1. Reborn Art Festival
August 3–September 29
A major art festival held biennially in Ishinomaki, celebrating and promoting the revival of the area in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The festival features a plethora of site-specific artworks, plus food, music, and performance art events.
Hours: Varies by artwork, but generally 10:00–16:00 (weekdays) and 10:00–17:00 (weekends & holidays).
Admission: An RAF passport covers entry to all artworks*. Passports cost 3,000 for adults, 2,500 yen for college and high school students. (*Food events and ticketed concerts cost extra.)
Official website (English): reborn-art-fes.jp/en/
Location: Ishinomaki and surrounding areas. Map here.
Access: Varies by area. In addition to public transit, bus tours are also available (see official website for details).
Artworks in the Central Ishinomaki area: A short walk from Ishinomaki Station
Artworks in the Momonoura, Oginohama, Koizumi, and Ayukawa areas: Accessible by Ayukawa Line (鮎川線) bus. See official website and official guide book for details. Ayukawa Line timetable here (weekdays) and here (weekends & holidays).
Ajishima area access: About 1 hour by boat from the Ajishima Line Chuo Terminal (網地島ライン中央発着所). The Chuo Terminal is a 15-minute walk from Ishinomaki Station. Board boat bound for Ajishima (網地島), alight at Aji Port (網地港). Details and timetable here.
2. Kokeshi: La tradizione artigianale del Tohoku Commemorative Exhibition
Kokeshi: La tradizione artigianal del Tohoku 記念報告展
August 20–October 27
This exhibition commemorates the Kokeshi: La tradizione artigianale del Tohoku event held in Milan this past May. That exhibition was the first time ever for a large collection of kokeshi dolls to be displayed in Italy. It showcased the work of master kokeshi craftsmen from Tohoku, and antique kokeshi owned by Italian collectors. Now that the Milan exhibition has finished its run, the craftsmen's pieces have returned home and the exhibition is being reprised for local audiences. In addition to displaying the craftsmen's fine kokeshi, this commemorative exhibition will also display photos and accounts of the Milan event.
Admission: 300 yen adults, seniors 65+ and students high school age or younger free
Milan exhibition details (English): mudec.it
Sendai exhibition details (Japanese): kameimuseum.or.jp
Location: Museum of Kamei Collection (カメイ美術館). Map here.
Access: 9-minute walk from Sendai Station
3. Omoshiroyama Cosmos-berg
Yamagata City, Yamagata
Cosmos-berg is a 7-hectare field located in the Omoshiroyama Highlands that straddle the border between Miyagi and Yamagata. It is seeded with over one million cosmos, a wildflower that blooms in early autumn. This place rarely draws big crowds, making it a great spot to simply spread out and relax in a peaceful seasonal setting.
4. Sendai Swing Festival
The biggest swing dance event in Sendai! Hosted by the local group Swing Dance in Sendai. Live band the Gypsy Stompers will be playing swinging tunes to dance by. The Swing Festival takes place the same weekend as the Jozenji Jazz Festival, making this a weekend in Sendai not to be missed by big band and swing fans.
5. Kurihara Manyosai: Earth & Fire Festival
A festival with a primitive, artsy vibe celebrating Jomon pottery and traditional local culture. Learn how pottery was made in the Jomon period from artists who still make it that way themselves. In the evening, watch local masters perform traditional dance: kagura, shika odori, and others!
Location: Kaze no Sawa Museum (風の沢ミュージアム). Map here.
Access: 30 minutes by bus from Kurikoma-Kogen Station (くりこま高原駅, on the Tohoku Shinkansen line), followed by a 40-minute walk. Board Iwagasaki Line (岩ヶ崎線) bus bound for Kurikoma Byoin-mae (栗駒病院前), alight at Arigasawa (有賀沢) bus stop. Iwagasaki Line bus timetable here (weekdays), and here (weekends & holidays).
6. Yuubikan Matsuri
Enjoy a day of traditional Japanese sophistication at the the historic Yuubikan, designated a Site of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government. Afternoon attractions include tea ceremony and concerts. In the evening, visitors can view the Yuubikan illumination. Some years the illumination is done in a a traditional manner with floating lanterns, other times with state-of-the-art projection mapping—either way, it's sure to be a beauty.
