1. Hydrangeas at Shifukuji Temple
Through early July
Photo by Yuan Wang
This quaint temple in Sendai's Kitayama neighborhood is typically a quiet, seldom visited spot. But come late June, in-the-know locals flock here to enjoy the large hydrangea bushes in bloom. Particularly at this time of year, the temple grounds at are said to look like "Heaven's doorstep."
Time: Always open
Access: 15-minute walk from Kita-Sendai Station.
2. Shibata Hydrangea Festival
Through early July
Funaoka Castle Site Park, most famous for its cherry blossoms, is also home to a handsome colony of hydrangeas. In early summer, the park's walking paths come alive with over 2,500 hydrangea bushes in bloom.
Hours: Always open
Access: 15-minute walk from Funaoka Station
3. Fireflies along the Masubuchi River
Through early July
A 1.5-kilometer stretch of river home to one of the most impressive firefly habitats in Japan. So impressive, in fact, that the area has been designated a National Natural Monument! Masubuchi is known for its Genji fireflies, a large firefly species found only in Japan.
Hours: Always open, but come in the evening for best firefly viewing
4. Sanno Historical Park Iris Garden
Through early July
The Sanno Historical Park Iris Garden was established as a specimen garden, home to historical and modern varieties. Observe how the process of selective breeding over the ages has altered the look of these ornamental flowers. Though the Iris Festival stage performances/food stalls/etc. have been suspended this year, the public is still invited to come enjoy the flowers.
Closed days: None during iris season
Access: 70 minutes by bus from Sendai Station, followed by a 5-minute walk. Board bus Ichihasama Line (一迫線) bus bound for Ichihasama Sogo Shisho-mae (一迫総合支所前), alight at Ichihasama Sogo Shisho-mae. Bus info here.
5. Day lilies at Oguninuma Marsh
Through early July
Designated a National Natural Monument, Oguninuma is a wetland famous for the yellow alpine lilies that carpet the marsh in summer. An elevated walking path allows visitors to stroll the wetland without damaging the plant life. For an overhead view of the marsh, hike the five-kilometer (round trip) trail to the top of Mount Oguni.
Hours: Always open
Access: Most years during day lily season, shuttle buses are available from from Kitakata Station (喜多方駅). Whether or not the shuttle buses will run this year has yet to be announced. For updates, and info on previous years' bus service, see here.
6. Abukuma Caves Lavender Garden
Through July 11
The Abukuma Caves are some of the most photogenic caves in Tohoku, and summer is one of the best times to visit. Not only is the cool air inside the caves a welcome break from the heat and humidity outside, but there's also this lavender field to behold just outside the cave. There's the sight and fragrance of the lavender, of course, and for a small fee visitors can even pick some to take home! There will also be lavender goods for sale, including lavender soft serve ice cream and an original lavender face toner.
Hours: Lavender events are 10:00–15:30 (last entry 15:00), cave hours are 8:30–17:00
Closed days: None
Admission (lavender garden): Free entry, lavender picking ¥400
Admission (caves): ¥1,200 adults, ¥800 junior high school students, ¥600 elementary schools students
Access: 43-minute walk or 10-minute taxi ride from Kammata Station
7. Osaki Hachimangu Shrine Chinowa
Osaki Hachimangu Shrine holds an oharae-shiki purification ceremony every year on June 30. Unfortunately, due to concern over coronavirus, the ceremony will not be open to the public this year. As a consolation, the shrine has put together a short video of the ceremony and has shared it on YouTube.
The shrine has set up their oharae-shiki chinowa as in regular years though, and invites the public to come perform the chinowa-kuguri ritual freely on their own any time while the chinowa is up. What's a chinowa and chinowa-kuguri? A chinowa (茅の輪) is a large ring made of bundled aquatic plants. In chinowa-kuguri, worshippers pass through the chinowa in a left-to-right figure-eight pattern, a simple ritual said to purify the spirit completely of all the unintentional corruption accumulated over the past six months.
