1. Fall colors at Nakakamado Temple
Through early December
Fall color season in Tohoku is pretty much over, but there's one holdout where the fall colors last into December—Iwaki, Fukushima. If you're craving one last hit of koyo before winter really sets in, head down soon! There are several nice fall color spots in Iwaki, but Nakakamado is one of the most beautiful and one where the fall colors last the latest. This tiny temple temple famous for its weeping maples, designated National Natural Monuments. On busy days during peak fall color season, the neighbors open up a market stall selling handmade sweets and postcards. You can check the progress of the trees' leaves at the link below.
2. Zazen Meditation at Shifukuji Temple
Shifukuji is a quiet temple in the hilly Kitayama neighborhood of Sendai. Locals flock to the temple in early summer to see the beautiful hydrangeas, but for the rest of the year it is largely free of sightseeers, making it a nice spot for tranquil repose. To promote mental and spiritual health, the temple is offering free Zen meditation sessions every day during the first week of December, no reservations necessary!
Reservations: Not necessary
Location: Shifukuji Temple (資福寺). Map here.
Access (by subway): 15-minute walk from Kita-Sendai Station (Sendai Subway Nanboku Line)
Access (by city bus): 5-minute walk from Kitayama Ichichome (北山一丁目) bus stop. See timetable here.
3. Okiagari-Koboshi Project exhibition
Through December 15
Everyone's favorite inspirational Japanese toy, the okiagari-koboshi, now has an exhibition devoted to it! The okiagari-koboshi (lit. "getting up little priest"), is a traditional Japanese toy that dates back to at least the 14th century. Its rounded, elliptical shape makes it so that even when it's knocked over it will immediately roll back to an upright position. Perhaps seeing the toy's action as a metaphor for dealing with life's challenges, okiagari-koboshi continue to be popular in Japan even with adults. This exhibition showcases original, individualistic twists on the traditional okiagari-koboshi painted by professional designers and hobbyists alike.
4. Winter Illumination in Michinoku Park
Through December 15 (Saturdays & Sundays), December 21–25 (every day)
A large-scale holiday illumination held at Michinoku Park, a huge public park southwest of Sendai. The park will be decked out in over 110,000 Christmas lights, in an arrangement inspired by the waters of Zao under a starry night sky.
Admission: ¥450 adults & children ages 15+, ¥210 seniors 65+, children ages junior high & younger free
Location: Michinoku Park (みちのく公園). Map here.
Access: About 60 minutes by city bus from Sendai Station. From Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool Platform #8 (仙台駅西口バスプール８番), board an Akiu Line (秋保線) bus bound for Kawasaki (川崎). Alight at the Michinoku Mori no Kohan Koen Iriguchi (みちのく杜の湖畔公園入口) bus stop. Timetable here.
5. Concerts inside Abukuma Cave
Saturdays & Sundays December 1–29
Come enjoy live music like you've never heard it before—echoing through the limestone caverns of Abukuma Cave! The cave itself is quite an attraction in its own right too—large and photogenic with colorful lighting.
Hours: 11:00–11:30 & 14:00–14:30
Admission: ¥1,200 adults , ¥800 middle school-aged children, ¥600 elementary school-aged children. Concerts are free with price of admission to cave.
Reservations: Not necessary
Location: Abukuma Cave (あぶくま洞). Map here.
Access: a 40-minute walk or 6-minute taxi ride from Kammata Station
6. San Juan Illumination
Through January 5
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 400 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.
7. Yukyu no Shidzu Machi Akari
Through January 11
A holiday illumination event conveniently located just outside Tagajo Station. The focal point is the tunnel of blue Christmas lights, an Insta-genic backdrop for holiday selfies.
