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Event Roundup: December 2020

Kick off your winter with seasonal light-ups, ski resort openings, and more!

· Events,Winter

1. Sendai Wara Art 

せんだいわらアート

Through December 5

Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai

A fun and eco-friendly art show. Wara (straw), a byproduct of the rice harvest, is used to shape large sculptures. The event takes place at the horticultural center Midori no Mori, home to seasonally changing gardens and a farmer's market where you can purchase locally-grown produce and potted plants.

Hours: 9:00–17:00

Admisson: Free

Details: sendai-nogyo-engei-center.jp

Location: Sendai Nogyo Engei Center Midori no Mori (せんだい農業園芸センターみどりの杜). Map here.

Access: 10 minutes by bus or a 30-minute walk from Arai Station. From Arai Station, board a bus bound for Former Arahama Elementary School (旧荒浜小学校) via Nogyo Engei Center (農業園芸センター). Alight at Nogyo Engei Center bus stop. Timetable here.

2. Big Record Market & Secondhand Book Fair

大レコードCD市 & 古本まつり

Through December 13

Central Sendai

This annual record and CD market is one of Tohoku's largest! A rotating group of 25 sellers from all over Japan gather to sell music the old-fashioned way: on physical media. There's ample selection for bargain hunters, but also rare and hard-to find items that audiophiles and hardcore music fans will be thrilled to add to their collections. The seller lineup was rotated on November 19, so there will be something new even if you already went earlier in the year.

There's also a secondhand book market being held in conjunction with the record market. Indie booksellers from across Tohoku and Kanto will be selling books and printed matter (posters, magazines, and more) in a wide range of genres and prices, from bargain buys to rare treasures—including rare comic books! Though the number of English-language books they'll stock is uncertain, you're sure to find some beautiful art books, and Japanese-language ones suitable for whatever reading level you're at.

Hours: 10:00–20:00

Closed days: None

Admission: Free

Details: e-bf.jp/e_beans

Location: E Beans. Map here.

3. Annormal: A Moyoko Anno Exhibition

安野モヨコ展

Through December 13

Central Sendai

Moyoko Anno is the wife of Neon Genesis Evangelion director Hideaki Anno, but is also an accomplished manga artist in her own right. She was voted the thirteenth-most popular manga artist in a recent Oricon poll, and it was recently announced that her manga Memoirs of Amourous Gentlemen will be made into a Broadway musical—a first for Japanese manga!

Annormal celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Moyoko's debut, and will feature about five hundred of her works, including manga as well as the fashion illustrations she is also known for.

Hours: 9:00–17:00 (last entry 16:30)

Closed days: Mondays*, plus November 4, 24, & 26. *If Monday is a holiday, the museum will be open Monday and closed the following day.

Admission: ¥800 adults, ¥460 high school students, ¥230 children ages elementary to junior high

Official website: annormal.annnomoyoko.com

Location: Sendai Literature Museum (仙台文学館). Map here.

Access by subway: 30-minute walk from Dainohara Station

Access by bus: 25 minutes by bus from Sendai Station, followed by a 5-minute walk. At Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool (仙台駅西口バスプール) platform #4, board bus bound for Niji no Oka Danchi (虹の丘団地) via Shiyakusho (市役所経由), Izumi-Chuo Station (泉中央駅) via Niji no Oka (虹の丘経由), Tomiya Eigyosho (富谷営業所), Minami-Tomiya Sunny Town (南富谷サニータウン), Shoryo New Town (松陵ニュータウン) via Yaotome Station (八乙女駅経由), Tsurugaoka New Town (鶴が丘ニュータウン) via Jutaku-mae (住宅前経由), Koyodai Danchi (向陽台団地), Akaishidai Danchi (明石台団地), Tohoku Gakuin Daigaku Izumi Campus (東北学院大学泉キャンパス), or New Tomiya Garden City (新富谷ガーデンシティー). Alight at Kitane Nichome・Bungakukan-mae (北根二丁目・文学館前) bus stop. Route map here, timetables here. For other bus access options, see here.

4. (Instant) Ramen Festival 2020

ラーメンフェスティバル2020

Through December 16

Central Sendai

A ramen festival fit for 2020. This "festival" is about as coronavirus prevention–friendly as it can get—in fact, it would even make a good place to purchase supplies for an upcoming round of self-quarrantine. About 150 kinds of instant ramen from all over Japan will be available for purchase, to be prepped with ease with ease in the comfort of your own home. In addition to ramen, about 30 kinds of readymade Japanese curries will also be available.

Hours: 10:00–20:00 (~18:00 December 16)

Cost: Ramen prices range from ¥100 to ¥700

Details: loft.co.jp

Location: Sendai Nagamachi Loft (仙台長町ロフト). Map here.

