1. Sanbongi Sunflower Festival (三本木ひまわりまつり)
July 27–August 15
Over 420,00 sunflowers in full bloom! Stroll through the fields and enjoy sunflower-themed delicacies such as sunflower ice cream, and even sunflower oil pressed from the seeds of sunflowers grown in these very fields.
Location: Himawari no Oka (ひまわりの丘). Map here.
Access: 30 minutes by bus from Furukawa Station (古川駅), followed by a 10-minute walk. Board a Sanbongi-Ohira Line (三本木・大衡村線) bus bound for Sanbongi Otonashi (三本木音無). Alight at Sanbongi Otonashi bus stop. Timetable here.
2. Indigo Noren: The Works of Keisuke Serizawa
May 21–August 18
Keisuke Serizawa was a textile designer who lived from 1895 to 1984. He was designated a Living National Treasure in 1956 by the national government in honor of the katazome stencil-dyeing technique he developed. Many of his works can be seen at this special exhibition. On select days, fan-making (600 yen) and mini-noren making (200 yen) workshops will be offered. Reservations are needed only for the fan-making workshop.
Hours: 10:00–17:00, closed Mondays. Last entrance is 30 minutes before closing.
Admission: 400 yen adults, 300 yen college and high school students. Middle school students and younger free when accompanied by adult.
Location: Tohoku Fukushi Daigaku Serizawa Keisuke Art and Craft Museum (東北福祉大学芹沢銈介美術工芸館). Map here.
Access: 3-minute walk from Sendai Station
3. Poisonous creature exhibition: Moudokuten 2
July 4–August 18
A poisonous creature exhibition, the sequel to last year's hit Moudokuten. Features poisonous bugs, frogs, sea creatures, and more! Though the signage is in Japanese only, it includes eye-catching and easy-to-understand infographics about each animals's poison and toxicity.
4. Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Festival
July 20–August 31
Take a romantic boat ride through thousands of pink flowers during the famous Lotus Festival at Lake Izunuma-Uchinuma, a popular destination in northern Miyagi for nature lovers. Operated by local fishermen, the rides take around 30 minutes and offer a perfect opportunity to take in the spectacular sight of lotuses floating on the lake.
Hours: Izunuma is always open. Boat rides available 8:00–16:00.
Admission: Free. Boat rides 700 yen adults, 400 yen children.
Location: Lake Izunuma (伊豆沼). Map here.
Access: Wakayanagi Kaiba dock is 10 minutes by taxi from Kurikoma-Kogen Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen). Izunuma east dock is a 10-minute walk from Nitta Station (JR Tohoku Main Line).
5. Modern Design Musubu Kurashi no Yume
July 13–September 1
A retrospective of practical modern design from the 1930s through 1950s. Features pieces by the likes of Bruno Taut, Antonin Raymond, Isamu Kenmochi, George Nakashima, and Isamu Noguchi. The exhibition is being hosted by the Tohoku History Museum, which also has great permanent exhibits about the history of Tohoku, from the Paleolithic to the modern age.
6. Hirafuku Hyakusui Exhibition (平福百穂展)
July 13–September 1
Hirafuku Hyakusui, a Tohoku native, was a renown painter and sketch artist active during the late Meiji through early Showa eras. This exhibition is the most comprehensive look at his work to date, introducing not only numerous works but also Hyakusui's interaction with his contemporaries.
Hours: 9:30–17:00 (last entry 16:30). Closed Mondays (except for August 12) and August 13.
Admission: 1300 yen adults, 1100 yen college students, 900 yen high schoolers and younger
Details (English): pref.miyagi.jp/site/museum-en
Location: Miyagi Prefectural Museum of Art (宮城県美術館). Map here.
Access: 7-minute walk from International Center Station Exit 1
7. VR haunted house: Onryo no Kanashibari Yashiki
July 19–September 1
A virtual-reality haunted house that promises to paralyze you with fear at the sight of their vengeful ghost! This event is actually a high-tech take on the traditional Japanese summertime practice of kaidanbanashi, the telling of ghost stories. Why in summer? Well, you know how hearing a good ghost story or watching a scary moving can "send chills down your spine"? In Japanese they call that feeling "samuke ga suru" (feeling a chill) and counted it among the ways to cool off on hot summer evenings before the invention of air conditioning.