8. Aono Fumiaki—Mono, sleeping, Koejiyama, voice-over
展覧会 青野文昭 ものの, ねむり, 越路山, こえ
Through January 12
An exhibition of the work of Aono Fumiaki, a Sendai-based artist whose primary medium is found objects. Collecting broken items (furniture, etc.) washed up on beaches across Japan, he "repairs" them into works of art. This exhibition displays both his early and later works, so it will be interesting to compare his pre-2011 works to his post-tsunami ones, and observe how the tragedy affected the Fumiaki's artistic expression. The exhibition takes place at Sendai Mediatheque, the city's hub of culture and contemporary art.
Hours: 11:00–20:00 (last entry 19:30)
Admission: ¥500 adults, children ages high school & younger free
Location: Sendai Mediatheque. Map here.
Access by subway: 6-minute walk from Kotodaikoen Station
Access by bus: At Sendai Loople Bus Stop #14 Sendai Mediatheque. Timetable here (English).
9. Jun Sugimura: The Legend of the Presence and Absence of Objects "Rhythm of the Atelier"
「杉村惇 作品展」存在と空間の伝説 ～画室の韻律～
Through January 19
"After settling in Shiogama City around 1955, Jun Sugimura gathered together everyday objects of various shapes, textures, sizes, and colors to create his vivid and strong impressionistic paintings.
Made possible with the generous support from the City of Sendai and the Museum of Kamei Collection, we will not only exhibit exclusive paintings but also the first draft of sketches of his work. Together these creative pieces will help you understand Sugimura’s world better."
10. A Bunshun Saito Exhibition: Soshite, Itsuka
Step into the monochrome world of sumi-e ink wash painting at this exhibition showcasing the work of Bunshun Saito, a Sendai-based a contemporary artist.
11. Volunteering with Peace Boat Disaster Relief
Peace Boat Disaster Relief is offering a free English-friendly program to help out with typhoon-related recovery efforts! Volunteers will help distribute supplies and clean flooded houses. Accommodation is provided, and volunteers aren't required to drive or have cars.
Registration: Required 2 days before the date you wish to volunteer. Can register online in English.
Fee: Free for day-trippers, ¥1,000 for those staying overnight. Insurance: Volunteers are required to have volunteer insurance. It costs ¥500, can be used at any volunteer program in Japan, and is good for one year (April to April). You can register for it at any social welfare center in Japan, or online (see link for details).
12. Love All Cats: A Chiemi Amano Exhibition
天野千恵美 個展 LOVE all CATS
13. Japan's Nature, Japan's Heart: A Kawai Gyokudo Exhibition
日本の自然、日本のこころ～ 川合 玉堂 展
Kawai Gyokudo was a nihonga painter active from the Meiji through Showa eras, awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1940. He is known for his beautiful depictions of mountains, rivers, and the four seasons of Japan. This exhibition will showcase some of his works featuring those quintessential motifs.
14. YMCA International Christmas
A welcoming and English-friendly Christmas party hosted by the Sendai YMCA, spreading Christmas cheer through international exchange! The program will feature a Christian sermon and prayer service followed by food, drinks and games. If you are looking to make friends with English-speaking Christians in Miyagi, this is the event for you!
Reservation: Required in advance. Please fill out the registration form on the event website (English OK)
Fee: ¥1,000 adults, foreign students free, elementary school students ¥300, children ages younger than elementary free
Official event website (English): sites.sendai-ymca.org/xmas
Location: Sendai Shimin Kaikan Exhibition Hall (仙台市民会館展示室). Map here.
Access: 11-minute walk from Omachi Nishi-koen Station
15. Sendai Cooking Meetup
December 6 & 20
An English-friendly cooking event at the convivial Hostel Kiko. Learn to cook delicious homestyle Japanese dishes using local ingredients. The menu changes every meetup, so repeat visitors can always find something new to learn (and eat!).