Access: Next to Nagamachiminami Station

5. The Treasure of Yamagakoi Kofun exhibition

山囲古墳のお宝 一時里帰りした名取の至宝

Through December 20

Natori, Miyagi

The Yamagakoi Kofun is one of the Iinozaka Kofun, a cluster of large tombs in Natori dating back to around 4 CE, designated a National Historic Site. For the most part these tombs remain a mystery, with very little excavation having been carried out even for research purposes. One of the few exceptions is the Yamagakoi Kofun, which was excavated in 1949. A kabutsuchitachi sword was unearthed, and subsequently taken away from the city. This year, for a short few months, the sword will be back home and on display at the local history museum.

In addition to the exhibits, the Natori Museum of History and Folklore also offers hands-on crafting and fire-making experiences, no reservations required! Some of the hands-on experiences are free, while others require small fee (around ¥200). Try your hand at making magatama jewel, a pin, pottery rubbings, and more!

Hours: 9:00–17:00

Closed days: Mondays (If Monday is a holiday, the museum will be open Monday and closed the following day.)

Admission: Free

Exhibition details: natori-shiryokan.jp 

Iinozaka Kofun details (English): wikipedia.org (For details about the Yamagakoi Kofun specifically, you'll need to see the Japanese version of the page.)

Location: Natori City Museum of History and Folklore (名取市歴史民俗資料館). Map here.

Access: 15-minute walk from Morisekinoshita Station, or 1.3 kilometers on foot or by rental cycle from Natori Station

6. Words and Prints: Exhibition of Prints from the Tyler Graphics Archive Collection

ことばと版画:タイラーグラフィックス・アーカイブコレクション展

Through December 20

Sukagawa, Fukushima

Words and Prints is the thirty-third exhibition of works from the Tyler Graphics Archive Collection of the CCGA (Center for Contemporary Graphic Art). The focus this time around is on print collections and illustrated poetry anthologies by expressionists Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, and works by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. For more details, check out the Center's official website, which features excellent English info.

Hours: 10:00–17:00 (last entry 16:45)

Closed days: Every Monday (unless Monday is a public holiday), and the day following a public holiday

Admission: ¥300 adults, ¥200 students. Admission is free for children ages elementary school and younger, and seniors ages 65+.

Language: English OK

Details (English): dnpfcp.jp

Location: CCGA Center for Contemporary Graphic Art (現代グラフィックアートセンター). Map here.

Access: 32-minute walk from Oshioe Station

7. Light-Up at Miyagi Prefectural Library

宮城県図書館地形広場のライトアップ

Through December 25

Izumi Ward, Sendai

UPDATE: Though originally planned as a fall-only event, this light-up was so well received that it's been extended through most of December!

The Miyagi Prefectural Library is situated right next to a lovely wooded area. This fall, the trees closest to the library will receive a rainbow-hued dynamic-lighting makeover, an Instagenic backdrop for an evening stroll, or a meal at the library's new Panora Cafe.

Light-up hours: 16:00–19:00 (cafe last order 18:30)

Closed days: Irregular

Admission: Enjoying the view from the outdoor plaza or from inside the library is free. If you want to enjoy the view from inside the cafe, food or drink purchase is required.

Details: panora.cafe

Location: Miyagi Prefectural Library (宮城県図書館). Map here.

Access: 20–30 minutes by bus from Izumi-Chuo Station. At Izumi-Chuo Station Bus Pool platform #3, board bus bound for Techno Hills Higashi (テクノヒルズ東), or Miyagi Daigaku・Kogyodanchi (宮城大学・工業団地) via Izumi Park Town Shako-mae (泉パークタウン車庫前経由). Alight at Miyagi Toshokan-mae (宮城図書館前) bus stop. Timetables here.

8. The National Treasures of Chugu-ji Temple

東日本大震災復興祈念 奈良・中宮寺の国宝展

Through January 12

Central Sendai

Chugu-ji is a temple in Nara founded in the seventh century. Once the palace of the mother of Prince Shotoku, it was converted into a temple, and later an imperial convent, following her death. The temple is home to two National Treasures as well as many other fine works of Buddhist art. One of these National Treasures, the Statue of Pensive Bodhisattva, will be displayed in Tohoku for the first time ever at this exhibition. Many of the temple's lesser-known treasures will also be displayed, as will a replica of the Chugu-ji's other National Treasure, the Tenjukoku Mandala Shucho.

Hours: 9:30–17:00 (last entry 16:30)

Closed: Mondays (except Nov 23 & Jan 11), plus Nov 24, Dec 28–Jan 4

Admission: ¥1,500 adults, ¥1,300 college students, ¥750 children ages elementary to high school

Language: Limited English

Details (English): pref.miyagi.jp

Location: The Miyagi Museum of Art (宮城県美術館). Map here.

