When most people think of Japanese cities, they would probably name the big ones like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Other cities get overlooked, which is shame because there are some real gems out there. Sendai, known as the City of Trees, is one of them. It’s one of my favourite places in Japan, and not just because I lived there for 2 years! Let me introduce it to you.

Where is it? What is it like?
Sendai is in the north of the main Japanese island of Honshu, giving it a milder climate. Home to over one million people, the locals say it’s convenient, and it really is. You can enjoy all of the advantages of the city and then easily escape to the coast or to the mountains for a breather.

The local culinary specialities are zunda (a sweet paste made from edamame, or immature soy beans), sasa-kamaboko (a type of fish cake in the shape of a leaf) and gyutan, which is cow’s tongue!

The city was founded in the 1600s by Date Masamune, known as the One-Eyed Dragon. Sendai is proud of its history, and both the Date family crest and Date Masamune’s distinctive half-moon helmet crest can be spotted in many places around the city.

How to get there?
If you arrive in Japan at Narita or Haneda airports, there are three main options for reaching Sendai:

Shinkansen (bullet train) - This is one of the quickest ways to get to Sendai from Tokyo and an experience that should be had at least once. However, it is one of the more expensive options, and you still have to make your way from the airport to Tokyo train station.
Plane - A plane ride to Sendai is similar both in cost and in journey time, but it avoids navigating Tokyo’s transport system. Once at Sendai airport, it’s a simple train ride into the city centre.
Night Bus - The cheapest option. As the name suggests, this bus journey takes place through the night, but it will take you from the airport directly to Sendai city centre. Perfect if your flight lands in the evening, you can sleep while you travel and save on the cost of a hotel stay!

One of the simplest subway maps I’ve ever seen, the Sendai subway system has a north-south and an east-west section. If you plan to make several trips in one day, you can buy the very economical day ticket at any ticket machine, which has an English option. There's also a combined day ticket for subway and Loople bus (see below).
Perfect for making day trips outside of the city. Like the subway, the ticket machines can be put into English.
Loople bus
This is a special tourist bus with an old-fashioned look that travels in a loop, starting at Sendai station, that goes to some of the most popular tourist sites in the city. A day ticket is best so you can hop on and off. Either way, keep hold of your ticket as it gets you a discount on entry to some sites.
Bike rental
If you fancy a change of pace, you can hire a Date bike to make your way around the city. You can pick up and drop off a bicycle at various points around the city centre.
The cheapest and simplest method of transport, great for taking in all of the sights and sounds of the city centre.

Things to see
First, on the Loople bus route are:
Castle Ruins – the castle has long since been reduced to rubble, but there is still a great view of the city, a gyutan restaurant, and a souvenir shop
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Zuihoden – Date Masamune’s mausoleum. You won’t be able to see inside, as it’s only opened on special occasions, but the outside is impressive enough, as are the gardens surrounding it. Sadly not wheelchair accessible.
Osaki Hachiman shrine – an important shrine in Sendai. The deity is a guardian of the Sendai area, and is thought to bring good fortune.

A bus or subway ride away are:
Dai-Kannon statue – only accessible by bus (or car), this is a giant statue of Kannon which contains Buddha statues. It’s one of the largest statues in the world.
Tomizawa Site Museum – a short walk from the Tomizawa subway station, this museum is home to a preserved subterranean forest from the Stone Age
Public Parks – Tsutsujigaoka Park can be reached on foot, but there’s also a train station directly outside. It’s a popular spot to view cherry blossoms in April. Dainohara Park (best accessed from Asahigaoka subway station, not Dainohara), is a huge park where you can see fireflies in summer, when Nanakita Park near Izumi Chuo subway station has a fireworks display.