8. Fukushima Waraji Festival (福島わらじまつり)
Fukushima City, Fukushima
Fukushima's contribution to the Tohoku Rokkonsai (the 6 Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku). The main event is the parading of a giant waraji sandal through the streets of town. The waraji is accompanied by a lively parade featuring dancers, musicians, ...even unicyclists! Spectators can also enjoy the numerous food stalls set up along the streets, including booths selling chilled cups of Fukushima's award-winning local sakes.
9. Walk with Cats 2: A Mitsuaki Iwago Photo Exhibition
Mitsuaki Iwago is known around the world for skillful and adorable cat photography. He travels the world taking pictures of cats in all sorts of environments. His first exhibition of these works, the original Walk with Cats exhibition, was such a hit that it's back! Walk with Cats 2 features about 170 of Iwago's latest and best snaps.
10. Jogi Nyorai Summer Festival (定義如来夏まつり)
Jogi area, Sendai
A festival commemorating the death of Taira no Sadayoshi, a Heike clan warrior. Taira no Sadayoshi fled western Japan after his clan was defeated by the rival Genji in the twelfth century, carrying a holy Amida Nyorai scroll with him to safety. He settled in Jogi, where he spent the rest of his life praying for peace and the salvation of his fallen clan. After his death, his disciples founded a temple to house the holy scroll--the inception of Jogi Nyorai Temple.
The festival will feature mikoshi carrying, a memorial ceremony, musical performances, and fireworks.
Hours: 9:00 until fireworks are over (fireworks start at 20:00)
Location: Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple (定義如来西方寺). Map here.
Access: 80 minutes by bus from Sendai Station (仙台駅). From Sendai Station West Exit Bus Stop #10, board an 844, 845, or 846 Line bus bound for Jogi (定義). Alight at Jogi, the final stop. Timetable here.
11. Odaka Satoyama Sunflower Festival & mazes
August 3 (festival), August 3–end of season (sunflower mazes)
A sunflower festival in the countryside of northern Fukushima. The highlight of event are the two life-sized "living" mazes, constructed by cutting labyrinthine paths into the sunflower fields. The mazes will be open from the festival day until the end of the sunflower season. On the day of the festival, horse and sheep fureai experiences will also be offered.
12. Kesennuma Port Festival (気仙沼みなとまつり)
A lively summer festival featuring parades, fireworks, taiko drumming, and more!
13. Reborn-Art Festival (リボーンアート・フェスティバル)
August 3–September 29
A major art festival held biennially in Ishinomaki, celebrating and promoting the revival of the area in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The festival features a plethora of site-specific artworks, plus food, music, and performance art events. Don't sweat it if you feel like don't quite understand the concept of the festival. Just go. Once you get there and start touring the artworks, you'll figure it out intuitively.
Hours: Varies by artwork
Admission: An RAF passport covers entry to all artworks*. Passports cost 3,000 for adults, 2,500 yen for college and high school students. (*Food events and ticketed concerts cost extra.)
Official website (English): reborn-art-fes.jp/en/
Location: Ishinomaki and surrounding areas. Map here.
Access: Varies by area. Artworks in the Central Ishinomaki Area can are accessible via a short walk from Ishinomaki Station. It is recommended to access artworks in farther flung areas by car, bicycle, or bus tour. The Ajishima area is accessible only by ferry.
Ajishima area access: About 1 hour by boat from the Ajishima Line Chuo Terminal (網地島ライン中央発着所). The Chuo Terminal is a 15-minute walk from Ishinomaki Station. Board boat bound for Ajishima (網地島), alight at Aji Port (網地港). Details and timetable here.
14. Seven Beach Festival
Official website: 7-beach-festival.strikingly.com
Location: Shobutahama (菖蒲田海水浴場)
Access: About 30 minutes by bus from Tagajo or Hon-Shiogama Stations. From Tagajo Station (多賀城駅) or Hon-Shiogama Station (本塩釜駅), board Gururinko (ぐるりんこ) bus bound for Shichigahama Kokusai Mura (七ヶ浜国際村). Alight at Shobutahama Kaisuiyokujo-mae (菖蒲田浜海水浴場前) bus stop. Tagajo Station bus timetable here. Hon-Shiogama Station bus timetable here.