Access by rail: A 15-minute walk from Kunimi or Tohoku Fukushi Daigaku-mae Stations
Access by Loople Sendai Bus: 43 minutes from Sendai Station. Board Loople Sendai Bus at Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool platform 16. Alight at Loople bus stop #12, Osaki Hachimangu Shrine. Bus details and timetable here (English).
8. Purple Hydrangea Festival at Deshio Monjudo Temple
Through July 18
Yamagata City, Yamagata
The Hydrangea Approach at Deshio Monjudo Temple is one of those stunning places that are beloved in their local area but virtually unknown even just a few cities away. If you're looking for a new hydrangea spot to explore this summer, this is a good one to check out.
Hours: Always open
Closed days: None during Hydrangea Festival
Access by bus: 19 minutes by bus from Yamagata Station, followed by a 29-minute walk. At Yamagata Station West Exit (山形駅西口) bus pool, board bus bound for Kaesho・Shitahara・Taki no Hira (替所・下原・滝の平). Alight at the Sawayaka-so-mae (さわやか荘前) bus stop. Timetables here.
9. Lily Festival at Iide Dondendaira Lily Garden
Through July 18
This seven-hectare park is one of eastern Japan's largest lily gardens, home to over 500,000 lilies in countless varieties. In addition to viewing the flowers, visitors can also purchase lily bulbs for growing at home, or enjoy eating them as a dessert—in the park's signature "lily soft" ice cream.
Admission: ¥700 individuals ages 16 & up, children ages junior high & younger free
Access: 35-minute walk from Hagyu Station
10. Michinoku Hydrangea Park
Through July 25
The Michinoku Hydrangea Garden is one of Japan's Japan's biggest and best, with the garden forming the underbrush of a cedar forest. A two-kilometer long walking trail winds through the forest, along which visitors can see around 30,000 hydrangea in about 300 different varieties.
Hours: 9:00–17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Admission: Adults ¥1,000, children ages elementary through junior high ¥200, children ages kindergarten & younger free
Access: About 30 minutes by bus from Ichinoseki Station, followed by a 15-minute walk.
11. Animage & Ghibli Exhibition
Through September 12
Animage is one of the most influential anime and manga magazines of all time. It was the first to publish Ghibli's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and other such classic manga. This exhibition will focus on the time when Toshio Suzuki was active as editor (during the 1970s and 80s), from the time before "anime" was a household word, through anime's leap into the mainstream with the first broadcasts of Mobile Suit Gundam.
Hours: 10:00–17:00 (last entry 16:30). Until 18:00 August 11–15.
Closed days: Mondays except August 9. Will be closed Tuesday August 10 instead.
Admission: ¥1,500 adults, ¥1,000 junior high and high school students, ¥800 elementary school students
Access: 13 minutes by bus from Ishinomaki Station, followed by a short walk. At the bus stop in front of Ishinomaki Station (石巻駅前), board an Ishinomaki Senshu Daigaku Line (石巻専修大学線) bus bound for Iinokawa (飯野川). Alight at Sogo Undo Koen (総合運動公園) bus stop. Timetables here.
12. Mt. Haguro Pagoda Light Up & Evening Prayer
Weekends & holidays through September 20, plus all of Obon week
The Dewa Sanzan is a sacred area that belongs in a league of its own. It is neither Shinto nor Buddhist, but the home of the syncretic religion Shugendo. Religious taxonomy aside, the holy atmosphere of the area is evident even to the most casual of visitors. The Dewa Sanzan consists of three holy mountains, with Mount Haguro being the easiest to access. At this atmospheric evening service, visitors can walk the pilgrims' path through the forest to the Mount Haguro Pagoda (a National Treasure) at night, using a traditional lantern to light the way.
