Sendai (仙台) is the largest city, with around 1 million people, in the Tohoku region of Japan's Honshu island.
As everyone here will tell you, "Sendai is not too big and not too small, it's very convenient and it's close to both the sea and the mountains."
Sendai is a comfortable and pleasant city — it's a nice place to live. It's very green — in fact they call it 杜の都 (Mori no Miyako, "The City of Trees"). The main avenues around the city are wide and tree-lined, giving the city an almost European feel. The main shopping street — confusingly known by two different names, Chūō-dōri (中央通り) and CLIS Road — is pedestrianised and covered, so it feels like a mall. Several large universities are located in Sendai, attracting young adults from throughout the Tohoku area.
HistoryAlthough there is evidence of settlements in the Sendai region dating back over 20,000 years, it was not until the local feudal ruler, Date Masamune, moved his capital here in 1600 that the city began to take on any significance. He established a fine castle on Aobayama (green leaf mountain) and the town that was built below the castle near the Hirose River was built according to the traditional street grid pattern. The original name of the area was also Sendai, but the Chinese characters at the time were different (千代). They used to refer to a temple on Aobayama that housed a thousand Buddha statues. Later, Date Matsume changed the Chinese characters to mean 'hermit on a platform,' (仙台) which referred to a mythical palace in the mountains in China. It is this latter name that is used by the present-day city.
ClimateThere are two ways of looking at the weather here. One is the way most Japanese people seem to look at it: it's not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer, compared to other Japanese cities to the south. Others find it chilly year round.
Winter temperatures rarely dip below zero Celsius, and snow, though frequent in winter, melts quickly. Winter weather is very rainy, yielding to variable weather in spring. There is a long rainy season, marked by consistently cool and cloudy weather, which typically coincides with the month of June, but has been known to set in right after the cherry-blossom blooms in April and to continue through July, and even August.
When (and if) the rainy season ends, summer weather is warm and humid, (average high in August is 28°C (82°F) until September, which brings typhoon season. Most of the typhoons do little damage, having dissipated somewhat on their travel north, but fall on Sendai as very heavy rainstorms, following one another in close succession.
For those who prefer dry sunny weather, autumn is the most reliable time for pleasant conditions in Sendai. In October, the weather becomes clear, dry and sunny, though cool, usually throughout the month and sometimes well into November. Daytime temperatures hover around 18°C, with cooler nights. Rice harvesting is done at this time, while the fields found just outside the city are golden.
By planeSendai Airport (SDJ) mainly functions as a domestic airport with regular flights to Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Okinawa and Kanazawa(komatsu). However, there are also a few international flights to neighboring countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan and China.
The airport is linked to the city with the Sendai Airport Access railway, which takes 17-25 minutes to JR Sendai Station and costs ¥650.
In 2016 Sendai Airport was the first airport in Japan to be privatized. Thus, the number of low cost carrier (LCC) flights and number of destinations are expected to increase in the near future.
By trainSendai is a major station on the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) line, some two hours from Tokyo. The line continues north to Morioka and Aomori.
The most frequent ride from Tokyo is on the all-reserved Hayabusa (はやぶさ), which makes only a few stops and runs to Sendai in 1½ hours (¥11,200). The Komachi (こまち) service bound for Akita is coupled to the Hayabusa train, but bear in mind that Komachi cars are slightly narrower, and therefore, so is seating.
If you have a little more time on your hands, or if any of the above trains are sold out, the more frequent Yamabiko (やまびこ) services are a good alternative. The fare is slightly cheaper for reserved seating (¥10,890), but the Yamabiko trains also offer a few cars of unreserved seating which are cheaper still (¥10,370). The Yamabiko serves more stations - and in some cases, ALL stations - so the expected travel time will be about 30-40 minutes longer than the Hayabusa and Komachi.
A few all-reserved Hayate (はやて) services remain on the route, and these are another alternative. The Hayate trains are only slightly slower than the Hayabusa and Komachi, but cost the same as the Yamabiko.
The Japan Rail Pass and JR East Rail Pass is valid for Ordinary and Green Cars on the all of the bullet trains mentioned above. On the other hand, rail passes will only cover the basic fare if you are willing to try out the premium first class seating on the Hayabusa called "GranClass". To use "GranClass" the limited express and GranClass fare has to be paid (¥13,990 from Tokyo). Without a rail pass, "GranClass" costs ¥19,930 between Tokyo and Sendai.