Access: 5-minute walk from International Center Station

9. San Juan Illumination

サン・ファンイルミネーション

Through January 24

Ishinomaki, Miyagi

A holiday illumination at the San Juan Bautista Museum, a museum about the Keicho Mission, an envoy sent to the Vatican and Spain by the Date clan around four hundred years ago to establish trade relations. The focal point of the museum is a recreation of the ship used by the envoy to cross the ocean. During this illumination event, the ship and surrounding hillside will be decked out in Christmas lights.

On December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, and 20, the museum itself will also have special evening hours (16:30–19:30), so you can learn about the history of the ship and its mission before or after you admire the lights.

Hours: 16:30–20:30 (illumination)

Admission (illumination viewing): Free

Admission (museum): ¥350 adults, children ages high school & younger free

Details: santjuan.or.jp

Location: Miyagi San Juan Bautista Museum (サン・ファン館). Map here.

Access: 25-minute walk from Watanoha Station

10. Migratory Birds at Izunuma & Uchinuma

伊豆沼・内沼の野鳥

Through early February

Tome, Miyagi

Lakes and marshes in Tome and Kurihara, Miyagi have been designated protected wetlands under the international Ramsar Convention. Every winter, thousands upon thousands of migratory ducks, geese, and swans fly here from as far away as Siberia to overwinter in the warm (compared to Siberia, at least) climate of Miyagi. During the day, the birds scavenge for leftover grains in the surrounding rice paddies. At night they flock to the lakes and marshes, where they can sleep safely, away from most predators.

Visitors can come see the birds at any time, but the most spectacular views are around sunrise and sunset, when the birds take flight en masse, filling the sky with their graceful movement. Those who want to feed the birds can come midday, when hungry loafers gather near the shore, waiting for handouts from friendly humans. Visitors are welcome to feed the birds but are asked to refrain from feeding them anything that might be bad for their health, so it's best to play it safe and feed the birds the specially formulated esa (feed) available for purchase at lakeside stands and local product markets near the lakes.

Time: 24/7, but best birdwatching time is around sunrise and sunset

Admisison: Free. Bird feed ¥100 per bag.

Details: tohoku.env.go.jp

Bird status: kurihara.kb.net

Location: Lakes Izunuma, Uchinuma, and Naganuma (伊豆沼、内沼、長沼). Map here (Lake Izunuma in pinned, with Lake Uchinuma and Naganuma just a few hundred meters away to the southwest and southeast, respectively.)

Access: Lake Izunuma is the most convenient access by public transportation—a 10-minute walk from Nitta Station.

30. Kearashi of Kesennuma Bay

気仙沼の気嵐

Through late February

Kesennuma, Miyagi

Kearashi is a kind of ice fog, a rare winter phenomenon. When the air temperature drops very low (around -20° Celsius) but the surface of a body of water remains relatively warm, vapor rising off the water freezes into wisps of fog so thick, it seems as if one could reach out and grasp it. An easily accessible place known for kearashi is Kesennuma Bay. It's a popular sight among local photography enthusiasts, who gather early in the morning to capture it on camera.

Time: Best viewing is for about 1 hour around sunrise

Fee: Free

Details: kesennuma-kanko.jp

Location: Pretty much anywhere with good views of Kesennuma Bay (気仙沼湾). Map here. Recommended viewing spots with convenient access include the the seawall below Kesennuma Plaza Hotel, and the area around the Kesennuma Fishing Port/Kesennuma Fish Market.

11. Stardust Pageant Umihotaru

スターダスト・ページェント「海ほたる」

December 6–January 5

Onagawa, Miyagi

Umihotaru (lit. "sea fireflies"), are miniscule bioluminescent crustaceans that inhabit the seas of Japan, bathing coastal shallows in an evanescent glow whenever they are disturbed. At this winter light-up, tens of thousands of Christmas lights illuminate the plaza in front of Onagawa Station, resembling the glow of umihotaru floating in the sea at night.

Despite Onagawa being a very small town, the station area here is actually a great spot for a low-key night out, with several pubs and izakaya in the shotengai across the street from the station offering delicious food and drink, like Bar Sugar Shack and craft beer pub Garuya. Onagawa Station even has its own onsen bathouse, the perfect place to warm up after being out in the cold enjoying the illumination.

Hours: 16:30–22:00

Admission: Free

Details: nihon-kankou.or.jp

Location: The plaza in front of Onagawa Station

Access: Just outside Onagawa Station

12. Ogawara Sakura Illumination

おおがわら桜イルミネーション

December 4–January 11

Ogawara, Miyagi

The Hitome Senbonzakura in Ogawara is Miyagi's most famous cherry blossom spot. Though the blossoms won't be back until spring, Ogawara reprises their delicate blush in winter with pink Christmas lights wrapped around the famous cherry trees.

