Tohoku: how to spend 48 hours in Japan's wild northern region

Tohoku feels wonderfully adrift from 21st century Japan, with misty lakes in place of megacities and hidden springs instead of highways.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020,
By Tohoku Tourism
Tohoku's woodland turns vivid shades of russets and golds in autumn.
Tohoku's woodland turns vivid shades of russets and golds in autumn.
Photograph by Getty

Almost a decade on from the earthquake that brought destruction to much of the region, there’s never been a better time to visit Tohoku. Here's how to make the most of it in two days.

Day one

The epic crater lake of Lake Towada gets top billing in most Tohoku itineraries, but an excellent support act is the little town that bears the same name, 20 miles to the west. Spend a morning admiring Towada’s pioneering architecture, before stopping off at the Kengo Kuma-designed Community Plaza, whose timber floors rise and fall like waves.

The gateway to Lake Towada is Oirase-gawa, a wooded ravine where locals come to practise the art of shinrin-yoku (also known as ‘forest bathing’). Test out its calming powers on an afternoon hike along the trails here, ending on the shores of Lake Towada.

Drive up to the rim for sweeping sunset views over the volcanic bowl, then end the day at the nearby Hakkoda Resort Hotel, soaking in the balmy waters of the Sukayu Onsen.

Lake Towada is a dual crater lake that formed after an enormous volcanic eruption.

Photograph by Tohoku Tourism

Day two

Continue your Tohoku onsen crawl, rising early and driving three hours south into Akita Prefecture. Start out in Tsuru-no-yu Onsen, a 17th-century spa with Edo-era architecture. Or swaddle yourself in a towel and take a walk to Ganiba Onsen, a pool set deep within the forest that's silent but for the rushing waters of a mountain stream.

Take an hour’s drive south to the handsome little town of Kakunodate — known as Little Kyoto. Get your bearings with an afternoon rickshaw ride among the ceremonial gates and boulevards of the town, before exploring its ancient wooden buildings. The grandest of all is the 17th-century Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum, stocked with an arsenal of swords and spears, crinkly maps and hanging scrolls.

End your Tohoku adventure with an evening stroll along the town’s riverside embankment, lined with ancient cherry trees — some of them old enough to have born witness to the days when their petals fell on samurai armour.

The handsome little town of Kakunodate is also known as Little Kyoto.

Photograph by Tohoku Tourism

Essentials

Misawa Airport is closest to Towada — a 40-minute drive to the east. The nearest train station to Towada is Shichinohe-Towada — on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, around three hours from Tokyo. Kakunodate is on the Akita Shinkansen line, also three hours from Tokyo. Both lines are operated by JR East.

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