Hop on a bullet train from Tokyo for a whirlwind 24 hours in Sendai. Four hundred years ago, the feudal warlord Date Masamune founded Sendai as a castle town from where the powerful Date clan could rule the north. Today, it is the largest city in the Tohoku region, home to one million people and displaying all the vibrancy one would expect from a Japanese city, as well as many historic sites that recall Masamune’s influence on Miyagi Prefecture.
To absorb as much of that as possible in a day, start at Sendai Station by picking up a ¥620 (£4) day pass for the Loople bus network and then hop on a Loople for the 15-minute ride to Zuihoden, Masamune’s mausoleum. The Zuihoden is surrounded by towering pines that contrast with the vivid reds, greens, blues and golds of the ornate wood carvings that decorate Masamune’s resting place. Unlike the more famous Toshogu Shrine complex in Nikko, the Zuihoden doesn’t heave with hordes of tourists; you can still feel the tranquillity the builders had in mind when they chose this setting.
Back on the Loople, head for the remains of Sendai Castle (aka Aoba Castle), where Sendai’s development under the Date clan began. Today, an imposing statue of Masamune on horseback stands beside the stone castle walls, overlooking Sendai’s urban sprawl. Nearby, you could visit Sendai City Museum to learn about the city’s roots and growth. Its collection includes arts and crafts, as well as weaponry and armour connected to legendary warlords such as Masamune and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Then take the Loople again to Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, which was constructed in the early 1600s and has a striking main hall covered in black lacquer, gold leaf and boldly coloured carvings. Alternatively, the mountainside temple of Yamadera, complete with stunning vistas of the surrounding forests, is an hour away by train.
Back in Sendai, explore the city’s modern side with a night out in the Kokubuncho area, sandwiched by two major avenues, Jozenji-dori and Hirose-dori. There are almost 3,000 restaurants and bars here, catering to all tastes, but especially Miyagi Prefecture’s regional flavours: grilled beef tongue, kaisen don – bowls of rice topped with fresh, raw seafood such as scallops, fish roe, sea urchin and tuna – and a hotpot of duck, chicken and parsley called seri nabe. Rob Goss