In 2011 the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history—known as the Great East Japan Earthquake—destroyed much of the coastal Tohoku Region. The area has been rebuilding since and local business have been revitalized as travelers return to this beautiful part of the country.
The Miyagi-Kennan Hamakaido Road, in southern Miyagi Prefecture, connects the cities of Natori and Iwanuma, as well as Watari and Yamamoto towns. Travelers can start their hike or cycling from Sendai Airport and take in the coastal views while enjoying some of Japan’s finest seafood.
The most popular route, the Michinoku Coastal Trail, is the best way to experience the reinvigorated coastal towns, mingle with locals and sample the local fare—after all, this region boasts the world’s third largest fishing grounds. “Michinoku” is the ancient name of the Tohoku area. The trail follows the Pacific coast from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture to Soma in Fukushima Prefecture. Part of it runs through Miyagi, where you can navigate ancient roads, follow the Sanriku Beach Highway, which flourished as a trade route, and hike along the peninsula with the nation’s largest rias coastline.
Further inland is the Shiga Kogen, Mt. Sotoyama and Mt. Goshazan Trail, designated as Miyagi’s nature conservation area and a green-region environmental preservation area. It only requires four to five hours scaling three small peaks (Mt. Sanpozuka, Mt. Sotoyama and Mt. Goshazan), all within the 300-meter range. Keep an eye out for the wide and rare variety of flowers here like the katakuri lilies and kuzu arrowroot plant.
The Watari Mountains Trail near the castle town of Watari starts at Wariyama Pass near Daioji Temple (founded in 1604). Continue on to Mt. Kuromori, Mt. Shihozan and Mt. Shinzan for panoramic views stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains around Zao. The trail takes five hours excluding stops at the nearby Watari Local History Museum and Yamamoto Town Museum of History and Folklore.
The Miyagi-Kennan Hamakaido Cycling Route spans nearly 115 kilometers, starting at Sendai Airport in Natori City. You’ll head north as you follow the Teizan Canal, the longest canal in Japan. Named after Teizan Ko, the posthumous Buddhist name of famous daimyo Date Masamune, the canal flows from Iwanuma City at the estuary of the Abukuma River at Sendai Bay along the cities of Natori, Sendai, Tagajo, Shichigahama and Shiogama. Your first stop is the Great East Japan Earthquake Memorial Monument in Yuriage. Memorials on both sides contain an inscription as well as the names of the 944 people who lost their lives in the tsunami. Yuriage flourished as a port city during the Edo Period under the ruling Sendai Clan and was home to 5,500 people before the earthquake. Reconstruction of homes and industrial areas continue today and you can really feel the power of rebuilding a community.
You’ll then cycle inland and start making your way south. This shrine-hopping route passes by three Natori Kumano Shrines including Kumano Hongusha Shrine, Kumano-jinja Shrine and Kumano Nachi-jinja Shrine. The location and positioning of the three shrines resembles the famous three Kumano Shrines in Wakayama closely—which is unlike anywhere else in the nation.
As you approach the Abukuma River, you’ll find the famous Takekuma no Matsu trees. The two oddly shaped pine trees are actually joined at the root and appear in the famous Tale of Genji. The haiku poet Matsuo Basho described it in his famous novel “Oku no Hosomichi.” Despite difficult times through the ages, the tree remains resilient and has been planted here for generations.
The route continues south into Watari Town where you’ll find the hiking routes mentioned earlier, and loops back upward at Sakamoto Station, going north along the coast. The former Nakahama Elementary School near the station is a grim reminder of the power of the 2011 disaster. Located about 400 meters from the shoreline, the school was directly hit by the tsunami with waves reaching the second story of the building. The principal of the school evacuated people to a shed on the roof, saving at least 90 lives. Access is still prohibited, but the school is scheduled to reopen in 2020.
On your ride back up, taste the local cuisine including harako-meshi (fatty salmon placed on rice in salmon broth and topped with ikura roe), hokki-meshi (surf clams on rice, usually in season from December to April), akagai (ark shell, which Yuriage Port is famous for) and whitebait. There’s more than seafood too. Natori City is a major producer of seri (Japanese parsley) which is available from September to March and best served steamed in a hot pot. Ramen shops also compete for the most unique taste in Iwanuma City—so much so that Iwanuma is called a “ramen battlefield.”
If you don’t want to cycle the entire loop, this route can be broken down into shorter 30-kilometer routes: Kumano Sanja and Basho Route, Natori Route and Iwanuma Cycling Route (all within Natori City in the north). You can also end your journey at Sakamoto Station.
Back in 2009, Montbell —Japan’s largest homegrown outdoor brand—started a series of events called Sea to Summit. The goal was to help invigorate local areas holding events to experienced the local nature and landscape through canoeing, cycling, trekking and other means of human-powered movement. While these events continue be held in beautiful areas around Japan, the next natural progression was to provide information and guides so travelers could experience these areas throughout the year, at their pace and schedule while learning about the history and culture of the region and interacting with locals.
Japan Eco Track guides now cover more than 15 areas, and English versions of the guides are increasing as well so international travelers can follow maps with designated routes of varying difficulty levels. Each guide includes information on local businesses such as restaurants, local guides, tour operations and other attractions. Discounts and special offers are available at participating location when travelers show the Japan Eco Track map booklet.