The Joban Line runs between Sendai and Tokyo. However, this is no longer a viable option as portions of the line were either closed due to nuclear contamination, or completely washed away by the 2011 tsunami.
By busMany highway buses run to Sendai from various locations in the Tohoku region.
JR Bus Tohoku and Tohoku Kyuko bus operate highway bus service to Sendai from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. There are five daytime trips and one overnight trip. Each run takes 5½ hours at a cost of ¥6,210.
Same companies also run a line to Niigata across the mountains. There are five or six daytime buses that run for 4 hours and cost ¥4,500.
An overnight bus service also runs directly from Yokohama and Shinagawa, costing ¥6,500 from Yokohama (6½ hours) and ¥6,200 from Shinagawa (5¾ hours).
Kintetsu runs an overnight bus service, the Forest, from Osaka and Kyoto to Sendai. The one-way ride costs approximately ¥12,000 and takes 12¼hours from Osaka and 10¾ hours from Kyoto.
Willer Express is a company with nightly bus services to Sendai from Tokyo. With English online booking service.
Meitetsu runs an over night bus service from Sendai to Nagoya. Departure time is 9:30PM and arrival in Nagoya is 7AM.
By boatTaiheiyo Ferry (太平洋フェリー) (Japanese) +81-22-259-0211. Offers overnight car ferries to Nagoya (21 hr 40 min) and Tomakomai (in southern Hokkaido) (15 hr 20 min) on the SS Ishikari and SS Kitakami.
Getting there: Ferry terminal is located a ten minute taxi ride away from Nakanosakae Station (中野栄駅) on the JR Senseki line (仙石線). The terminal is also located not far from the Sendai-ko kita (仙台港北) interchange on the Sendai Tobu Highway (仙台東部道路). For further details, check out the ferry website.
By subwaySendai has two subway lines. Traveling on a north-south axis, the Namboku Line connects major shopping districts with the train station. Key stations include Sendai for the train station and the AER building, Nagamachi-minami for the Mall (large American-style shopping mall including multi-screen cinema), Hirose-dori and Kotodai-koen for access to Ichibancho (covered shopping arcade), and Izumi-chuo for the soccer stadium. The second line, the Tozai Line, travels on an east-west axis and opened in December 2015.
By busAdventurous types can try the bus system to reach those areas not covered by the subway. There are a few resources that help English speakers navigate, but it helps if you know the city (or at least some Japanese, as most stops has route maps). In this case it might become very convenient and far-reaching service, as many points in the city are reachable only by bus or car. However, in some places buses are infrequent, with waiting times up to half an hour, and they tend to get very crowded in the rush hour.
Fortunately for tourists there is a "Loople Sendai" bus that makes a wide loop around to various Sendai attractions for ¥620 for a whole day, or ¥260 for one ride. Normal route buses have fares based on the distance travelled and usually cost from ¥170 (the basic fare) to ¥300 for some longest journeys.
Travelcards (commony called "bus cards" both in English and Japanese, although they could be also used on subway) are available, offering slight discount ¥5,000 card has ¥5,850-worth of fare on it. There are two major bus companies, but for all practical intents and purposes they are indistinguishable.
A few interesting cycling itineraries can found on the Date Bike website, explanations are in Japanese but maps are understandable.
On footThe city center is compact and can easily be traversed on foot, especially by using the covered shopping arcades. There are many shops and arcades around Sendai station and therefore people could walk around on their own. Other parts of the city are quite hilly (even the center has some significant slopes) and while they still could be traversed on foot, this might be physically demanding. Residential parts are also very spread-out, and walking such large distances becomes impractical.
Sendai is not what you'd call a tourist city - it was flattened in the war and rebuilt after that so there aren't many historical sights. Gozain Sendai Volunteer English Interpreter and Tour Guide Group will give you a free guided tour (no charge for the guides) of the sights in and around Sendai.
address: 34-1 Kawauchi-Motohasekura, Aoba-kuA reasonable collection of modern art. Special room for Juryo Sato, a local (but nationally famous) sculptor. Beautiful garden and a nice view of the river.