A train ride or longer bus ride away (but still in the city limits) are:
Whisky distillery – take a tour and sample some local whisky – all for free! You can get there on a city bus from Sakunami station on the Senzan line. The tour is conducted in Japanese, but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying the atmosphere!
Sakunami Onsen (hot springs) – take a dip into the renewing waters, surrounded by nature! There are several different hot springs, many of which are part of a hotel, and some of them send a free shuttle bus to Sakunami station to pick up day visitors.
Johgi Temple – this famous temple is far outside the city centre and requires a long bus journey or car ride to reach. However, the scenery is entirely worth it, even without the chance to taste the local speciality – sankakuage.

Day trips
A straight-forward train ride on the Senzan line into the neighbouring prefecture of Yamagata will bring you to this temple on a mountain (which, incidentally, is what its name literally means!) Sadly, it’s not wheelchair accessible - there are about 1000 steps up to the temple. It's open to climb in all seasons, but it’s scarily slippery in the snow.
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Matsushima Bay is one of the Three Views of Japan - spots of particular natural beauty. Catch the Senseki line to Matsushima-Kaigan station for a spectacular trip to the coast. Take a ferry ride around the bay to get a closer view of the pine-covered islets, or you can visit the temple and gardens, where you can buy jellyfish ice-cream! But if your tastes are more mainstream, there are several restaurants where you can sample the local seafood.
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Aoba Festival

A city-wide celebration featuring Suzume Odori (Sparrow Dance) performances, that takes place over a whole weekend. There are food stalls and performances at Kotodai-koen, dancing down the covered arcades, and they close the roads on the Sunday for a huge parade.
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Celebrated in July in other parts of Japan, this festival takes place in Sendai at the start of August. From the main station to the streets, Tanabata decorations cover the city, with a particular concentration in the shopping arcades.
Jazz Festival
This ever-growing outdoor music festival features more than just jazz music. It takes place in September at several locations, centred around Jozenji-Doori. You can see both professional and amateur groups from Japan and abroad; and if it rains – the show will go on!
Pageant of Starlight
In December, the long, tree-lined avenue of Jozenji-Doori is decorated with hundreds of lights in a breath-taking display. If you miss the switch-on, no need to worry – they repeat it frequently so everyone can experience the magic. If you’re there with a partner, keep an eye out for the hidden pink lights – local legend has it that if you spot one together you’ll stay together forever!
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Zunda Saryo
– a café dedicated to zunda sweets in Sendai station
Rikyuu/Date no Gyutan – two of the many places to eat gyutan; both have several locations but can also be found in Sendai station
Usugawa Taiyaki Taikichi – a Sendai-based seller of taiyaki, which is batter baked in fish-shaped moulds that can contain various fillings, like anko (bean jam), custard or Sendai’s speciality, zunda. The main shop is at the station end of the Clis Road section of the shopping arcade.
Café Pamplemousse – a unique and adorable duck-themed café known for its pancakes. Its long opening hours and location near the station means that it can get crowded, but once you’re inside the atmosphere is very relaxing.
T’s Tantan – the best vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the city. It has great opening hours, and you can’t get more central than Sendai station basement!
Masuno Arpajon – a Miyagi-based chain of bakeries with a unique selling point - you can find Santa there all year round!

Sendai Station – like most major Japanese train stations, Sendai’s main station is full of shops. You can buy food and souvenirs or wander into the connected shopping centre for more, including a small Studio Ghibli shop.
Parco and AER – Parco contains Sendai’s Pokémon Centre, while the AER provides a free view of the city from several storeys up. They are neighbouring buildings next to the station.
Shopping arcades – this stretches from Parco by Sendai station to Jozenji-Doori near the City Hall. You can find clothes, food, souvenirs and much more here.
Department stores – Sendai has a large variety of stores to suit different tastes and budgets. Loft, Sakurano, and E Beans (with an Animate shop and cafe) are within throwing distance of Sendai station, while Fujisaki, Fouras/Forus, and Mitsukoshi can be found along the shopping arcades.

I hope that this introduction has given you a taste of the wonderful city that is Sendai. I hope you find it useful – let me know by writing a comment!
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