Tohoku: Bountiful Nature in Northern Japan
Snow Monsters (CNN)
Japan's Tōhoku Region (東北地方), known for its rustic countrysides, expansive landscapes and relaxing natural hot springs, consists of six prefectures located in the north of Japan's main island of Honshu. It's name translates to "North East Region" and it receives some of the world's largest snowfall in the winter (making it a great spot for winter activities), yet experiences all four seasons.
Renowned for its samurai history, the region is also famous for having Japan's highest quality agriculture including rice, sake, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, and horse sashimi.
Here's a highlight of what makes this region special - from its charming festivals, beautiful nature and of course, its regional cuisine!
North Tōhoku is made up of Akita, Aomori and Iwate Prefectures while South Tōhoku consists of Fukushima, Miyagi and Yamagata Prefectures. Each with their own unique traditions, culture and charm.
Akita, which is also thought to be the origin of the dog breed carrying the same name, is famous for its rice farming and sake brewing, having one of the highest consumption rates of sake in Japan. Its Ōmagari competition in August is the largest fireworks display in the nation and its Yokote Snow Festival is the perfect time to cozy up in the region's unique snow huts while sipping on some warm sake.
Aomori is the northern most prefecture in Tohoku as well as the main island of Honshu. It's most famous for its apples, being Japan's largest producer, and for its Gonohe horses which were popular among the samurai, but are now bred for their meat which is served raw as a delicacy known as basashi. Aomori's Nebuta Festival is the largest and most famous in Japan, featuring large paper floats carried through the city.
With bountiful nature spreading from the Pacific Coast to the Ou Mountains, the longest mountain range in Japan, Iwate has a rich regional history that includes nature worship, traditional folklore and dances, and a deep samurai culture. Its people have a strong connection with the land and its agriculture, and produce some of Japan's best rice and sake, maezawa beef (a finely marbled beef that holds Japan's highest A5 rating), wanko soba (a mouthful of soba is placed in a bowl, and once eaten is quickly replaced with the next mouthful. It turns into a mini eating contest to see who can eat the most bowls and ends when a lid is placed on the last bowl).
Known as "Fruit Kingdom", Fukushima's fertile lands produce some of Japan's best fruits including its famous peaches, nashi (Japanese pears), cherries, grapes, kaki (persimmons - which are so beloved in Japan they've been named the country's national fruit) and apples.
The coastal region also specializes in fishing and seafood, where succulent snow crabs are harvested. Fukushima is also known for its beautifully decorated Aizu lacquerware, dating back to the late 14th century.
A region devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima has rebuilt and recovered in a way that is a true testament to the spirit of its people.
Miyagi is well known for its relaxing onsens and impressive castles, but it's most famous for hosting the countries largest Tanabata festival, or Star Festival. Every August, the streets are filled with people in their beautiful kimonos and yukatas, admiring the vibrant decorations made up of wishes written on colorful pieces of paper.
The Tanabata festival celebrates the meeting of the two deities, Orihime and Hikoboshi, lovers separated by the Milky Way who are only able to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. The story of these star-crossed lovers even predates Romeo and Juliet!
Some regional specialities include sasa kamaboko, a regional fish cake made from a local white fish, gyutan, grilled beef tongue, and zundamochi, unsweetened pounded glutinous rice topped with a sweet edamame paste.
Heavy snowfalls and northern winds produce a unique phenomenon in Yamagata known as "snow monsters" - large trees that get covered in snow and end up looking like large white monsters!
Yamagata is also the largest producer of juicy cherries and pears in Japan, but may be most famous for a mysterious local fruit known as akebi, or chocolate vine. Don't let the name fool you though, this recently cultivated fruit is actually purple on the outside and is filled with translucent flesh and tiny black seeds on the inside. Only available for about two weeks each autumn, this regional delicacy has a unique taste that is definitely more bitter than sweet!
About the author:
Co-founder of Kokoro Care Packages. Lillian is a half-Japanese, half-British Canadian currently living in LA. She spent almost a decade in finance (capital markets) before co-founding Kokoro Care Packages with Aki Sugiyama in 2018. She is passionate about sharing her Japanese heritage and preserving the traditions of Japan. She believes in the power of community and connections, nature and wellness, and the importance of a good night's sleep