1. Matsushima Hatsuhinode Sunrise Cruise
Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the first sunrise of the new year by viewing it from a scenic or significant location. Being on the east coast of Japan, Matsushima Bay is one of the first places to see the sunrise and a spectacular setting to watch it from. To make the occasion even more special, sunrise cruises are being offered by Marubun Kisen, the company that also operates everyday sightseeing cruises of Matsushima Bay. Their regular cruises don't require reservations but their sunrise ones do, as there are limited seats available.
2. Oku-Matsushima Hatsuhinode Sunrise Cruise
Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the first sunrise of the new year by viewing it from a scenic or significant location. Being on the east coast of Japan, watching the as it rises over the Pacific is a popular choice. To make the occasion extra special, a sunrise cruise is being offered in the Oku-Matsushima area. This area, located on the northeastern edge of Matsushima Bay, isn't as frequented as the central bay area but the scenery is arguably even more spectacular.
3. Yakurai Gantan Tozan Sunrise Hike
Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the first sunrise of the new year by viewing it from a scenic or significant location. A surprisingly popular way to celebrate is by watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain. To do that on larger mountains requires an overnight stay and a lot of planning, so many people opt to hike a smaller mountain instead, hitting the trail in the wee hours of morning to make it to the summit by sunrise. Join in at Mount Yakurai, one of the most popular hatsuhinode mountains Miyagi!
The first 553 climbers will receive free oshiruko sweet red bean soup, a small commemorative gift, and a free ticket for the nearby Yakushi no Yu onsen! Why 553? Because Mount Yakurai is 553 meters tall.
4. Mount Karou Gantan Tozan Sunrise Hike
Photo by Roger Smith
Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the first sunrise of the new year by viewing it from a scenic or significant location. A surprisingly popular way to celebrate is by watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain. To do that on larger mountains requires an overnight stay and a lot of planning, so many people opt to hike a smaller mountain instead, hitting the trail in the wee hours of morning to make to the summit in time for sunrise.
Mount Karou is one of the best local mountains for hatsuhinode. From the peak, you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean! Being near the coast, the mountain gets very little snow. The trail is also quite easy, so you don't need to worry about having any special mountaineering equipment or experience to enjoy hatsuhinode here.
5. Hatsuhinode Sunrise Viewing from Shiroishi Castle
Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the first sunrise of the new year by viewing it from a scenic or significant location. City-side, one popular and special for hatsuhinode spot is the deck on the top floor of Shiroishi Castle.
6. Tomika toy car exhibition
January 1–5 & 11–13
An exhibition of Takara Tomy toy cars and Playrail toy trains put on by the company itself. The event will be full of fun car-themed photo ops and play!
Hours: 10:00–16:00 (last entry 15:30)
Admission: ¥1,000 adults & children ages middle school & up, ¥800 children ages elementary & under (includes free commemorative toy car)
Official event page: takaratomy.co.jp
Location: Xebio Arena Sendai (ゼビオアリーナ仙台). Map here.
Access: 5-minute walk from Nagamachi Station
7. Morita Tsunetomo: A Retrospective
Through January 19
Fukushima City, Fukushima
Morita Tsunetomo was a Japanese painter greatly influenced by French modern art, especially Paul Cezanne. He largely devoted himself to landscapes, and some of his best are paintings of the Fukushima countryside.
Admission: ¥1,000 adults, ¥600 high school students, ¥400 children ages junior high to elementary
Event details: art-museum.fcs.ed.jp
Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art official website (English): art-museum.fcs.ed.jp
Location: Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art (福島県立美術館). Map here.
Access: 7-minute walk from Bijutsukantoshokan-mae Station
8. Russian Toys Exhibition
Through January 26
An exhibition of old-fashioned Russian toys made from natural materials like wood, paper, and cloth. Naturally, matryoshka will figure prominently into the exhibition, but many less famous Russian toys will be on display as well.
9. Lake Inawashiro Shibukigori
Early January–late February
The colder and windier the weather gets, the more beautiful this "dancing ice" becomes. Shibukigori are natural ice sculptures formed as a result of the harsh winter conditions in the area, and are at their best when the weather has been frigid and windy.
