or carefully checking bus timetables in advance is recommended.

If you plan on traveling throughout Miyagi Prefecture and other areas of Tohoku by train, then we suggest buying the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). This pass allows for unlimited travel on all bullet trains and many other train services throughout the Tohoku region.


Exploring the Tourist Attractions of Miyagi Prefecture

Despite its superb accessibility from Tokyo, Miyagi Prefecture is often skipped over in favor of the northern frontier of Hokkaido. However, its wealth of tourist attractions extending over both bustling cities full of history and culture all the way to pristine wilderness and natural hot springs makes it well worth the visit. So, follow in the footsteps of samurai lord Date Masamune and start uncovering the wonders of Miyagi Prefecture on your next Japan trip!

Top picture: PIXTA

If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!

Tohoku Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

tsunagu Japan Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter and we'll show you the best Japan has to offer!

Subscribe Now!
Get your Japan discounts here!

About the author

James Davies
Originally from Cardiff in the UK, James has been working as a freelance writer since moving to Japan in 2020. Having first visited Japan in 2013, he has now visited all of the country’s 47 prefectures. A lover of sushi, sumo, and sake, when he's not writing, James is either exploring Tokyo or planning a trip to a new corner of Japan.
  • Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Restaurant Search

Sign up to our free newsletter to discover the best Japan has to offer.