Hours: 18:00–21:00 (last entry 20:30)
Fee: The temple requests that adults make a donation of at least ¥500
Access: 40 minutes by bus from Tsuruoka Station. At bus platform #1 in front of Tsuruoka Station (鶴岡駅前１のりば), board bus bound for Haguro Sancho (羽黒山頂). Alight at Haguro Center (羽黒センター). Timetables here, English bus info here. NOTE: Though the instructions say to get off at "Haguro Center," that stop isn't actually listed on the timetable. Play it safe by confirming which stop to alight at with the sightseeing information desk at Tsuruoka Station or the bus driver before departing. If you go by bus, you'll need to spend the night near the temple. Fortunately, there are numerous charming accommodations nearby; we recommend one of the pilgrims lodgings at the base of the temple approach.
13. Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple Pagoda Blue Light-Up
Jogi area, Sendai
July 7 marks the anniversary of the death of Sadayoshi no Taira, the warrior who brought a holy scroll of the Amida Buddha to Jogi in the 1100s, the beginning of Jogi's existence as a sacred area. As such, the temple traditionally commemorates his death with a formal memorial service and a public festival. The festival has been cancelled this year due to concern over coronavirus; instead, the temple is offering a more coronavirus prevention–friendly alternative—a light up. The temple's elegant five-story pagoda will be cloaked in dramatic blue light, which carries several meanings: in memorial of those who have passed away as result of the pandemic, in gratitude to the healthcare professionals on the front lines of this new battle, and as a prayer for world peace.
It's also peak firefly season in Jogi, and the temple encourages visitors to enjoy a little firefly hunting after viewing the pagoda. Volunteer guides will be on hand to to provide info on the best places to spot the fireflies
Access: About 80 minutes by bus from Sendai Station. At bus platform #10 in front of Sendai Station (仙台駅前10番のりば), board an 844, 845, or 846 Line bus bound for Jogi (定義). Alight at Jogi, the final stop. Timetables here.
14. Tomiya Blueberry Sweets Fair
Tomiya blueberries have been garnering international praise, so much so that Tomiya blueberry juice was even served at the 2016 G7 Summit in Ise! During blueberry season, local sweets shops break out their best seasonal dessert recipes. No reservations are needed—simply drop by any of the participating sweets shops and buy whichever blueberry dessert strikes your fancy. In addition to the sweets, this year's events also feature a stamp rally and photo contest, with substantial prizes—in addition to numerous runner-up prizes, two grand prize winners will receive ¥10,000 gift cards for use at participating shops in Tomiya.
Hours: Varies by shop, all are open some time between 8:30 and 20:00.
Closed days: Varies by shop
Location: At sweets shops throughout Tomiya City, see link for list of locations
Access: By bus from Izumi-Chuo Station
15. A Sonoko Sakurai exhibition: Kage Shokei
July 7–August 1
Sonoko Sakurai is an artist who works in painting, photography, and performance art. She describes her Kage Shokei solo show as an attempt to express things which have no shape, yet create an emotional response; she will use photographs and found objects to explore her subconscious and emotional self through the lens of memory.
Closed days: Mondays
Language: English, Esperanto OK
Access: 10-minute walk from Hon-Shiogama Station
16. Atoa concerts: Transcest Spin-off & Furusato Shiki no Utage Natsu・Hatsuiku "Tanabata"
July 7 & 8
Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai
Atoa is a professional taiko drumming group known for their stunning traditional performances as well more avant-garde work. The live version of Trancest was performed in Tagajo last year; now the troupe is offering a new spin-off version—a great chance to catch something like the original Trancest in case you missed it last year due to the pandemic. The show will feature Atoa taiko accompanied by music, dance, and performing arts. The accompanying arts range from ancient Noh theater to contemporary singer-songwriters.
The Furusato Shiki no Utage project is an ongoing series of performances designed to introduce the traditional art and culture of the seasons, passing these traditions on to future generations. For the summer installment, the theme is Tanabata and growth.