Hours: 17:00–22:00

Admission: Free

Details: town.ogawara.miyagi.jp

Location: Along the Shiroishi River between the Ogata Bridge and the Suehiro Bridge (白石川右岸桜堤の尾形橋ー末広橋間). Map here.

Access: 3-minute walk from Ogawara Station

13. Oroshimachi Tamageta Market

仙台卸町たまげた市

December 5–6

Central Sendai

The Oroshimachi area of Sendai has long been a hub of wholesale markets and retailers. In fact, that's how the area got its name ("oroshi" means "wholesale"). In keeping with the neighborhood's mercantile spirit, twenty-five Oroshimachi shops will be offering special goods and outlet sales as part of this event, selling everything from clothing to smoked nuts to coronavirus-prevention gear. In addition to the shopping, the market will feature a stamp rally, early bird giveaways, and even a "winter Tanabata."

Hours: 9:00–16:00 December 5, 9:00–15:00 December 6

Admission: Free

Details: oc-sendai.ne.jp

Location: Participating shops throughout the Oroshimachi neighborhood, ane the special event venue at Intilaq Tohoku Innovation Center (インティラック)東北イノベーションセンター). Map here.

Access: 7-minute walk from Oroshimachi Station

14. One Line: Kesennuma Christmas Illumination Project

One Line~気仙沼クリスマスイルミネーションプロジェクト~

December 5–January 11

Kesennuma, Miyagi

One Line is an annual winter light-up event in Kesennuma, started after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake to help lift the spirits of residents. This year too, the event aims to lift everyone's spirits in the face of the ongoing pandemic. Cheerful illuminations will take place at several venues across the city, and local residents are invited to get involved by decorating the outside of their homes as well.

Hours: 18:00–22:00

Admission: Free

Official website: kesennuma-christmas.com

Location: Various locations throughout the bay area of Kesennuma City, including Umi no Ichi (海の市) and Kesennuma City Hall (気仙沼市役所). Maps here.

Access: On foot or by bus from Kesennuma Station. Exact route varies by destination.

15. Karakuwa Clean Olle volunteer event

唐桑・クリーンオルレ

December 6

Kesennuma, Miyagi

The Karakuwa Peninsula is home to one of Miyagi's four Olle hiking trails, healthy and accessible leisure destinations even in the age of coronavirus. At this volunteer event, you can come help maintain the trail, keeping it clean and safe for you and other hikers to enjoy. Most of the "clean-up" consists of picking up litter, so all are welcome to come out and help out—no special skills or fitness required!

Hours: 9:00–11:00

Fee: Free

Reservations: None needed

Event details: kesennuma-kanko.jp

Kesennuma-Karakuwa Olle Trail details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Meeting spot: Ogama Hanzou Parking Lot (半造駐車場). Map here.

Access: 25 minutes from Shishiori Karakuwa Station, followed by a short walk. At Shishiori Karakuwa Station (鹿折唐桑駅), board Osaki Line (御崎線) bus bound for Osaki (御崎). Alight at Ogama Hanzo Iriguchi (巨釜半造入口). Timetables here.

16. Thinking of You: A Misato Sano Solo Exhibition

美里佐野個展「Thinking of You」

December 12–27

Shiogama, Miyagi

Misato Sano is a Matsushima-based wood sculptor who specializes in adorable carvings of dogs, often life-sized! Photos alone of her artworks are enough to make animal lovers squeal with delight, and seeing her works in person is better yet! On Saturdays and Sundays, Sano-san will be at the gallery in person, answering questions and mingling with fans.

In addition to Sano's adorable dog art, on December 19 and 20 the gallery will also be offering artisanal baked goods for sale.

Hours: 11:30–17:30

Closed days: Monday

Admission: Free

Language: English OK

Exhibition details: birdoflugas.com

Misato Sano official website (English): sanomisato.com

Location: Birdo Flugas (バルド・フルーバス). Map here.

Access: 10-minute walk from Hon-Shiogama Station

17. Yuriage Harbor Morning Market Tour

December 13

Natori, Miyagi

Yuriage Port Morning Market is a bustling seafood and produce market known for its lively auction, one of the few where the general public is welcomed to participate. But how do you know what fish to buy, or if something is a good value? This English-friendly tour teaches visitors how to navigate the market like a pro, from choosing the right seafood to haggling with fishmongers. After learning the tricks of the trade from your guide, tour participants (except small children) will be given a gift certificate for the market, so you can try out your new seafood buyer skills!

Time: 8:00–8:40 or 9:00–9:40

Admission: ¥1,000 adults and children ages high school and older, children ages junior high & younger free. BUT the ¥1,000 participation fee includes a ¥1,000 coupon to be used at the market. So once you factor in the coupon, the tour is free.

Language: English OK

Reservations: Required. Can book via website, email, or telephone.

Details (English): kankou.miyagi.natori.jp

Meeting place: Yuriage Port Morning Market Maple Hall (メープル館). Map here.