Admission: Free (There is usually a fee to enter the Yuubikan, but it's waived on the 7 and 8 in honor of the festival.)
Location: Yuubikan (有備館)
Access: Across the street from Yuubikan Station
7. Jozenji Street Jazz Festival
An enormous, free open-air festival with stages spread across downtown Sendai, from Sendai City Hall to Tsutsujigaoka Park. Despite the festival's name, a range of musical genres are represented, from jazz (obviously) to rock to R&B. Musicians from around the world travel here to perform. This year, there will be a total of 46 stages, each one host to musical acts of a specific genre.
Official website: j-streetjazz.com
Location: Venues across downtown Sendai, centered on Jozenji Street (定禅寺通り). Map here.
Access: Varies by venue. All are within walking distance of Sendai Station.
8. Masamune Kou Matsuri
The highlight of this event is a samurai procession, a recreation of a historic procession to the capital brought to life with period dress and the sounds of conch shell horns. There will also be market stalls and stage events, including traditional music and dance performances.
9. Uwanuma Hachiman Shrine Autumn Reisai
A traditional ceremony of ritual music, dance, and swordsmanship performed as offerings to the gods. Hoin kagura (法印神楽), a style of kagura dance found only in northern Miyagi, will be performed as an offering to the gods. Kendo will also be performed as a votive offering, along the cedar-lined approach to the shrine. Though not a famous event, the shrine welcomes anyone interested to attend.
10. Sendai Comiket #254
Miyagino Ward, Sendai
The early autumn installment of the Sendai Comiket, a series of gatherings celebrating all genres of anime, manga, and video games through cosplay and dojinshi (fan fiction).
11. "Bellybutton" of Tohoku Festival
Miyagi, Yamagata, and Akita intersect in the middle of the Tohoku region, forming what festival creators have dubbed "the bellybutton of Tohoku." The festival itself celebrates the charms of each region. A highlight of the stage events will be the Nishimonai Bon Odori (西馬音内盆踊), a traditional summer dance hailing from Ugo, Akita that is counted among the Three Bon Odori of Japan. There will also be meet'n'greet opportunities with local mascots, and numerous market stalls selling local products.
12. Sendai Oktoberfest
A lively festival featuring major German beers and Japanese craft, plus German sausage and large selection of Japanese otsumami. There will also be a live polka band, which in Japan means conga lines! Of the two Oktoberfests held in Sendai each year, this is the one put on by local businesses. As a result, the quality and selection of food and drink are generally better.
13. Moon viewing at Kanrantei
Come enjoy matcha and sweets as you gaze out on a moonlit Matsushima Bay. This annual evening event is timed to coincide with the harvest moon. It is held at Kanrantei, a teahouse which belonged to Date Masamune during the Edo period. Tsukimi (harvest-moon viewing) is a time-honored tradition in Japan, one Masamune valued so much that he had the Kanrantei angled for optimal moon viewing.
Hours: First seating 18:00~, second seating 19:30~
Admission: 1,000 yen (includes matcha and sweets)
Reservations: Not accepted. Availability is on a first come, first served basis, limited to 50 visitors each seating.
Location: Kanrantei (観瀾亭). Map here.
Access: 5-minute walk from Matsushimakaigan Station
14. Hagi Matsuri
Taihaku Ward, Sendai
A celebration of one of Japan's lesser known traditional flowers, hagi (bush clover). Dainty and modest yet beautifully colored, hagi is counted among Japan's Seven Flowers of Autumn. The floral highlight of the festival the hagi tunnel (pictured above). On select days (usually weekends and holidays, though this year's schedule has not been released yet), visitors can also enjoy tea ceremony, plus live koto and shakuhachi concerts.
Hours: 9:00–16:45 (last entry is 16:00)
Admission: 240 yen adults, 60 yen junior high and elementary schoolers
Location: Sendai Yasoen Garden (仙台野草園). Map here.
Access by rail: 20-minute walk from Atagobashi Station
Access by bus: From Sendai Station Bus Pool Stop 11, board bus bound for Sendai Yasoen (仙台野草園). Alight at Yasoen-mae (野草園前), the final stop. Timetables here.