When (Trancest Spin-off): July 8. Doors open 19:00, concert starts 19:30.
When (Natsu・Hatsuiku "Tanabata"): July 7. Doors open 17:30, concert starts 18:00.
Tickets (Transcest Spin-off): ¥3,500, must book online in advance
Tickets (Natsu・Hatsuiku "Tanabata"): ¥4,000, must book online in advance
Access (on foot): 28-minute walk from Rokuchonome Station
Access (by bus): About 15 minutes by bus from Arai Station. At Arai Station (荒井駅), board #18 Line (系統18) bus bound for Okada・Shinhama (岡田・新浜) OR #16 Line (系統16) bus bound for Wakabayashi Taiikukan・Tsurmaki Junkan via Tobu Kojo Danchi (若林体育館・東部工場団地経由鶴港循環). Alight at Oroshimachi Higashi Gochonome-kita (卸町東五丁目北) bus stop. Bus route map here, timetables here.
17. Egypt, Land of Discoveries
July 9–September 5
An exhibition of some 250 pieces from the Egyptian collection of the the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, a museum known for its ongoing excavations and research in Egypt. The exhibition will introduce various aspects of ancient Egypt, including aesthetics and religion. Highlights include five sets of coffins and two mummies. The mummies remain in their original cloth bandages—in order to avoid damaging the mummies by physically removing their bandages, the museum analyzed the mummies using CT scans instead.
Hours: 9:00–16:45 (last entry 16:15)
Closed days: Mondays (except public holidays), the day after a public holiday
Admission: ¥1,600 adults, ¥1,400 high school and college students, ¥900 elementary and junior high students
Languages: The museum's permanent collection features limited English, Korean, and Chinese. No confirmation yet, but it looks like this temporary exhibition may be English friendly.
Access by subway: 8-minute walk from International Center Station
Access by bus: 20 minutes from Sendai Station. At Sendai Station West Exit stop #16, board Loople Sendai bus. Alight at bus stop 5, Sendai City Museum/Sendai International Center. Timetable here (English).
18. Yamagata Benibana Festival
Yamagata City, Yamagata
Benibana, known to English speakers as safflower, was once an important and expensive commodity in Japan. Kyoto geisha once painted their lips with it, and nobles would wear kimono dyed with benibana. Yamagata flourished as one of the main cultivation areas for the flower. Though the economical importance of the benibana trade has faded, the flower is still grown here and its uses are celebrated annually at local festivals.
Due to concern over coronavirus, the events of the 2021 festival have been reduced from that of regular years. Visitors are welcome to come visit the benibana fields and take pictures as usual, but the cosplay experiences and crafting workshops will not be offered this year. You can check the status of the flowers here.
Hours: Always open
Access: 18-minute walk from Takase Station
19. Kesennuma Beach Clean
6団体合同5海岸 小泉・登米沢・大沢・大谷・御伊勢浜 BEACH CLEAN
Get ready for beach season the community-minded way—by joining a beach clean! Miyagi's swimming beaches are set to open this month; to help ready them for beachgoers, community groups throughout Miyagi are organizing beach cleaning activities. With no reservations required and most of the beaches within easy walking distance of public transportation, this Kesennuma Beach Clean is one of the most convenient to join. Oisehama Beach, in particular, is located near the scenic Cape Iwaisaki, so you can get in some sightseeing after you're done do-gooding for the day.
Reservations: None needed
Access (Oya): 4-minute walk from Oyakaigan Station
Access (Koizumi): 17-minute walk from Rikuzen-Koizumi Station
Access (Oisehama): 20-minute walk from Rikuzen-Hashikami Station
Access (Toyomazawa): 21-minute walk from Motoyoshi Station
Access (Osawa): About a 10-minute walk from Karakuwa-Osawa Station. Since the Osawa name is primarily associated with a fishing port (大沢漁港) rather than a beach, if you want to go to this one we recommend calling in advance to confirm the meeting spot.