15. National Mud Sled Race (全日本どろんこそりレース大会)
A fun, offbeat event where competitors race to drag sleds through muddy flooded rice fields. Though the event is national in the sense that people from all over Japan come to compete, its offbeat nature keeps the event from getting too crowded or the atmosphere too competitive. Spectators are welcome. In fact, participation is open to anyone as well! Those wishing to participate must submit an application by late July (see link for details).
16. Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri (山形花笠まつり)
Yamagata City, Yamagata
Yamagata's contribution to the Tohoku Rokkonsai (the 6 Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku). The main event is a lively parade of hanagasa dancers, all dancing to the beat of giant taiko drums. "Hanagasa" means "flower umbrella," a nod to the distinctive hats the dancers wear.
17. Sendai Tanabata (仙台七夕)
The biggest Tanabata festival in Japan, and Miyagi's contribution to the Tohoku Rokkonsai (the 6 Great Festivals of Tohoku). Enormous Tanabata kazari decorationsare hung along the shopping arcades of downtown Sendai, making for a memorable and very photogenic sight. The festival kicks off on August 5 with a large fireworks display. The kazari will be on display from the morning of August 6. Numerous events and cultural activities are offered throughout the festival--please see the official Sendai Tanabata website and i-Sendai website for details.
Hours: 19:30–20:30 August 5, 10:00–22:00 August 6 & 7, 10:00–21:00 August 8
Admission: Free. Paid seating is available for the fireworks show (see fireworks display link for details).
Official website (English): sendaitanabata.com\en
Location: Shopping arcades around downtown Sendai. Map here.
Access: Across the street from Sendai Station.
18. Zuihoden Tanabata Night (瑞鳳殿七夕ナイト)
A more intimate, slightly solemn event held in conjunction with Sendai Tanabata. Bamboo lanterns cast an otherworldly glow over Zuihoden, the final resting place of Date Masamune and other Date Clan leaders.
Admission: Adults 550 yen, high school students 400 yen, children 200 yen
Location: Zuihoden (瑞鳳殿). Map here.
Access by subway: A 20-min. walk from Omachi Nishi-koen Station (Sendai Subway Tozai Line).
Access by Loople bus: A 15-minute ride from Sendai Station.
19. Ohara Break (オハラ☆ブレイク)
A camp-in music, art, and food festival on the shores of Lake Inawashiro, hosted by the planners of the Arabaki Rock Fest. 50 different musical acts are scheduled to perform over the course of the festival. The art embraces a variety of mediums, from film to fashion to literature, including a "Rock Library." Food events are BBQ and sake themed, but food stalls run by local restaurants will also be on site, offering a range of delicious eats, from soba to artisanal coffee. Sake tasting events held several times over the course of the weekend, and BBQ prepared by a "BBQ instructor" will be available. DIY types can rent a BBQ rental to do their own grilling. As the event takes place at a beachside campground, guests are also welcome to cool off with dip in the lake.
20. Ogawara Summer Festival (おおがわら夏まつり)
A hometown-style summer festival known for its 5,000-strong fireworks display.
21. Sendai Craft Beer Festival
The best beer event in Miyagi! Features numerous booths serving up quality Tohoku craft beer and pub fare.
22. Sendai Sumo Tournament (大相撲仙台場所)
Taihaku Ward, Sendai
Professional sumo wrestlers from across Japan gather for this tournament. Enjoy the spectacle and actually understand what's going on by joining an English-friendly tour, accompanied by a Japanese sumo expert and native English-speaking interpreter who will explain the ins and outs of sumo to you.
Tickets: 6,359 yen per person. Reservations necessary, can book in English online (see event details & booking link).
Event details & booking (English): eventbrite.com
Official website (Japanese): sendaibasho.jp
Location: Kamei Arena Sendai (カメイアリーナ仙台). Map here.
Access: Meeting point for English group is Tomizawa Station.
23. Sairi Genya Lantern Illumination (齋理弦夜)
Over 1,000 hand-painted lanterns illuminate Sairi Yashiki, a historical merchants' warehouse complex from the Meiji period. Enjoy taiko drumming performances, yosakoi dance, and rakugo (traditional humorous storytelling) as you bathe in this magical atmosphere.