Access by rental cycle: About 7 kilometers from Natori Station
Access by bus: A 16-minute ride from Natori Station, followed by a 5-minute walk. Board a Yuriage Line (閖上線) or Tobu Yuriage Loop Line (東部閖上循環線) bus near Natori Station East Exit. Alight at Shinsai Memorial Park (震災メモリアル公園) bus stop. Timetables available here as PDF downloads; click on Natorin-go Guidebook (なとりん号ガイドブック).

18. Sumikawa Snow Park winter season

Winterシーズンすみかわスノーパーク

December 15–April 4

Zao-machi, Miyagi

Sumikawa Snow Park is the highest-elevation ski resort in Miyagi, a prime destination for local powderhounds and base for backcountry adventures on Mount Zao. The snow park features both groomed and ungroomed runs, plus a terrain park.

If you're already very experienced at backcountry AND familiar with the terrain of Mount Zao, you can simply register your route in the resort's logbook and head up the mountain on your own. For safety's sake, unless you're already very familiar with the backcountry of Mount Zao (no matter how much experience you have elsewhere), we highly recommend going with a guide on your first couple of trips.

Hours: 9:00–16:00 (December 5–April 7), 9:00–16:30 (March 1–April 4 weekends & holidays)

Fee: Varies by pass type. An adult 1-day pass is ¥3,500.

Details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Official website: zao-sumikawa.jp

Location: Sumikawa Snow Park (すみかわスノーパーク). Map here.

Access: 40 minutes from Togatta Onsen or 125 minutes from Sendai Station by free shuttle bus. Reservations are required, see details here.

19. Spring Valley Ski Resort winter season starts

スプリングバレー泉高原スキー場のウィンターシーズンスタート

December 18

Izumi Ward, Sendai

Did you know Sendai City is home to not one, but two, ski resorts? Spring Valley is the bigger of the two, catering to city dwellers with generous night ski hours and a gourmet food court featuring actually-delicious pizza, ramen and more.

Hours: 9:00–22:00 most nights, with extended night hours on special occasions

Fee: Varies by ticket type and season. A regular season adult 8-hour lift ticket costs ¥3,800.

Details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Official website: springvalley.co.jp

Location: Spring Valley Ski Resort (スプリングバレースキー場). Map here.

Access: 50 minutes by bus from Izumi-Chuo Station (route varies by day of week, see below). Timetables available here.

  •  Weekends & holidays: Board city bus 10 bound for Izumi Kogen Spring Valley (泉高原スプリングバレー) at Izumi-Chuo Station. Alight at Izumi Kogen Spring Valley (final stop).
  • Weekdays: Board city bus 10 bound for Izumidake Shizen Fureaikan (泉岳自然ふれあい館) at Izumi-Chuo Station. Alight at Izumidake Shizen Fureaikan (final stop). Transfer to complimentary Spring Valley Shuttle Bus (スプリングバレーシャトルバス).

20. Onikobe Ski Resort winter season starts

オニコウベスキー場ウィンターシーズンオープン

December 18

Osaki, Miyagi

Onikobe is northern Miyagi's biggest ski/snowboard resort. Even though it's easily accessible via public transit, it doesn't get crowded like the resorts closer to Sendai City do. Night ski is available on weekends and holidays. Bus service runs between Naruko-Onsen Station and the resort, making the Naruko Onsen area a great base for your ski/snowboard trip. In fact, several of the pensions and inns at the base of the ski resort itself boast natural hot springs, meaning you can go straight from the slopes and into a warm onsen bath within a matter of minutes, no need to drive anywhere or even pack up your gear!

Hours: 9:00–17:00 weekdays, 8:30–17:00 weekends & holidays, night ski 16:00–20:00

Fee: Varies by season and ticket type. An adult 1-day peak season pass is ¥4,000.

Details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Official website: onikoube.com

Location: Onikobe Ski Resort (オニコウベスキー場). Map here.

Access: About 40 minutes by city bus from Naruko-Onsen Station. At Naruko-Onsen Station (鳴子温泉駅), board Onikobe Line (鬼首線) bus. Alight at Resort Park Onikobe (リゾートパークオニコウベ). Bus timetable and map here.

21. Sendai Pageant of Starlight

仙台光のページェント

December 18–January 11

Central Sendai

Some worried it would be cancelled, but the Pageant of Starlight is officially on for 2020! Though some of the events associated with the Pageant (like the Santa parade) have been cancelled this year due to concerns over coronavirus, the main attraction, the light-up of the zelkova trees along Jozenji-dori Avenue, will be as bright and festive as ever. In fact, this year they've extended the light-up through mid-January, keeping that holiday cheer around a bit longer than in regular years.

Hours: 18:00–22:00 weekends & holidays, 19:00–22:00 weekdays. Special dates: Christmas Eve (December 24) 19:00~23:00, New Year's Eve (December 31) 19:00–24:00. 

