A former feudal city
The largest city in the Tōhoku region, Sendai is a sprawling but pleasant place, with broad tree-lined avenues and a lively downtown district. The city’s castle ruins and associated history museum, and the ornate mausoleum of its revered founder, the daimyō Date Masamune, are worth a brief visit.
Though central Sendai had to be rebuilt after World War II, its streets follow the original grid pattern laid out by Masamune in the seventeenth century. The main downtown area, a high-rise district of offices, banks and shopping malls, lies on the east bank of the Hirose-gawa. Its principal thoroughfare, Aoba-dōri, runs west from the train station to the far side of the river, where the main historic sights are located.
Roughly halfway along, it’s crossed by bustling Ichiban-chō, which together with the covered Chūō-dōri forms the heart of a bustling nightlife and shopping neighbourhood.
The wooded hilltop park Aobayama-kōen was the original site of the magnificent Sendai Castle, popularly known as Aoba-jō. Only a few stretches of wall and a reconstructed gateway remain, but the setting itself is superb, protected by the river to the east and a deep ravine on its south side. A magnificent watery maze of wooded, temple-topped islands, threaded through with mysterious channels and scattered with secret inlets, Matsushima Bay is officially designated one of Japan’s top three scenic areas, Matsushima’s roots date back as far as 828, when the Zen priest Jikaku Daishi Enrin founded Zuigan-ji.
That temple, together with associated shrines scattered in the woods nearby as well as on readily accessible islets just offshore, provides the focus for a hugely rewarding half-day stroll. Set well back from the bay, the temple is approached via an imposing grove of 400-year-old cedar trees. As well as walking up that central avenue, be sure to detour north to explore the many cave shrines hollowed into the rocks alongside.