15. Shibata Red Spiderlily Festival
A festival celebrating the blossoming of this archetypal fall flower. 13,000 spider lilies grow here. The red spider lily is known by over 1,000 names in Japan. The one used above, manjushage (曼殊沙華), is the one used in Buddhist scriptures. In such texts, the manjushage is described as "a heavenly flower which does not exist on Earth."
The blooms will be illuminated on Saturday nights during the festival. In addition to the flowers themselves, the festival will also feature various other attractions, such as janken competitions (September 16 & 28) and live musical performances (September 23 & 29).
16. Sake Tasting Workshop
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 yen (includes 6 glasses of sake and 3 appetizers)
Reservation: Must reserve online at least 2 days prior to event (English OK).
Details & booking (English): i-sendai.jp/activities
Location: Sake Bar Hatago (日本酒bar旅籠～はたご～). Map here.
Access: 6-minute walk from Kotodaikoen Station
17. Izumi Marché
Izumi Ward, Sendai
Back for the tenth year in a row! Over the years, the event has nearly doubled in size. This year, 140 indie and local businesses gather for this huge open-air market. About half are food and drink stalls, and half are merchant booths selling handicrafts, antiques, and more!
18. Osaki Hachimangu Shinkosai & mikoshi carrying
An annual religious festival at the National Treasure Osaki Hachimangu Shrine. Though it's a religious celebration, it has several events of interest to the casual spectator: yabusame (流鏑馬, horseback archery), kagura (神楽, a type of theater performed as entertainment for the gods), and mikoshi (portable shrine) carrying. First, the mikoshi is paraded around the neighborhood, then up the long flight of stairs to the main hall of the shrine.
Hours: 15:00~ (September 14), 9:30–18:00 (September 15)
Location: Osaki Hachimangu Shrine (大崎八幡宮) & surrounding streets. Map here.
Access: 45 minutes by bus from Sendai Station. At Sendai Station West Exit Bus Stop 16, board a Loople bus. Alight at bus stop #12 Osaki Hachimangu Shrine. Bus info here (English).
19. Toyoma Autumn Festival & Takigi Noh
This traditional autumn festival has a 340-year history. On Saturday evening, a takigi Noh performance will be held. Takigi Noh is special type of Noh, performed at night on outdoor stage. Takigi (firewood) is placed at each corner of the stage. After dusk, the takigi is lit, lending the performance an otherworldly atmosphere.
Toyoma Autumn Festival
Hours: 14:00–21:00 (September 14), 10:00–17:00 (September 15)
Location: the Teraike neighborhood (寺池地区). Map here (event parking lot at 観光物産センター｢遠山之里｣ is pinned).
Access: 15 minutes by bus from Yanaizu Station (柳津駅). At Yanaizu Station, board a Tsuyama Line (津山線) bus bound for Tome (登米). Alight at Tome Mikka-machi (登米三日町) bus stop. Timetable here.
20. Sendai Short Film Festival
An independent cinema festival screening all manner of short indie films. Typically, some of the films are in English or have English subtitles. English support is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hours: 10:45–20:45. See website for timetable of specific screenings.
Tickets: 1,000 yen per screening (available at the door), or 4,000 yen for a free pass that allows access to as many screenings as you like. Free passes must be purchase in advance online or at the sendai mediatheque museum shop. See official website for details.
Official website: shortpiece.com
Location: Sendai Mediatheque (せんだいメディアテーク ). Map here.
Access: 6-minute walk from Kotodai-Koen Station
21. Wine Vin Vino Fukushima
ワイン ヴァン ヴィーノ フクシマ
Fukushima City, Fukushima
Features both local Fukushima wines as well as international imports. Booths are operated by local dining establishments and wine shops, so you can expect good food as well.
22.Hagurosan Spider Lily Festival
Said to be the best spot in northern Miyagi for red spiderlily viewing. The red spiderlily goes by over 1,000 names in Japan. The name used above, higanbana (彼岸花) is perhaps the most common; manjushage (曼殊沙華) is another. 「花」 (pronounced "bana" here) means "flower," and "Higan" is a Japanese Buddhist holiday that takes place during the spring and autumnal equinoxes. Because the red spider lily blooms during the autumn Higan holiday, it is known as "higanbana."
In addition to the flowers, the festival will feature taiko drum performances, food stalls, and a photo contest.