Ōsaki Hachiman ShrineCompleted in 1607, and is designated a national treasure. The metal ornaments and colorful designs displayed against the black lacquer woodwork is an especially attractive feature.
Statue of Kannonaddress: Izumi-kuThere is a huge statue of Kannon (the Buddhist deity of compassion) outside the city that is worth seeing. However, don't expect to find it mentioned in any guides. Ask locals for directions.
address: Aoba-kuThis building was designed by Toyo Ito and is an important piece of contemporary architecture. Take a look at the outstanding structure while enjoying the cafeteria and design shop on the ground level. On the 5th and 6th floor there are free art galleries with temporary exhibitions.
Rinno-jiphone: +81 22 234-5327address: 1-14-1 Kitayama, Aoba-kuAn historic temple with ponds and a large traditional garden, which is especially attractive when the azaleas are in bloom.
SS30 Building Observation Loungeaddress: Aoba-ku, Chūō, 4 ChomeThis office tower has an observation deck on the 29 and 30th floors, which is open and free to the public.
address: Kawauchi 26
Yagiyama ZooElephants, lions, bears, tigers! Mingle with the rabbits. Coin lockers available.
phone: +81 22-225-3074Often recommended by locals. There's a replica of a gate and a statue of the founder of the city, Date Masumune. However, the ruins of Sendai Castle is the theme of a famous poem written by Doi Bansui called 'Kojo no Tsuki' - 'The Moon over the desolate castle'. In the poem, the author touchingly invites us to reflect on the impermanence of all life, which is represented by the ruins of the once great castle caught in the light of the full moon. The poem has been put to music and is famous throughout Japan.
phone: +81 22-246-9153address: 4-2-1 Nagamachi-Minami, Taihaku-kuThe museum of the stone age. In the museum, restoration exhibition of that time is carried out based on the data discovered from public presentation and there of the ruins 20,000-year Saki's Old Stone Age unearthed from Tomizawa ruins (富沢遺跡）.
phone: +81 22-262-6250address: 23-2, Otamayashita,Aoba-kuMausoleum of Date Maasamune, first lord of Sendai Domain. Zuihoden was designed in the ornate style of the Momoyama Period. It features intricate woodwork and a rich variety of vivid colors. Massive cedar trees surround the paths in the area, and are meant to symbolize the long history of the Date clan. A museum beside the Zuihoden main building shows some of the personal artifacts of the Date family, and even some specimens of their bones and hair.
- One of the few and only tour companies based locally and catering to English speaking travelers in Sendai with plans for is Attract Tohoku Their unique experiences include a food parade around the city, exploring hidden alleys, bar hopping like a local, and even a Japanese style hair-and-makeup package.
- The biggest festival in Sendai is Tanabata (七夕). The festival starts with fireworks on Aug 5th and then the festival proper is from Aug 6th to Aug 8th. The streets are decorated with big paper decorations, there's a parade and... well, that's about it.
- In December, there's the Pageant of Starlight which isn't really a festival as such. The trees in two of the city's main avenues - Aoba-dōri and Jōzenji-dōri - are festooned in thousands of orange lights. The effect is very pleasant, with the orange glow casting a warmth over the otherwise cold and frosty streets.
Donto-sai FestivalHeld at the Osaki Hachiman Shrine on January 14 every year.
address: YagiyamaThis is a fun little amusement park. It's not exactly Disneyland, but you can have a fun few hours on the roller coasters and other rides.
address: Nikka 1, Aoba-ku (Sakunami)No English. 09:00-11:30, and 12:30-15:30. Tours are conducted every 15 to 20 minutes. Tours take one hour. Free whisky at the end of the tour.
- Sendai hira - silk
- tsutsumiyaki - pottery
- yanagi'u washi - hand made paper
- Sendai tsuishu - lacquerware
- kokeshi - wooden dolls, popular throughout the Tohoku region.