Closed days: Weekdays January 1–8

Admission: Free

Official website: sendaihikape.jp

Location: Along Jozenji-dori Avenue (定禅寺通). Map here.

Access: 1-minute walk from Kotodaikoen Station

22. Numajiri Ski Resort opens

沼尻スキー場営業期間

December 19–March 21

Inawashiro, Fukushima

Opened in 1915, Numajiri Skijo is said to be the oldest currently-operating ski resort in Japan. The park has kept up with the times, regularly updating their equipment and adding new features, including a terrain park. The park caters to snowboarders who are beginners at tricks. That makes for a comfortable and welcoming environment for practicing and improving snowboarding skills—no worries about getting laughed at, and no pressure to let the better snowboarders have the park to themselves. Numajiri Onsen is located at the base of the resort, the perfect base for a ski/snowboarding getaway.

Hours: 8:30–16:00

Fee: Varies by ticket type. On a weekend, a 1-day pass for an adults costs ¥4,300.

Official website: numajiri-ski.jp

Location: Numajiri Ski Resort (沼尻スキー場). Map here.

Access: About 30 minutes by bus from Inawashiro Station (猪苗代駅), followed by a 50-minute walk. Board bus bound for Nakanozawa (中ノ沢), alight at Nakanozawa Hoikusho-mae (中の沢保育所前) or Nakanozawa Onsen (中の沢温泉) bus stop (The Hoikusho-mae bus stop is closer, but we're having trouble finding it on any bus timetables. If you go by bus and can confirm this stop really exists, please let us know!). Bus route map here, timetables here.

23. Izumigatake Ski Resort Opening Day

泉ヶ岳スキー場のオープン

December 20

Izumi Ward, Sendai

Izumigatake Skijo is the smaller of Sendai City's two ski resorts. Its convenient location, gentle terrain, and mild climate make it a great place for Sendai residents just learning how to ski/snowboard. On opening day, free coffee and tonjiru soup will be given out to visitors, and some types of lift tickets will be half price.

Hours (giveaways): 10:00–13:00

Hours (ski lift operation): 9:00–16:00 weekdays, 9:00–16:30 weekends & holidays

Fee: Free admission, lift ticket prices vary by type. A regular adult 1-day lift ticket is ¥3,300.

Details: izumigatake.net

Location: Izumigatake Ski Resort (泉ヶ岳スキー場). Map here.

Access: 40 minutes by bus from Izumi-Chuo Station. At Izumi Chuo Station bus stop 2, board bus bound for Izumigatake Ski Resort/Izumigatake Shizen Fureai-kan (泉ヶ岳スキー場・泉岳自然ふれあい館). Alight at Izumigatake Shizen Fureai-kan bus stop. Timetable here.

24. St. Mary Ski Resort opens

みやぎ蔵王セントメリースキー場のウィンターシーズン

December 22

Kawasaki, Miyagi

This Miyagi ski resort is located near the expressway that connects Sendai and Yamagata City. So near, in fact, that some of the runs actually pass under the expressway! Aside from the novelty of skiing an underpass, the resort also offers night skiing, a terrain park, and a "Kid's Land" snow play area.

Hours: Varies by date. See official website for details.

Closed days: None during winter ski season

Fee: Varies by ticket type. An adult 7-hour lift ticket is ¥3,500.

Details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Official website: stmary-338.com

Location: Miyagi Zao Saint Mary Ski Resort (みやぎ蔵王セイントマメリースキー場). Map here.

25. Zao Liza World Opening Day

スキー場開き

December 25

Kaminoyama, Yamagata

Liza World is a ski/snowboard resort located on the Yamagata side of Mount Zao. Free shuttle bus service from Kaminoyama-onsen Station makes for cheap and convenient access to the slopes, and a good excuse to stay overnight at one of Kaminoyama Onsen's many ryokan. On December 25, use of the lifts is free all day!

Hours: 8:30–16:00 December 25–January 15, January 16–April 4 8:30–16:30

Fee: Free on December 25. (The rest of the season, fee varies by ticket type. An adult 1-day lift ticket is ¥3,700.)

Event details: zaoliza.co.jp/wntr

Official website (English): zaoliza.co.jp/enwntr

Location: Zao Liza World (蔵王ライザワールド). Map here.

Access: About 30 minutes by free shuttle bus from Kaminoyama-onsen Station. At the bus stop in front of Kaminoyama Onsen Sightseeing Information Center (かみのやま温泉観光案内所前, located across the plaza from Kaminoyama-onsen Station), board White Echo Go (ホワイトエコー号) bus bound for Zao Liza World Ski Resort (蔵王ライザワールドスキー場). Alight at Zao Liza World Ski Resort, the final stop. Timetable here.