16. Sendai Winter Park Starlight Rink & Winter Market
Sendai Winter Park ～スターライトリンク～と～クリスマスマーケット～
Sendai's holiday ice skating rink is back by popular demand! For most of December, conveniently enjoy skating outdoors in central Sendai. Take a break from skating or warm up afterwards at the Christmas Market or Kirin Ichiban Shibori Kitchen set up next to the rink. Both will be serving food and hot drinks.
Hours (ice skating): 15:00–21:00 weekdays, 12:00–21:00 weekends & holidays
Hours (Christmas Market): 16:00–21:00 weekdays, 12:00–21:00 weekends & holidays. Market closed December 9–12 & 16–17.
Hours (Ichiban Shibori Kitchen): 17:00–22:00 weekdays, 15:00–22:00 weekends
Fee (ice skating): ¥900 (includes skate rental)
Details (ice skating): sendaihikape.jp
Details (Christmas Market): sendaihikape.jp
Details (Ichiban Shibori Kitchen): sendaihikape.jp
Location: Kotodai Koen Shimin Hiroba (勾当台公園市民広場). Map here.
Access: Above Kotodai-Koen Station
17. Sendai Pageant of Starlight
Sendai's most famous winter event. The 160 zelkova trees planted along Jozenji-dori Avenue may have shed their leaves but will gain 600,000 light bulbs, making for a simple yet elegant winter illumination.
18. Ogawara Sakura Illumination
December 6–January 13
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.
19. Christmas Craft Marché
Get into the holiday spirit at this Christmas craft market, where you can both shop for items as well as learn to craft your own! Crafters will be selling a variety of quality handicrafts, from pottery to stained glass. Visitors can also learn to make their own crafts, from tole painting to tin badge making, at the workshops here (reservations required). Though the event information online is only in Japanese, the American Shichigahama CIR will be on hand, teaching Japanese people about "American Christmas" and breaking down the language barrier for English-speaking visitors.
Admission: Free (market, concert, illumination). Workshops from ¥100.
Reservations: Required for workshops. See link for details.
Location: Shichigahama Kokusai Mura (七ヶ浜国際村). Map here.
Access: 30 minutes by bus from Tagajo Station. Board a Shichighama Shimin Gugurinko (七ヶ浜市民バス「ぐるりんこ」) bus bound for Shichigahama Kokusai Mura (七ヶ浜国際村) or Hanabuchi (花渕), alight at Shichigahama Kokusai Mura.
20. Shimada Candy Festival
This traditional festival began in ancient times when the head priest of this shrine fell in love with a bride wearing a Shimada wedding hairstyle. He struggled between his love and his conscience until he became ill. Village people learned about this and donated candies in the shape of the Shimada hairstyle to the shrine, and he recovered from his sickness. The priest was so grateful to the villagers that he began the festival to celebrate the day he recovered: December 14. Due to the festival's origin, it is crowded with people wishing for good marriages. If you want to score a Shimada candy, arrive early and be prepared to queue.
Hours: Festival is 9:30–14:00. Candy sales start at 8:30 and stop whenever the candy runs out.
Official website: shimada-ame.com
Location: Yoshioka Hachiman Shrine (吉岡八幡神社). Map here.
Access: About 45 minutes by bus from Sendai Station, followed by a 17-minute walk. From Sendai Station, board bus bound for Ohira (大衡). Alight at the Taiwa-cho Bus Terminal (大和町バスターミナル). Timetable here.
21. Swingy Christmas Party!
An English-friendly swing-dance Christmas party hosted by the Swing Dance in Sendai group, featuring live music by The Gypsy Stompers with Kenji Yamanochi! If you don't know how to swing dance, no problem! The party kicks off with a 30-minute basic step lesson. After the lesson, give your new moves a spin with fellow beginners and veteran swing dancers alike.
Admission: ¥2,000, includes free soft drinks. Alcoholic beverages can be purchased at the bar.
Reservation: If you plan on attending, please click Going on their FB Event Page.
Facebook Event Page: facebook.com
Location: APA Hotel TKP Sendai Station North (アパホテルTKP仙台駅北). Map here.