20. Higashizawa Genji Firefly Preserve
Yamagata City, Yamagata
The Higashizawa Genji Firefly Preserve has been named on of Japan's Top 100 Hometown Wildlife Habitats! As the name suggests, the Preserve's claim to fame is its genji fireflies, a species native to Japan.
Hours: Always open, but best firefly viewing is in the evening.
21. Juroku Rakan illumination
July 16–August 22
The Juroku Rakan Iwa are a collection of sixteen images of rakan (disciples of Buddha) carved into the rocky shores of northern Yamagata. Gazing at these carvings from the shore, watching them stocially withstand the waves as they have for centuries, is a spiritual and inspiring sight for many. The statues can be viewed freely anytime, but will be illuminated in the evenings during this matsuri, adding a whole other dimension of feels to the scene. The nearby Dewa Futami (出羽二見), a local version of the famous Wedded Rocks down in Futami, Mie, will also be illuminated.
Hours: Always open. Light-up 18:00–21:00
Access: 13-minute walk from Fukura Station
22. Special Opening of the Fukushima Geihinkan
July 17–August 8
The Fukushima Geihinkan, an imperial villa built in the style of a traditional Japanese residence, is a National Cultural Property. Normally only the gardens are open to the public, but for a limited time this summer tours of the interior are being made available as well.
The meeting point for the tour, Tenkyokaku, is also a National Cultural Property and a sightseeing destination in its own right. Prince Yoshihito built it to serve as his vacation villa. In contrast to the Geihinkan, Tenkyokaku is a Western-style residence. Tour both of these villas to witness the contrasting architectural styles appreciated by the imperial family.
Time: Meet at 9:45, tour starts at 10:00
Fee: ¥1,070 adults, ¥910 high school students, ¥800 children ages elementary to junior high. Fee includes "royal tea time" tea and sweets at Tenkyokaku.
Reservation: Required at least 2 days in advance
23. Kabutomushi petting zoo at Mushimushi Land
July 17–August 22
Kabutomushi are the huge, scary-looking-but-harmless beetles that appear in Japanese forests in summer and are kept as short-term pets by Japanese children. Mushimushiland is a bug-themed park located in the woods of Tamura, where kabutomushi thrive in their natural habitat while still being accessible to visitors. The "petting zoo" area is a section of forest enclosed in a giant net where Mushimushiland staff have raised large numbers of kabutomushi. Visitors can enter the enclosure to observe and play with the bugs freely. Although Mushimushiland tends to be marketed towards families with children, it's a great time for anyone who likes bugs, adults included!
Closed days: Wednesdays (except August 12)
Admission: ¥400 adults, ¥300 children
24. Jurassic Big Dinosaur Show
July 17–September 12
A dino exhibition dedicated to large dinosaurs. Highlights include a Tyrannosaurus, a Brachiosaurus, an Allosaurus, and a feathered Deinonychus. Some of the dinos, like the Tyrannosaurus, will be displayed as full-body skeletons; others will be presented as life-sized animatronic statues, bringing the dinosaurs to life in a fun way.
Hours: 9:30–17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed days: Mondays (Except August 9. The museum will be closed Tuesday August 10 instead.)
Admission: ¥1,600 adults, ¥800 children ages elementary through high school. Children preschool age & younger free.
Languages: The museum's permanent collection offers limited English. No word yet on the languages available for the dinosaur exhibition.
Access: At Kofuku-Tagajo Station
25. Oshu Kaido Narageshuku Kominka Cafe
羽州街道 楢下宿 古民家カフェ
July 18 (& the third Sunday of every month through November)
Narageshuku was once a thriving post town on the former Ushu Kaido road connecting Dewa (present-day Yamagata) to Edo, a pilgrimage samurai leaders were required to regularly make as part of the the Tokugawa Shogunate's sankin-kotai system. Though no longer as bustling as it once was, the area maintains a nice historical atmosphere and historical buildings that can be explored. One of these, a kominka called Yamadaya, opens to visitors as a seasonal cafe. Just outside the kominka is a mini farmers market, where local obaachan sell heaps of their homegrown, freshly picked vegetables on the cheap.
