Exploring Tohoku, the spiritual home of Japanese people
Ten-day trip to Northeastern Japan:
Tasting local foods and cultures, Appreciating natural beauty, and
Meeting local people
Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan has been considered the spiritual hometown of the Japanese people. With over one thousand year history which is as rich as Kyoto and Tokyo, Tohoku has maintained the splendors of their geography, communities and sprit through food, crafts and customs from which the Japanese people evoke feelings of nostalgia in their current busy lives. You will see how the local cities far from Tokyo are trying to survive, revive and maintain their heritage and spirit and accept the changes and invite new people who long for their spiritual base.
Since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 rose toll of the dead to 15,000, the missing to 2,500, and the injured to 6,000, you will see the resilience of the northeastern people as they patiently restored their heritage and preserved to new development. Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591), founder of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, says, “Enjoy every encounter you meet with because it would be a once-in-a-life time opportunity.” This ten-day trip will give you a pleasure of distinctive local foods, cultures, natural beauties, and global views of Japan and an appreciation for its once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- 1. Beauties of cherry blossoms: Aomori/Hirosaki (Aomori), Kakunodate (Akita), Morioka (Iwate)
- Sakura, the cherry tree, blooms with its small, pink flowers in spring all over Japan from the north to south. The weather forecast reports daily when and where cherry blossoms start. Sakura symbolizes the coming of a new year and people celebrate spectacular and short lives of the blossoms that last for a week or so. In Tohoku, the peak time is usually in the middle of April. You will join the Japanese spectators of cherry blossom viewing, hanami, through the trip.
- 2. UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hiraizumi (Iwate)
- Hiraizumi, the southern part of Iwate Prefecture was registered the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tohoku in 2011 and represents the cultural heritage of Buddhist Pure land. Consisting of temples, gardens and archaeological sites, you can imagine Hiraizumi as a prosperous city to second only to Kyoto during the 11th and 12th centuries.
- 3. Boat-ride in Geibikei Gorge: Ichinoseki (Iwate)
- Geibikei Gorge is located along one of the tributaries to River Kitakami that runs through Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. You will go down stream slowly in a boat while viewing breath-taking spring greenery and wisteria blossoms surrounded by fifty meter high limestone rock walls on both sides while listening to local songs sung by a boatman who controls the boat only by a pole.
- 4. Museums of Floats - Nebuta/Neputa/Tachi-Neputa: Hirosaki, Goshogwara and Aomori(Aomori)
- Nebuta/neputa are gigantic floats framed with bamboo, wood or synthetic materials, covered with paper, illustrated with historic figures, and illuminated from inside. In the good old days candles were used but were eventually replaced by electric lights. The float festivals parade through streets with the throngs of chanting and dancing people for several nights in the beginning of August. You will be able to see some of the floats (each float is newly constructed annually and preserved for several years), learn about the processes of float making and experiment the music and dancing in the museums.
- 4. Music - Tsugaru-Jamisen: Hirosaki, Goshogawara, and Aomori (Aomori)
- Originally from China, the three-string instrument, tsugau-jamisen was developed in Tsugaru Peninsula, Aomori Prefecture. Historically, the blind traveled from one village to another, playing and singing for money. Its popularity spread throughout Japan, and musicians of Jazz, rock and other forms of music collaborate with modern tsugaru-jamisen performers nowadays. You will have a chance to listen to traditional tsugaru-jamisen or even receive a lesson.
- 5. Charms of provincial cities and communities: Morioka (Iwate), Kakunodate (Akita)
- Developed during the Tokugawa Shogunate Period (1603 – 1863), Kakunodate is maintained as an historic samurai district and well known for its beautiful display of cherry blossoms. Morioka has changed significantly in the past half century, adapting to a modern economy, transportation, migration, housing, and diversified activities. Consequently many old districts were demolished to make way for new shopping centers, highways and roads. In response, the residents pushed to preserve their cultural heritage for subsequent generations. Natayacho, the merchant and artisan district is one example. Old merchant houses and narrow roads were restored to accommodate daily commerce and business, introducing new ideas to attract visitors. You will see how the district has been transformed while keeping old charms.
- 6. Relaxation in hot springs – onsen: Shizukuishi (Iwate)
- The islands of Japan sit on the Pacific Volcanic Zone. In the shadows of volcanic mountains, secluded forests, quiet towns and even in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s city center, thousands of natural hot springs are enjoyed by Japanese people. Japanese people very much benefit from hot spring sites as recreational spots for good food, local entertainment with friends and family members as well as for medical properties of the spring water. You will have an opportunity to visit one of the hot springs near Morioka and enjoy relaxing onsen culture.
- 7. Japanese Cuisine - washoku: local cuisine (Tohoku) overall Japanese food
- Japanese food, recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013 is a good example of the hybrid nature of Japanese cultures and customs. Originally brought from the Asian Continent, food culture adapted to the climate, geography, and produce of each area, along with religious and daily routines of the people. This traditional wisdom has been handed down to contemporary Japan and continues to influence the Japanese food culture. In this trip, you will especially encounter local foods, kyodo-ryori, featuring local delicacies and flavors such as buckwheat noodles, mountain greens, various fish, a variety of sake, rice wine, and do-it-yourself cooking. An additional attraction will be Elizabeth Ando, a well-known expert of Japanese food who will give you a one-day workshop.
- 8. San’nai Maruyama Jomon Ruin, Aomori (Aomori)
- The San’nai-Maruyama archaeological site from the Jomon period was discovered in 1992, during the exploration of a potential site for a new baseball stadium. The ancient Jomon people were a hunting and gathering society of the Japanese stone age. Despite not having developed a writing tradition or metallurgy, they were adept at utilizing natural resources to store food and cultivated the art of pottery, lacquer ware, jade jewelry, etc. Their culture included elaborate rituals and monuments as well as a trading network.
- The earliest production of pottery goes back to 14000BC-500BC. There are distinctive features in the surface design which distinguish the early and late periods. The former were elaborately decorative and expressive while the latter tend to be more simple and functional. It is thought that the San’nai Maruyama Ruin flourished between 3900BC and 2900BC, the middle period of Jomon history.
- 1st day
- Arrive at Tokyo; Adjust to the tour Optional or free excursion
- 2nd day
- Travel to Aomori; Visit Jomon Site and Nebuta Museum; Observe tsugaru-jamisen performance; Taste local food at a market Eat dinner at Izakaya style restaurant; enjoy tsugaru jamisen
- 3rd day
- Travel to Hirosaki and Goshogawara; View Hirosaki Castle Park for cherry blossoms; Visit Neputa Museums Eat dinner at Aomori (?)
- 4th day
- Travel to Morioka; Sightsee Morioka - Visit Nataya-cho: Machiya and other places Eat at Nataya-cho Free excursion
- 5th day
- Travel to Geibikei for a boat ride in the morning; Visit Hiraizumi in the afternoon Back to Morioka and Free excursion
- 6th day
- Travel to Kakunodate: Samurai district, cherry blossoms, and local food Back to Morioka and free excursion and hands on activities
- 7th day
- Travel back to Tokyo; Sight see Tokyo - Sky Tree, Asakusa, Tsukiji, Ginza, etc. or bus tour; Free time for shopping
- 8th day
- Visit Yokohama, Kamakura and China Town Eat dinner at China Town
- 9th day
- Cooking workshop/demonstration by Elizabeth Andoh
- 10th day
- Depart for U.S.A Free time for shopping (?)