23. Kaminoyama Onsen National Scarecrow Festival
A festival showcasing handmade scarecrows from all over Japan, from the practical to the bizarre. The festival will also feature live stage shows and food stalls serving local specialties.
24. Kaminoyama Furoennale
Kaminoyama Onsen, Yamagata
A small contemporary art festival taking place not only in an onsen town, but actually inside the town's public baths! This year, the event will be held in conjunction with the National Scarecrow Festival, so visitors can easily enjoy both festivals in one day.
Hours (bathhouses): 6:00–22:00
Admission (bathhouses): 150 yen adults, 100 yen elementary school students (per bathouse). The artworks are located in the bathing and rest areas of the public bathhouses, so it's free to view with purchase of your bathing ticket.
Location(s): Various public bathouses around Kaminoyama Onsen. Map here.
Access: A short walk from Kaminoyama Onsen Station
25. Japan's Biggest Imonikai
Yamagata City, Yamagata
Imonikai are a beloved Japanese fall tradition. Friends and family gather in spots parks or along riverbanks to cook and eat imoni (potato stew) together. This imonikai festival expands the tradition to novelty proportions by being the biggest one in Japan—certified as such by Guinness World Records.The focal point of the event is a bubbling pot of imoni so huge it takes construction equipment to handle it! In additon to the novelty of the giant imoni, the festival also features several other food related attractions: a rice festival, sanma festival, stage events, and more.
Admission: Free (imoni 300 yen)
Official website: y-yeg.jp/imoni/
Location: Japan's Biggest Imonikai Festival Grounds (日本一の芋煮会フェスティバルの会場). Map here.
Access: About 15 minutes by bus from Yamagata Station (山形駅). From Yamagata Station Bus Stop #4, board a bus bound for Chitose Koen (千歳公園) or Numanobe (沼の辺). Alight at Yamagata Shobosho-mae (山形消防署前). Timetable here.
26. Gama Rock: Shiogama Rock Festival
This music festival was started by a local photographer together with famous dancer Atsushi from Dragon Ash after the 2011 tsunami. Now it has performances by local and nationally-known groups, plus art workshops and no shortage of delicious local food—think fresh fish and Shiogama's top-notch sake.
27. Kibamusha Rock Fes
Outdoor music festival featuring 21 bands and several genres of music: rock, big band, indie, and more! In addition to the musical acts, there will be evening fireworks and a variety of workshops for visitors to participate in, from jiu-jutsu to candle-making.
Tickets: 5,500 yen at the door. Can be purchased in advance online for a small discount.
Official website: kibamusha-rock-fes.com
Location: Minamisoma-shi Baji Koen (南相馬市馬事公苑). Map here.
Access: Shuttle bus available from a nearby train station (schedule and station TBA, most likely Haranomachi Station) .
28. Endogataki Fudoson Autumn Reitaisai & fire-walking ritual
A little-known, yet absolutely incredible event held at a small temple in the forested hills of northern Fukushima. The main event is a fire-purification ritual, said to cleanse the spirit, in which participants walk across burning logs (Yes, they really are on fire when you walk across them!). Spectating and participation in the ritual is open to all, regardless of creed or religious affiliation. If you choose to watch or participate please do remember to be respectful—this is a serious religious ceremony, not a tourist attraction.
Fee: Free to watch, participation in the ritual requires the purchase of a 1,000 yen talisman
Reservation: None required. Those who to participate in the fire-walking ritual should arrive a little early to register and purchase their talisman.
Location: Endogataki Fudoson (遠藤ヶ滝不動尊). Map here.
29. Aizu Festival
One of the largest fall festivals in the Aizu region, it celebrates the area's samurai history. The main event is a parade of 500 people dressed in historical garb. This year, in commemoration of Aizu-Wakamatsu city's 120th anniversary the festival will also feature a rare yabusame (horseback archery) demonstration!
Hours: 18:00–20:30 (September 21), 8:30–20:30 (September 22), 10:00~ (September 23)
Official website: aizu-matsuri.com
Location: Various venues around central Aizu-Wakamatsu, centered on Tsurugajo Castle (鶴ヶ城). Map here.
Access: A 35-minute walk, or 20 minutes by bus from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅). Board a Haikara-san (ハイカラさん) loop bus, alight at any of the Tsurugajo (鶴ヶ城) bus stops. Bus map & timetable here (English).