- Sendai tansu - wardrobe
- Matsukawa Daruma
- Tamamushi nuri - lacquerware
Sendai's specialties include gyūtan (牛タン), grilled beef tongue; sasakamaboko (笹かまぼこ), a type of fish sausage; and zundamochi (ずんだ餅), sweet green soybean paste eaten with soft glutinous rice balls. Sendai-Miso （仙台味噌）has a long history. Hiyashi-Chuka（冷やし中華）is made in Sendai.
Rikyuaddress: Aoba-ku Chuo 1-6-1A famous chain of gyūtan restaurants. Order the teishoku (set meal) - this includes meat, pickles, barley rice, leek, and a clear oxtail soup with real tail.
phone: +81 22 713 8350address: Westin Hotel Sendai 37F, 1-9-1 Ichibancho, Aoba-kuIchimuan specializes in Kyoto Haute cuisine (kaiseki) while utilizing fine Sendai produce. The restaurant also has a teppanyaki grill counter seats where visitors can enjoy fine Sendai beef. The view from the 37th floor is pretty impressive. Lunch is buffet style. Reservations essential (to avoid disappointment).
address: 4-10-8 Ichiban-cho, Aoba-kuThis restaurant specializes in oden, a Japanese fish stew of sorts with ingredients slowly simmered for hours if not days in a soy broth. Goes well with beer or sake, and especially popular in winter.
Sendai Aoba-Teiphone: +81 22 2128027A high quality gyūtan restaurant. Menu has pictures, though it may be not easy to guess what is gyūtan. Around noon, be prepared to queue.
Mitsukoshi Food CourtThe department store food court is an excellent place to sample Sendai's specialties.
address: 4-0-1 Ichiban-cho, Aoba-kuMiyagi and Hiroshima are famous for oysters, and Kaki Toku, which has been running since 1927, is one of the area's most renowned oyster restaurants.
address: 6-12 Shintomi-cho, ShiogamaSome locals believe it is the best sushi restaurant in Japan. Uses exclusively locally caught fish. No credit cards.
There is "Shushi road" in Sendai station. At there you can enjoy delicious Shushi in unexpensive price.
phone: +81 22 213-7654Excellent Italian restaurant near Zuihouden (the mausoleum of Date Masamune). Lunch: 11:30 - 14:30; Dinner: 18:00 - 21:00. Palinka has occasional concerts on weekends.
phone: +81 22 257-7702Authentic Indian restaurant with two locations. One in the BiVi building (opposite Yodabashi Camera) directly behind Sendai station, on the 4th floor. There they offer an extensive and reasonably priced buffet lunch on Sundays from 11:00-15:00. The other is on Minamimachi-dori. There they occasionally show Indian films and music videos on a large screen and carry a buffet lunch on Saturdays.
TirolGreat Italian on Clis Road, or just west of Izumi-chou Subway Station in the north.
HummingbirdItalian in Hotel Universe on Ichibancho-dori. Known for its fresh pasta.
BenitoraChinese dishes (spicy). Located to the north of the AER building by Sendai station. Cross the pedestrian bridge and look for the big red kanji (means 'red tiger').
HeichinroAn upscale Chinese restaurant on top of the AER building.
Yuki Kitchen Consultant's Biologic Restaurant Potimaronphone: +81 22 244-6275address: 30-11-1 Kongosawa, Taihaku-kuVegetarian and macrobiotic.
Fredrick Pantryphone: +81 22 715-8950address: 3-10-1F, Kitame MachiA shop and small restaurant specializing in organic and vegetarian food.
O-hisamaphone: +81 22 224-8540Walk straight for a minute or two. The place is just after a CoCo curry shop. O-hisama restaurant has vegetables for sale out front.). Vegetarian/Organic restaurant Small place. Atmosphere is very warm and the food is awesome.
Zam Zamphone: +81 22 224-4326address: Aoba ku, Futsuka machi, 17-19, Dai 3 Abekatsu biruReasonable lunch time buffet.
address: 2 Chome-6-1 Kokubuncho, Aoba-kuOldest cafe in Sendai. Great coffee. Excellent selection of rock music. Friendly and helpful service. English spoken.
phone: +81 22-797-1015address: Kokubuncho 1 Chome-3-１２, Aoba-kuA cafe with a backstreet charm. Excellent coffee. Great atmosphere.