10. Butterfly Stamp exhibition
Through March 1
This exhibition at Kamei Museum features butterfly-themed stamps from Asia, Europe, and Oceania, from antique stamps to contemporary ones. Butterfly fans may also want to check out the museum's permanent butterfly collection of 14,000 preserved specimens from around the world.
Admission: Adults ¥300, ages 65+ or high school & younger free
11. Fruitea Fukushima cafe train
Weekends & public holidays through March 29
Sendai, Miyagi~Koriyama, Fukushima~ Fukushima City, Fukushima
A train you'll want to catch even if you don't have anywhere to go. Fruitea Fukushima is a cafe-themed train serving sweets and beverages in train cars decked out like a cafe. It runs between Koriyama and Aizu-Wakamatsu for most of the year, but in winter the train runs between Sendai and Koriyama instead.
Hours: Departs Koriyama Station at 10:33, departs Sendai Station at 14:42
Fare: From ¥5,000 (includes sweets and drinks)
Reservations: Required. Can book through View Plaza at any major JR train station.
Details (English): jreast.co.jp
Access: At Sendai Station, Fukushima Station, & Koriyama Station
12. Shichikashuku Dam Winter Illumination
Weekdays through March 31
Another dam winter illumination . . . 🤣
Hours: 9:00–17:00 (closed 12:00–13:00)
Location: Shichikashuku Dam (七ヶ宿ダム). Map here.
Access: About 30 minutes by bus from Shiroishi-Zao Station or Shiroishi Station. Board Shichikashuku-Shiroishi Line (七ヶ宿白石線) bus bound for Yakusho・Nanairo Hiroba (役所・なないろひろば), alight at Dam Kanrijo (ダム管理所) bus stop. Timetable here.
13. Sendai Hatsu-uri
Japan's biggest hatsu-uri event. Hatsu-uri is a tradition in the same vein as Black Friday in the US. Shoppers line up at the crack of dawn for a chance to snag bargains and giveaways at their favorite shops. Fukubukuro, often called "lucky bags" in English, are another big draw. Fukubukuro are bags full of mystery items whose total MSRP value is greater than the price of the bag, so some see them as a real value.
14. Yajiro Kokeshi Hatsubiki
A Shinto ceremony in which the first kokeshi doll of the year is made and kokeshi are offered to the shrine as a prayer to ward off illness and misfortune for the coming year.
15. Japanese Sword Hastu-uchi
A Shinto ceremony celebrating the first sword firing of the year. Designated an Intangible Cultural Property by Osaki City.
16. Nanakusa no Kai
Come sample nanakusagayu, a rice gruel containing the Seven Plants of Spring. Tradition holds that a serving of nanakusagayu will prevent illness for the entire year if eaten on this day. The event is held at the Shiroishi Bukeyashiki, a historical samurai residence—a nice traditional setting for this traditional event.
17. Nanokado Hadaka Mairi
Every year on January 7, men clad only in loincloths make the pilgrimage to Enzoji Temple, where they scramble to be the first person to climb the hemp rope in the main hall. Successfully reaching the top is said to bring health and good fortune in the coming year.
Location: Enzoji Temple (福満虚空蔵尊 円蔵寺). Map here.
Access: 10-minute walk from Aizu-Yanaizu Station. The last train departs well before the festival ends, so arrange to stay in the area overnight if you are planning to come by train.
18. Ink Black Galaxy: A Student Works Exhibition
A sumi-e painting exhibition. Eight studios collaborate on this annual exhibition, giving their students an opportunity to exhibit their works to the public.
19. Yamagata Hatsuichi
Yamagata City, Yamagata
A market event dating back to the seventeenth century. Held on January 10 every year as part of a festival dedicated to Ichigami, the god of markets. The festival features about 400 stalls selling good luck trinkets, candy, and local products.
20. i-Sendai Sake Tasting Workshop
January 11 & 25
An English-friendly sake tasting workshop. Taste a variety of seasonal sakes while Mr. Aoya of Sake Bar Hatago explains a bit about the sake brewing process and illuminates the nuanced differences between the various types.