24. Gagaku no Yuube & Gagaku no Yuuni
Two evening concerts of gagaku (traditional Buddhist music played on traditional Japanese Buddhist instruments) held back to back. The first evening is the Gagaku no Yuube (雅楽の夕べ), a traditional shrine event accompanied by live gagaku and ceremonial dance. This event is the more formal of the two.
The Gagaku no Yuuni (雅楽の夕に) on August 13 is a newer event, a memorial for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The memorial is accompanied by live gagaku, and anyone who owns and can play a gagaku instrument is invited to join the performance (please notify shrine in advance). For everyone else, the shrine warmly welcomes us to come watch and listen!
Time: Gagaku no Yuube 18:30~ (August 12), Gagaku no Yuuni 16:00–18:00
Fee: Gagaku no Yuube is 3,000 yen per family. Gagaku no Yuuni concert is free.
Location: Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (大崎八幡宮). Map here.
Access by train: 20-minute walk from Tohokufukushidai-mae Station
Access by Loople bus: 45-minute ride from Sendai Station. Board Loople Sendai bus at Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool stop 16. Alight at bus stop 12 Osaki Hachimangu Shrine. Bus info here (English).
25. Furusato Fireworks in Naganuma (ふるさと花火 in 長沼)
A local fireworks festival featuring 3,000 fireworks, and known in particular for its 200-meter long "Niagara Falls" display.
26. Yamagata Fireworks Festival (山形花火大会)
Yamagata City, Yamagata
One of the biggest fireworks displays in Tohoku, featuring 15,000-20,000 fireworks!
Admission: Free or 500 yen depending on where you want to watch from. Reserved seats from 6,000 yen.
Official website: hanabi.gr.jp
Location: Along the Su River near Map here.
Access: By shuttle bus from Kajo Central (霞城セントラル) bus stop near Yamagata Station or Big Wing (ビッグウィング) bus stop near Unzen-Chitose Station. Bus info here.
27. Matsushima Umi no Bon (松島流灯会 海の盆)
A local festival with all the trappings of a traditional Japanese summer festival: odori dancing, lantern floating, Buddhist priests chanting sutras, and more! The festival received a Good Design Award in 2012 for its excellence in preserving traditional local culture. This image used as a header for this event roundup was also taken at this festival.
28. Wakayanagi Summer Festival Lantern Floating & Fireworks (若柳夏祭り流灯花火大会)
A hometown-style summer festival. Highlights include a traditional lantern floating ceremony and a 5,000-strong fireworks display
29. Naruse Lantern Floating & Fireworks (鳴瀬流灯花火大会)
A festival commemorating the victims of the Naruse River Flood and Great East Japan Earthquake. Victims are commemorated in a traditional lantern floating ceremony, followed by fireworks.
30. National Local Beer Festival in Ichinoseki
A large craft beer festival with a down-home vibe. The event features about 200 different beers, plus food stalls and live music.
31. Tricolore Music Festival (トリコローレ音楽祭)
A free outdoor music festival in Ishinomaki. 15 stages set up around central Ishinomaki will host live musical acts in a variety of genres: rock, jazz, R&B, and more. What does the "tricolore" stand for? The sea, people, and music.
32. Matsushima Base Aviation Festival (松島基地航空祭)
A yearly open-house event at the JASDF Matsushima Base. The highlight of the event is the air show put on by Blue Impulse, the areobatic demonstration team of the JASDF.
33. National Kokeshi Festival (全国こけし祭り)
August 30–September 1
Naruko Onsen, Miyagi
As the name implies, this festival is chock full of a variety of kokeshi-themed events! Highlights include a kokeshi parade, an auction where antique kokeshi can go for as little as 300 yen, and a kokeshi memorial service where worshippers offer up old kokeshi to be immolated in a purifying fire.
34. Izumi-ku Furusato Matsuri (泉区民ふるさとまつり)
Izumi Ward, Sendai
A festival trying to bring back a hometown vibe to Izumi Ward. Numerous food and carnival games stalls are set up, plus fun family-friendly experiences like rides atop miniature trains. The fireworks festival at the end of the night is especially popular.