26. Zao Snow Monster Light-Up

蔵王樹氷ライトアップ

December 26–February 28 (Fridays & weekends only January 8–25)

Zao Onsen, Yamagata

Snow monsters are a phenomenon that occur only in places with just the right combination of snow, wind, and frigid temperatures. Under the right conditions, trees get covered in layer upon layer of ice and snow, transforming them into phantasmagoric shapes. Mount Zao is one of the best places to see these "creatures." The most convenient way to access them is via the Zao Ropeway at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort. Visitors can simply ride the gondola up to take in the view from the observation deck at the top, or take a short walk from the gondola station to trapse around the snow monsters and see them up close. At night, the chimerical appearance of the snow monsters is played up with colorful lighting.

Hours: 17:00–21:00

Closed days: Tuesdays (except December 29), weekdays (except Friday) January 8–25

Fee: Admission to the light-up is free, but you'll need to ride the ropeway to get there, which costs ¥3,000 round-trip.

Snow monster details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Official page: zaoropeway.co.jp

Location: Zao Onsen Ski Resort (蔵王温泉スキー場). Map here.

Access from Sendai Station: 85 minutes by bus from Sendai Station, followed by a short walk and gondola ride. From Sendai Station East Exit bus stop 76 (仙台駅東口76番), board bus bound for Zao Onsen Bus Terminal (蔵王温泉バスターミナル). Alight at Zao Onsen Bus Terminal. From the bus terminal, walk to the Zao Ski Resort building, where you can catch the gondola. Reservations are required for the bus; see details here. If you can't make a reservation for the Sendai bus or don't want to spend the night, consider catching the one from Yamagata Station, which doesn't require reservations. Note that the Sendai-bound departs too early for you to catch the light-up on a day trip. If you're coming direct from Sendai, you'll either need to spend the night in Zao Onsen, or return via the Yamagata Station–bound bus.

Access from Yamagata Station: About 35 minutes from Yamagata Station. From bus stop 1 in front of Yamagata Station (山形駅前一番), board bus bound for Zao Onsen (蔵王温泉). Alight at Zao Onsen Bus Terminal (蔵王温泉バスターミナル), the final stop. Timetables here.

27. Snow monster snowcat & backcountry tours

みやぎ蔵王の樹氷めぐり

December 26–March 4

Zao-machi, Miyagi

Sumikawa Snow Park serves as the base for snow monster sightseeing on the Miyagi side of Mount Zao. Snowcat vehicle tours offer a convenient way to see them without having to do any hiking or be out in the cold for long. If you decide you want a more adventurous way to see the snow monsters, Sumikawa Snow Park also offers backcountry snowshoeing, snowboarding, and/or skiing tours through M's Guide.

Time: 2 departures per day, at 11:00 & 13:30

Snowcat tour fee: From ¥5,000 adults, ¥4,000 children.

Backcountry tour fee: From ¥4,500. Fee varies by course.

Reservations: Required

Snow monster details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Sumikawa Snow Park details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Backcountry tour details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Location: Miyagi Zao Sumikawa Snow Park (宮城蔵王すみかわスノーパーク). Map here.

Access: By free shuttle bus, 125 minutes from Sendai Station or 40 minutes from Togatta Onsen. Reservations are required, see here for details.

28. Night ski at Zao Onsen Ski Resort

ナイター営業

December 26–March 6 & March 13, 19–20

Zao Onsen, Yamagata

With Zao Onsen village right at its base and the Zao Snow Monster Light-Up (see #26 above) coinciding with night ski hours most dates, Zao Onsen Ski Resort is one of the best spots for night skiing in Tohoku.

Hours: 17:00–21:00

Closed days: The ski resort is open every day, but night ski

Fee: Varies by ticket type. An adult night-ski only ticket costs ¥2,400.

Details: zao-ski.or.jp

Location: Zao Onsen Ski Resort (蔵王温泉スキー場). Map here.

Access from Sendai Station: 85 minutes by bus from Sendai Station, followed by a short walk and gondola ride. From Sendai Station East Exit bus stop 76 (仙台駅東口76番), board bus bound for Zao Onsen Bus Terminal (蔵王温泉バスターミナル). Alight at Zao Onsen Bus Terminal. From the bus terminal, walk to the Zao Ski Resort building, where you can catch the gondola. Reservations are required for the bus; see details here. If you can't make a reservation for the Sendai bus or don't want to spend the night, consider catching the one from Yamagata Station, which doesn't require reservations. Note that the Sendai-bound departs too early for you to catch the night ski and return home same-day. If you're coming direct from Sendai, you'll either need to spend the night in Zao Onsen, or return via the Yamagata Station–bound bus.

Access from Yamagata Station: About 35 minutes from Yamagata Station. From bus stop 1 in front of Yamagata Station (山形駅前一番), board bus bound for Zao Onsen (蔵王温泉). Alight at Zao Onsen Bus Terminal (蔵王温泉バスターミナル), the final stop. Timetables here.

