Our last week in Japan…
Today marks the beginning of the end of our 2013 Japanese experience; we fly out of Sapporo next Sunday. Not that the adventures are quite over yet – we still have a few more exciting places to visit before moving on to Korea. For our final week, we are continuing our northwards trek and caught the shinkansen today from Tokyo to Sendai.
Sendai is the capital of the Miyagi prefecture, and the largest city in northern Honshu. With a population of just over 1 million people, it’s a small city by Japanese standards. We noticed immediately the difference between being in the Tokyo mega-metropolis and this much smaller city: finding our way out of the train station was just so EASY! Just 2 exits, and so few people!
We decided to visit Sendai primarily to see Matsushima Bay, famous for its hundreds of islands and beautiful clear blue waters (that’s tomorrow’s adventure). We did our research before coming up here though as the Miyagi prefecture bore the brunt of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Many parts of this prefecture are still recovering from the devastation, rebuilding entire cities from the ground up. Sendai and its satellite towns emerged relatively unscathed from the disaster however as they sit within the protective shelter of Matsushima Bay. The city we saw today was alive and vibrant, with broad, tree-lined streets packed with Sunday shoppers and families enjoying picnics along the banks of the Hirose-gawa (Hirose River).
As well as strolling through Sendai town itself, we also checked out some of the local sights using the local “Loople Bus” (a special tourist bus that drives a circular route around Sendai that you can hop-on and hop-off to your heart’s content for just 500Yen per person). We headed off, first and foremost, to see Sendai Castle (Sendai-jo). After all the amazing castles we’ve seen on this trip, we knew Sendai-jo had to be quite something to impress us. Well…, yes it was quite something…, not quite what we expected, but definitely memorable. You see, there IS NO Sendai-jo, just the ruins of the castle, perched atop a hill on the outskirts of town. What?? Apparently the castle was levelled during WWII. Hmmmm…, we probably need to do a bit research next time. Still, the view from the top of the hill was fantastic.
We also got to see the famous statue of Sendai’s revered founding father, Date Masamune. This fearsome warrior became ruler of this fiefdom in 1606 and his clan ruled Sendai and surrounds for almost 300 years. His image is everywhere in Sendai, and they even use a cutesy cartoon version of Masamune as their city’s mascot.
We also went to see the Osaki-Hachimangu shrine. This ornate, colourful shrine was constructed in 1607 by Date Masamune and survived the bombing of WWII. It is considered a “National Treasure” in Japan because it is one of the last remaining structures representative of this ornate sort of architecture that was in fashion well before the Meiji Restoration and its obsessive emphasis on minimalism and restraint.
Our day ended with dinner out to one of the many BBQ-type restaurants we’d seen all around town. The smell of smokey, grilled beef is everywhere in town, and after a week of eating mostly just fish, chicken and tofu-based dishes in Tokyo, the prospect of juicy grilled steak was REALLY appealing. We made a bee-line for one of the bigger, busier looking places and order 2 “dinner sets” that consisted of a plate full of tasty grilled meat, 2 peppery beef sausages (that Shane dubbed the “Japansky” – i.e. Japanese cransky), some salad, a small bowl of clear broth with some tender beef floating in it, and (of course), the ubiquitous bowl of white rice. And all for 2000Yen (about $20AUD) each. Scored! We happily tucked into our dinner, enjoying the BBQ goodness of the beef and thinking longingly of home, where steaks are bought by the kilo, not by the gram.
it wasn’t until we got home and did some research (there’s that word again!), that we learnt that sendai’s speciality is gyu–tan (translation = grilled, smoked calf’s tongue). Errr…, come again? I thought that was STEAK! Don’t get me wrong, it tasted awesome, but I wanted STEAK! You win again Japan. *SIGH*