30. Tsunami & Recovery Tour to Sendai's Coast
Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai
What was Sendai like after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami? Find out with an English-friendly guided tour to Sendai's tsunami-struck coastal area. This tour is held roughly once a month and is one of the few chances to hear about the disaster in English.
After the tour, enjoy lunch with your guide and fellow tour participants at a local farm-to-table restaurant (optional).
31. Kesennuma Street Live Festival
A free outdoor music festival in Miyagi's northern port city of Kesennuma. Features 63 bands performing across 7 stages around the Tanakamae area, a neighborhood known for its good food and drink establishments.
32. Highway Festa Tohoku
An event designed to entice people to explore lesser-known regions of Tohoku by showcasing the charms of these areas. The highlights of the event are food stalls selling local specialties, and live performances encompassing aspects of traditional Tohoku culture, from odori dance to namahage demons playing taiko drums. The local Date Busho-tai troupe of samurai impersonators will also make an appearance.
33. Sendai World Festa
A local festival celebrating international exchange. Highlights include food, drink, and market stalls featuring goods from around the world,vplus stage performances and an activity corner. Numerous internationally-minded groups will host be hosting booths here, so it's a great chance to get to know the Miyagi international community.
34. Shiwahime Doll Kanshasai
A Shinto ceremony for giving thanks to old dolls before they are disposed of. Although the ceremony itself doesn't draw huge crowds of spectators, people from all over the country ship their dolls here to have them take part in the ceremony. If choose to attend, please remember to be respectful—this is a serious religious ceremony, not a tourist attraction.
35. Stargazing meetup & Astronomy Juku
A stargazing meetup at the local lifelong learning center, which has an astronomical observatory complete with a high-powered telescope on its roof. If you're interested but can't make the September event, no problem—the meetups are held once a month year-round (see link for schedule).
Those who feel like they need a refresher course in astronomy to fully appreciate the event are in luck—a free Astronomy Juku ("astronomy cram school") is offered in the afternoon before the stargazing begins.
Hours: Astronomy Juku 16:00–17:30, Stargazing meetup 19:30–20:45 (registration starts from 19:00, last entry is 20:00)
Reservations: Not necessary
Astronomy Juku details: palette.furukawa.miyagi.jp
Stargazing meetup details: palette.furukawa.miyagi.jp
Location: Lifelong learning center Palette Osaki (大崎生涯学習センターパレットおおさき). Map here.
Access: A 30-minute walk or 15 minutes by bus from Furukawa Station (古川駅). From Furukawa Station Bus Stop #8, board the city loop bus. Alight at Osaki Shimin Byoin (大崎市民病院). Buses stop running around 19:30, so you'll have to walk or take a taxi back to the station. Timetables here.
36. Onagawa Sanma Festival
Near Onagawa Station. Festival celebrating the local sanma (Pacific saury) catch, one of the largest in Japan. The main event is the giveaway of 10,000 grilled sanma. There's also a sanma soup giveaway, stage events, and a kid's play corner. The festival is located just outside the Ban Shigeru-designed Onagawa Station, a tourist attraction in its own right. It even has its own onsen!
37. Shizugawa Bay Octopus Festival Recovery Market
A festival celebrating the local octopus catch. Attractions include a display of live octopi, mochi giveaways, live musical performances, and appearances by local mascot Octopus-Kun. Food-wise, the event is full of octopus foods, both those that include it as an ingredient (shabu-shabu, etc.) and vegetarian-friendly kawaii Octopus-Kun themed sweets (manju, etc.).
38. Datena Anime Fes
Anime event celebrating the Datenikuru anime, plus whatever else fans cook up. Highlights include cosplay, itasha, and merchandise booths.
39. Nishi-Aizu Nigiwai & Volkswagon Festival
A Volkswagen-centric hometown festival. The festival's unique highlights are its vintage Volkswagon car show and Volkswagon maintenance demonstrations. It also features a flea market, street performers, taiko, live music, and food stalls.
40. Futsuka Shokudo
Formerly known as the Sendai Food Convention, this event is a simple gathering of food and market stalls operated by local farmers and restaurants. Several of the participating restaurants are fairly pricey to dine at, making the event is a good opportunity to sample their food without breaking the bank.