Due to the numerous universities located near the city center, the nightlife in Sendai is excellent for a city of its size. Several small dance clubs on or around Chuo-dori fill with incredibly energetic young people most nights of the week. Kokubunchō (国分町) is the main entertainment district. Full of restaurants, izakaya, bars, hostess bars and strip clubs.
phone: +81 22 722-5651address: Dai 3 Yoshiokaya Bldg, Kokubuncho 2 chome 10-11A DJ/live band club and sports bar pub founded by Julian from England. Great atmosphere. World food and beers.
Ha'penny BridgeA Guinness pub.
VilevanA jazz bar. Free live jazz on Saturday nights.
Ernie's Baraddress: 1st floor Social Building, Sendai-Shi, Aoba-Ku Kokubuncho 2-1-11A good bar in Kokubuncho frequented by foreigners with whom one can have a decent conversation. The owner and manager, Ernie, creates a cozy and relaxed atmosphere with his own mix of funky jazz, soul and house.
Wadi Halfaphone: +81 22 225-5241address: 2-2-2 Omachi, Aoba-kuThis cafe often has live performances of Indian or African music.
E'z Baraddress: 2-12-19 daisankyoritsuBld. B1 kokubuncho-aobakuThis place is a little hard to find but worth the search. It's within 5 minutes of the big Don Quixote store in Kokubuncho, so don't go too far when you're looking for it. The owner, Hatakeyama-san, speaks perfect English as he lived in New Zealand for a year. Half the fun of ordering a cocktail at this place is watching the bartender cut a block of ice down for your drink!
Rinno-ji Templephone: +81 22 234-5327address: 1-14-1 Kitayama, Aoba-kuZazen (meditation) meetings are held every Sa 18:30-20:00. Instruction is given in English and participation is free. Wear loose fitting clothing.
phone: +81 22 266-8181address: SLS Bldg.5F 1-16-23, Ichiban-cho, Aoba-ku
Sendai International Relations Association (SIRA)Arranges non-profit Japanese classes at various locations in the city.
phone: +81 22 711-1880address: Kasugamachi 3-8, Kasugacho Fain Biru 303
phone: +81 22 982-0014address: 31 Kitayashiki, Onoda, Taihaku-ku
phone: +81 22 234-3922address: 1-9-3 Kashiwagi, Aoba-ku
phone: +81 22 222-6329address: 6-3-8 Odawara, Aoba-ku
address: 2-1-35 Kakyouin, Aoba-ku,sendai-shiVery simple. Convenient location.
phone: +81 22 256-5111address: 1-4-1 Shintera, Wakabayashi-kuOpened in 2001, this modern, fairly pleasant business hotel is within walking distance of Sendai station (at least if you don't have much luggage). Rooms are small but comfortable, and the breakfast buffet is a notch above the usual.
phone: +81 22 221-8111address: 2-8-11 Chuo, Aoba-kuRoom sizes are above average for a business hotel, each room are equipped with a private windows PC and LCD TV.
phone: +81 22 721 7501address: Aoba-ku Kakyoin 1-2-15Tidy and comfortable hotel in the vicinity of the JR station. Public spa visit in the same building included in the room price. Free Wi-Fi. Japanese and western breakfast buffet Breakfast buffet available for ¥1,300.
Value the Hotel SendaiA hotel made out of hundreds of converted shipping containers. On the outside, this is exactly how it looks, but inside it feels like a typical new hotel with standard business hotel-sized rooms and slightly narrow hallways. Includes a very good breakfast buffet. Likely only to be considered by those travelling by car to visit Sendai as the value would be offset if needing to use a taxi, but the location is the closest within Sendai city itself to Sendai Airport. Natori city's large AEON shopping mall and surrounding stores are close.
phone: +81 22 268-2525address: 1-1-1 Chuo, Aoba-ku
Sendai Royal Park Hoteladdress: 6-2-1 Teraoka, Izumi-ku
phone: +81 22 722 1234address: 1-9-1 Ichibancho, Aoba-ku
- Hot springs
- Akiu is about 40 minutes by bus from Sendai Station (West Exit Bus Pool). Sakkan (a hotel) is right next to the bus stop.
- Sakunami is about 20 minutes by train on the Senzan Line from Sendai Station.
- Naruko is popular hot springs in Sendai.