Access: 3-minute walk from Sendai Station
22. Everyone Sings Along to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Concert
A singalong concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A 150-person choir will accompany the orchestral performance. Rather than being comprised of professionals, the choir is made up of enthusiastic laypeople who signed up to take part in the performance.
Time: Doors open 14:30, concert starts 15:00
Tickets: ¥3,500 (reserved seating), ¥3,000 (free seating). Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the Iwanuma Shimin Kaikan. It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance.
Official website: iwanuma-dai9.jimdofree.com
Location: Iwanuma Shimin Kaikan (岩沼市民会館). Map here.
Access: 20-minute walk from Iwanuma Station
23. Sendai Philharmonic Christmas Concert
A concert of timeless classical Christmas pieces by Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and others, performed by the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra.
Time: Doors open 13:15, concert starts 14:00
Tickets: ¥3,000 adults, ¥500 children ages junior high to 5. Tickets can be purchase online from the Sendai Philharmonic homepage.
Location: Hitachi Systems Hall Sendai (日立システムズホール仙台). Map here.
Access: Across the street from Asahigaoka Station
24. Decorative Japanese Dessert-Making Workshop
Learn to make traditional and delicious wagashi sweets at this English-friendly workshop. After making the wagashi, you'll be able to enjoy them right away with a cup of freshly-whisked matcha!
25. Sketch Christmas by teamLab
A Christmas-themed event designed by teamLab, the creators of the Instagram-sensation teamLab Borderless in Tokyo. This more modest event consists of two installations: their signature Light Ball Orchestra, and a creative center where visitors design their own vehicles and scan them into the virtual Christmas Village projected onto the surrounding walls.
26. Abalone Festival
A festival small in size, but big on abalone! Enjoy abalone sashimi and sales of fresh abalone—high priced delicacies being sold at the kind of low prices you can find only at local festivals like this. In addition to the abalone, there will also be other market stalls selling fresh produce and other local products.
27. Onagawa Winter Festival
December 21–22, 24–25
An fun winter festival featuring an eclectic array of events, with different ones happening each day. The events reach a climax, oddity-wise, on the 23, with an appearance by a pro-wrestling panda and a drum performance by heavy-metal drumming mascot Nyango Star. A fireworks show will be held the night of the 24. Local Konpo's Factory, manufacturers of the life-sized cardboard Lamborghini model the Damborghini (Lol, it's a pun, get it?), will be hosting a cardboard-toy play area every day. In addition to the oddities, there will also be the standard market stalls and live musical performances. The festival is conveniently located just outside Onagawa Station, a train station designed by Ban Shigeru complete with onsen bathing facilities.
28. Santa no Mori no Monogatari
29. Partial Solar Eclipse Appreciation Meet-up
Come view the partial solar eclipse from the roof of Minamisanriku Hotel Kanyo, a seaside hotel with stunning onsen baths. A telescope will be set up and other simple eclipse viewing tools will be available, so visitors will be able to the eclipse safely. The hotel is located on the tranquil and scenic Shizugawa Bay, another breathtaking sight to behold once you've had your fill of the solar eclipse. The event is open to everyone, not just overnight guests. To see what their last solar eclipse appreciation event was like, check out their blog entry here.
30. Shoyo Susubarai・Mochitsuki & New Year's Eve Joyanokane・Sanpai-sha Furumai
鐘楼すす払い・お供え餅つき会 & 大晦日除夜の鐘・参拝者振舞い
December 30 & 31
Celebrate New Year's Eve the traditional Japanese way—at a temple! The sublime Risshakuji Temple in Yamadera is hosting two special 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 will be served.
31. Setsugekka Fireworks Display
Another Yamagata temple is inviting visitors to come out and celebrate New Year's with a bang—a fireworks show at the temple! After the fireworks, visitors are invited to come do their first prayer of the new year at the temple.
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