Fee: ¥3,710 (includes 6 glasses of sake and 3 appetizers)
Reservation: Must reserve online by 17:00 at least 2 days prior to event (English OK).
Details & booking (English): isendai.myshopify.com
Location: Sake Bar Hatago (日本酒bar旅籠～はたご～). Map here.
Access: 6-minute walk from Kotodaikoen Station
21. Sendai Comiket #256
Miyagino Ward, Sendai
The first Sendai Comiket of 2020! Sendai Comiket is similar to other Comikets in that it's a gathering of cosplay and dojinshi fans. But unlike the bigger Comikets, the Sendai Comiket is held several times thoughout the year so it's much less crowded. For more English-language info, check out our Sendai Comiket Report.
22. Dontosai at Osaki Hachimangu
A traditional New Year's purification ritual held only in the Miyagi area. Small dontosai festivals take place at local shrines through out the region, but this one at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is the biggest of them all. Men and women clad in white dontosai attire march silently to the temple from areas all over the city to take part in a purification ritual. A large holy bonfire is also lit, where participants and spectators alike can dispose of their old New Year's decorations and shrine omamori properly, by burning them in the purifying flames.
Official event page: oosaki-hachiman.or.jp
Location: Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (大崎八幡宮). Map here.
Access: By city bus from Sendai Station. Board bus at Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool 16. Buses depart every 4 to 10 minutes until 20:30. Shuttle buses are also available from Sendai International Center Station and the Izumi Ward Office. See event page link for details.
23. Midori no Mori Fantasy Nights
Weekends & holidays January 17–February 16
Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai
A dinosaur-themed winter illumination!
Hours: 16:30–20:30 (last entry 20:00)
Admission: ¥600 adults & high school students, ¥400 children ages junior high to 3, Children ages 2 & under free
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.
24. Video Game Day
Enjoy chill English-friendly gaming and mini tournaments at this new event. The event will feature a variety of different consoles and games, fromXBox 360 to Wii, from Mortal Kombat to Kirby Super Delux (see link for full list).
25. Mochi-pounding experience & guided walking tour of Omachi
A free event offered by i-Sendai! Participants will combine their strength to pound mochi using a large wooden mallet, a traditional and fun New Year's activity. The event will also feature an English- and Chinese-friendly walking tour of the Omachi area. Advance registration is required and the event is limited to 30 participants, so sign up early to secure your spot!
Fee: Free (only for residents & visitors from overseas)
Reservations: Required. Can book online (English OK, see link). Event is limited to 30 participants.
Official event page: facebook.com
Meeting place: In front of Hoshino Coffee Sendai Marble Road shop (星乃珈琲店 マーブルロード店). Map here.
Access: 3-minute walk from Aobadori-Ichibancho Station
26. Sennan Sweets Festival
Confectioners from all over southern Miyagi will gather for this sweets market event! In addition to the sweets market, there will also be matcha tea giveaways, sweets making workshops, and Lapras photo-ops.
27. Eboshi Setsujo Fireworks Show
A fireworks show at Eboshi Resort, one of Miyagi's most popular ski resorts. In addition to the fireworks, local ski and snowboard instructors will ride down the slopes holding electric lanterns, looking a bit like a techno rave parade on snow.
28. Asobusa Gozain! Shichigahama de Oshogatsu
あそぶさございん! 七ヶ浜 de お正月
A small festival celebrating Japanese New Year's culture. Participate in a full range of traditional festivities: lion dances, mochi pounding, and more!
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. Tagajo Station bus timetable here. Hon-Shiogama Station bus timetable here.
29. Nonodake・Hakusan Matsuri
A thousand-year-old-tradition Buddhist tradition here, designated a Prefectural Intangible Cultural Property. Two small children shoot six arrows each at a target. Where the arrows land predicts the coming year's harvest.
30. Enkorosetsu National Competition
Singers from across Japan gather to see who can give the best rendition of "Enkorosetsu," one of Miyagi's Three Great Celebratory Songs.
31. Yamagata Snow Festival
January 31-February 2
A winter festival in snow country! Features evening illuminations, performances on a stage made of snow, snowtubing, and more.