This Q&A with Gene Miyake, Managing Director of NON-STOP Travel, sheds light on Japan’s Tohoku region, a natural wonderland where contemporary tourism highlights blend with ancient rituals and ultimate relaxation. .

We heard that you participated in the Tohoku Familiarization Trip from the Japan National Tourist Board. How was it?

My last FAM Trip was in November 2019, a few months before the world came to a standstill for two whole years. It was an amazing and very memorable week spent in the Tohoku region. I was able to immerse myself in the “authentic” Japanese experience. Pleasantly different from the “Big City” experience of Tokyo or Osaka.

After meeting my fellow travelers in Tokyo, including Mr. Ryoji Aso, Director of the National Tourism Organization of Japan, a short one-hour flight brought our entourage to Aomori. Tohoku is very easy to reach from Tokyo and Osaka.

What charms of Tohoku did you experience there and what was the most memorable place to visit in Tohoku?

Mount Haguro in Yamagata Prefecture was magical! We participated in a Yamabushi “rebirth” pilgrimage. The three sacred mountains of Dewa – the collective name of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono – are a revered place for the ascetic religion known as shugendo. Shugendo is an ancient Japanese mountain religion that blends aspects of nature worship with Buddhism and other religions. In the ancient belief of Shugendo, we draw the spirits of gods and Buddha into our souls before being reborn by training in the mountains.

First, we dressed in traditional Shiroshozoku white clothes, a shime necklace and gave blessings at an altar. Our entourage passed through the gates of Zuishomon and descended the famous stone stairs of Mount Haguro – the pilgrim steps that date back over 1,400 years. After a two-hour trek through the mountains and formal worship at Haguro Shrine, it was time for food.

Our group had dinner Shojin Ryori, the most incredible Buddhist vegetarian cuisine made with local mountain herbs, wild vegetables and mushrooms. For a carnivore, it was surprisingly delicious and satisfying.

We also enjoyed a bath in the natural hot spring onsen Lake Towada baths on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures. Stripping off all your clothes and inhibitions to bathe in the mineral-rich benefits of a geothermal hot spring is a treat for the senses and for your health. There are many traditional Japanese inns and hotels with hot springs throughout Tohoku.

How about outdoor experiences and adventure in Tohoku?

They say you do things outside of your comfort zone when you’re on vacation or, in this case, an overloaded FAM Trip. On a scenic Lake Towada, our small group enjoyed an adventurous canoe ride with stunning scenery all around. After going around in circles for ages, I’m happy to report that no one ended up in the lake! We also hiked the Oirase Gorge in Aomori which was covered in crimson and golden fall foliage. Tohoku is a paradise for nature and culture lovers.

How was the local Japanese cuisine?

For dinner, we were treated to authentic robatayaki cuisine (protein skewer dinner and grilled vegetables). The fresh and delicious seafood is sourced from the Sea of ​​Japan, the Pacific Ocean and Tsugaru Bay, unique to Lake Towada and centrally located in the northern Tohoku region. Charcoal-grilled dishes brought out the delight of giant clams, sweet Yes locally sourced river fish, prawns and pork.

A teppanyaki (an iron baking sheet) dinner of yonezawa the Yamagata beef was also memorable and fantastic. I didn’t know that the Tohoku region is a producer of premium wagyu beef. Savoring this local delicacy in person among people who have preserved these tastes and textures for centuries is unlike anything you can experience anywhere else. Even Tokyo.

Sake tasting is another must-do dining experience in Tohoku. Sake is produced throughout Tohoku; the region is ideal for the production of high quality rice, which results in excellent rice wine. Each region is known for its specific flavor profiles, which tend to pair particularly well with local culinary specialties.

The people of Tohoku have adapted to the harsh and long winters by being extremely flexible and creative in their daily lives. A small example is the many types of pickled radishes they prepare each fall. My favorite is a smoked variety, iburigakko, dried by smoking on the open hearth of the house. However, like other Japanese pickles, it pairs perfectly with a hot bowl of white rice. It’s the simplest things that often bring the most pleasure when traveling.

In Tohoku, you’ll find more subtle edible luxuries that showcase the stories, customs, and philosophy of the people behind Japan’s drinking and dining traditions.

A travel consultant sheds light on the lesser-known tourist attraction of Tohoku, Japan

What is the best season to visit Tohoku?

Tohoku is a year-round destination, thanks to its myriad attractions and variety of activities that make the most of its diverse climate. Choosing the best time to visit largely depends on the traveler’s preferred activities. The warmer months, for example, are ideal for hiking and walking. Each spring, cherry blossoms adorn many parts of the area, while summer offers a verdant color palette and the trees take on rich hues of red, orange and yellow in the fall. Skiing is a big draw in winter, thanks to the multiple ski resorts in the area. And, of course, Tohoku’s traditional temples and many other attractions are worth visiting all year round.

A travel consultant sheds light on the lesser-known tourist attraction of Tohoku, Japan

Why should American consumers visit Tohoku?

You’ll experience a true brand of hospitality in off-the-beaten-track Tohoku, like unique cultural experiences steeped in history combined with amazing local dishes.

Travelers from the United States will discover the charm of the Japanese countryside, very different from the experiences of the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka. Also, unlike the old capital of Kyoto, there is something very rustic about the whole Tohoku region.

Tohoku is a natural and cultural haven. Adorned with shimmering lakes, towering mountains, and comforting hot springs, the area offers a peaceful, uncrowded setting to experience outdoor activities, local traditions, culinary delights, and unique annual events that date back centuries. It’s the perfect destination for travelers interested in lesser-known destinations that offer memorable experiences based on nature and culture. The area is home to postcard-perfect small towns and laid-back towns, with all the comforts and conveniences a traveler could need. The region is divided into six prefectures, each with its own appeal.

Have you sent customers to Tohoku?

Yes, we have sent hundreds of customers to Tohoku area since 2015. We have created a combination, TOHOKU & HOKKAIDO tour which includes, Sendai, Matsushima, Kesennuma, Morioka, Oirase, Towada, Hirosaki and Aomori.

I strongly suggest that you work with a knowledgeable tour operator who can make suggestions on Tohoku based on your customers’ preferences. NON-STOP Travel creates many unique group tours as well as customized tours for first-timers to Japan and regular visitors to Japan looking to take off-the-beaten-path routes such as the Tohoku region.