When winter turns much of the Tohoku region white, skiers and snowboarders look to 1,841-metre Mount Zao, straddling the border of Miyagi and Yamagata Prefectures.
The ski resorts in operation here from early December through March have somehow managed to go under the international radar – as has so much of Miyagi and Tohoku. This is despite boasting some of the best powder snow in the world, runs that can cater to skiers and boarders of all abilities, and magnificent natural backdrops. Stop to take in the views and alongside some slopes you’ll see a natural winter phenomenon called juhyo, caused when airborne water droplets freeze to the mountain trees, creating what look like giant snow monsters. Not that Zao is only a winter destination. Just on the Miyagi side – and accessible from spring to autumn – Zao’s Okama Crater is a photogenic caldera lake, about one kilometre in circumference, that is famous for the changeable colour of its water, which varies from deep blue to a vivid emerald depending on the intensity of the daylight.
For another slice of Miyagi’s natural beauty, head to the Sanriku Coast. Here, Miyagi faces the Pacific, and you’ll understand why the wandering haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-94) became so enamoured of the region while writing the now classic The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
In Matsushima, which is an easy day trip from Sendai, hundreds of pine-clad islets dot the bay, a sight that has been designated as one of Japan’s three most scenic locations. You can soak up these views on gentle bay cruises, or you could get more active along the coast by cycling the Michinoku coastal trail, which stretches from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture in the far north of Tohoku almost 700 kilometres south to Soma in Fukushima Prefecture.
Split into dozens of sections manageable in one- or two-day hikes, the Michinoku winds through craggy coves, steep cliffs and seaside towns. The sections just north of Matsushima Bay are as varied as the Michinoku gets, taking in vast oyster and seaweed beds in the calm waters of Mangokura and part of an old pilgrimage route that was used by worshippers to reach the tiny temples and shrines of holy Kinkasan Island just offshore. Rob Goss