Fee: Lunch ¥1,000. Farmers market prices vary, but are usually a very good value.
Reservations: None needed, but meals are limited to 30 per day so it's best to arrive early to guarantee you'll score some grub.
Access: 20 minutes by bus from Kaminoyama Onsen Station, followed by a 2-minute walk. At the bus stop in front of Kaminoyama Onsen Station (かみのやま温泉駅前), board bus bound for Akayama (赤山). Alight at Narage Iriguchi (楢下入口) bus stop. Timetables here.
26. Samurai Beach Seawater Pool open
July 18–August 31
Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry
A seaside pool filled with seawater, offering views of the rugged Sanriku Coast—this is one off-the-beaten-path destination we can't recommend enough! It makes an especially great place to swim come late summer, when jellyfish start to invade the swimming beaches. Thanks to the pool's filtration system, the pool water remains clear and jellyfish free. The Kita-Samuraihama Yaeiba (北侍浜野営場) lies in a wooded grove a short walk from the pool, a campground where visitors can stay overnight for just ¥200! Though the pool is a substantial walk from the nearest train station, it's well worth it—between the pool and the campground, it's the perfect spot for a weekend adventure.
Closed days: None during open season
Access: 72-minute walk from Samuraihama Station
27. Izunuma Lotus Festival
July 20–August 31
Take a romantic boat ride through thousands of pink flowers during the famous Lotus Festival at lakes Izunuma and Uchinuma, a popular summer destination for flower lovers. Operated by local fishermen, the rides take about thirty minutes and offer a perfect opportunity to take in the spectacular sight of lotuses floating on the lake. The Naganuma Kaijo events look to have been suspended this year, but the Izunuma and Uchinuma events are still on.
Hours: Lakes are always open. Boat rides available 8:00–16:00 at Izunuma, and 7:30–15:00 at Uchinuma
Admission: Lakes are free. Boat rides ¥700 adults,¥400 children
28. Mangattan Festival
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Ishinomori Manga Museum. Though the Mangattan Festival is an annual summer event, this year something there's bound to be something extra special in store in honor of the milestone. Details about the event are still under wraps—stay tuned to the Manga Museum's SNS channels and official website for updates!
Fee: No fee for festival events outside the paid museum area. Museum admission is ¥840 adults, ¥520 junior high and high school students, ¥210 elementary school students.
Access: 15-minute walk from Ishinomaki Station
29. Sanbongi Sunflower Festival
July 24–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.
Closed days: None
30. Isasumi no Mori Goryo wind chimes & Nanairo Light Up
伊佐須美の杜 御涼風鈴 & 七色ライトアップ
July 25–August 22
As part of the 2021 Tohoku Destination Campaign, Isasumi Shrine is hosting this special light-up event. Enjoy the unusual sight of this shrine illuminated in the dark of night by colorful lights. The event isn't just at treat for the eyes, but also the ears—some 1,000 furin wind chimes will be hung up around the shrine grounds, tinkling in the breeze.
Closed days: None
Access: 25-minute walk from Aizu-Takada Station
31. Yamamoto Sunflower Festival
Late July to mid-August
Fields of sunflowers are a quintessential summer landscape. Enjoy 8.3 hectares of them at your leisure during the Yamamoto Sunflower Festival. Guests can freely not only stroll the field, but also pick the flowers freely! The sunflower field itself doesn't have much going on in the way of food stalls, so visitors looking to eat or shop are recommended to stop by nearby Yamamoto Ichigo no Sato (やまもと夢いちごの郷).
Hours: Always open
Access: 30-minute walk from Yamashita Station