29. New Year's events at Yamadera

鐘楼すす払い・お供え餅つき会 & 光のロード

December 30 & 31

Yamadera, Yamagata

Celebrate New Year's Eve the traditional Japanese way—at a temple! The sublime Risshakuji Temple in Yamadera is hosting two New Year's events open to all. On the day of the 30, get ready for New Year's Eve with a bell tower cleaning and mochi making. Visitors are invited to participate; no reservations are necessary!

As the clock strikes midnight on the night of the 31, the temple bell will be rung and visitors invited into the temple for New Year's prayer. The path through the temple grounds will be illuminated by candlelight, and free tama konnyaku snacks will be served.

Hours: 10:00~ (December 30 events), 23:30~ (December 31 events). The temple itself will be open all day and all night.

Admission: Free

Event details: yamaderakankou.com

Temple details (English): visitmiyagi.com

Location: Risshakuji Temple (立石寺). Map here.

Access: 4-minute walk from Yamadera Station.

30. Toshikoshi soba giveaway at Shichikashuku Ski Resort

年越し振舞いそば

December 31

Shichikashuku, Miyagi

Toshikoshi soba is a noodle dish traditionally eaten on December 31 to mark the passing of the year, so Shichikashuku Ski Resort will be serving free toshikoshi soba to visitors on this day. The natural thing is, of course, to combine a trip out for toshikoshi soba with a day on the slopes, but the ski resort makes a good place to play in the snow even if you're not a skier or snowboarder. The town of Shichikashuku itself would also make a good place to spend the rest of the day, thanks to revitalization efforts by the likes of Yoichi Fujita and Masuhiro Yamada.

Skiers and snowboarders should also consider coming out on December 18 for opening day at the Shichikashuku Ski Resort, when use of the lifts is free all day long.

Fee: Free

Details: ski-shichikashuku.com

Location: Miyagi Zao Shichikashuku Ski Resort (みやぎ蔵王七ヶ宿スキー場). Map here.

Access: About 75 minutes by bus from Shiroishi-Zao Station (白石蔵王駅) or Shiroishi Station (白石駅). Board a Shichikashuku Shiroishi Line (七ヶ宿白石線) bus bound for Yakuba・Nananiro Hiroba (役場・なないろひろば); alight at Yakuba, Family Mart Shichikashuku-ten, or Nanairo Hiroba (役場、ファミリーマート七ヶ宿店、なないろひろば) bus stop. Transfer to a Shichikashuku Kaido Line (七ヶ宿街道線) bus bound for Yubara・Hikaba (湯原・干蒲); alight at Skijo (スキー場) bus stop. Bus timetables here (Shichikashuku Shiroishi Line) and here (Shichikashuku Kaido Line).

31. New Year's Eve Countdown & Tengendai Shrine Hatsumode

大晦日みんなでカウントダウン&天元台神社初詣

December 31
Yonezawa, Yamagata

This New Year's event at the Tengendai Highlands is a coronavirus prevention–friendly combination of Japanese and Western New Year's traditions. As the clock approaches midnight on December 31, there will be a countdown, followed by free taruzake sake and tama konnyaku snacks for all. Once the clock strikes midnight, visitors can partake in the traditional Japanese custom of hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the new year. Although Tengendai Shrine is small and modest, it's located on a snowy mountainside that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Bandai-Asahi National Park. It's also located next to Tengendai Kogen Ski Resort, so visitors can easily incorporate some skiing or snowboarding into their New Year's celebrations.

Since Tengendai Shrine is accessible only by ropeway (there are no roads here) and the ropeway doesn't operate at night, participation in the festivities is limited to guests staying overnight in the Tengendai area. If you're spending the night anyway, don't miss waking up early to catch the first sunrise of the year. The view of its rays reflected off the snowy peaks is majestic.

The New Year's festivities will continue through January 3, with fun activities like mochi pounding, konnyaku giveaways, fukubukuro sales, and more. These daytime events are open to anyone, not just overnight guests.

Hours: 23:50~

Fee: Free

Reservations: None needed for the event, but you'll need to make reservations at a nearby pension or inn in order to participate in the New Year's Eve events.

Details: tengendai.jp

Location: Tengendai Shrine (天元台神社). Map here.

Access: 41 minutes by bus from Yonezawa Station, followed by a ride on the Tengendai Ropeway (天元台ロープウェイ). The shrine is next to the top lift station. At Yonezawa Station (米沢駅), board bus bound for Shirabu Onsen (白布温泉). Alight at Yumoto Ekimae (湯元駅前) bus stop. From the Yumoto ropeway station, ride to the Tengendai Kogen Station (天元台高原駅), the top ropeway station. Bus timetables here.

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