We all know Matsushima. People who come to Miyagi for the first time are immediately invited to visit Matsushima Bay, and they almost always do so. But not everybody knows that next to Matsushima, there is another beautiful coastal town - Shiogama, famous for its salt (hence its name- literally “salt kettle”), sake and Shiogama Shrine- a marvelous Shinto shrine dedicated to Shiotsuchi-no Oji - the deity of salt.
On 28th of October, Sendai Motions team participated in a walking tour organized by the local shop owners to promote Shiogama to foreigners and although it wasn’t our first trip to Shiogama, we were deeply impressed by the beauty of this town.
The tour started with a visit to an orthopedist Tadano Toshio - one of the few certified orthopedists in Japan, to the shop La Moustache. In this one-of-a-kind shops, only the best shoes are offered, together with a professional consultation. Some of us started to think about a possibility to return to Shiogama in search for ideal shoes - they are so hard to find!
Next, we went to Urakasumi - a very traditional sake brewery, located in an impressive old building.
There we were offered a chance to taste different kinds of sake produced at Urakasumi. Three types of sake - Dry Urakasumi, Premium Sabusawa and autumn sake Hiyaoroshi proved to the participants that sake can be very different, and if you think that you don’t like sake, maybe it just means that you haven’t found the real one. We had a chance to taste ume-shu - plum wine, too, so after leaving Urakasumi we were in a very playful mood, good for visiting a toy shop.
2-19 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Closed on Sundays
Tanyo toy shop is good both for children and for adults who haven’t forgotten how to play.
They are holding a variety of events, for example, dedicated to Magic: The Gathering, and the shop’s owner is a real Shiogama patriot, who can tell a lot about local events and festivals.
6-9 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Next to Tanyo there is a Chocolate Factory Cleauventerre.
Their chocolate is literally the best I have ever tasted. Their speciality is salty chocolate - a unique product, deriving from Shiogama’s traditions of salt-making.
And after tasting the magnificent salty chocolate, we just had to pay a homage to a shrine dedicated to salt. But it was not Shiogama Jinja yet, but a smaller shrine Okama Jinja, that enshrines... a salt cauldron.
Yes, indeed, it is a real salt kettle surrounded by sacred ropes (shimenawa), proving the importance of salt for this town and for Japanese in general. By the way, did you know that salt is considered one of the sacred substances in Japan?
On the other side of Okama Jinja, there is a cafe Harema, located in a recently renovated house that used to be a ryokan (a Japanese style hotel).
It is an ideal place for autumn days - sitting in a cosy room, you can cover your legs with a blanket, take some magazine and sip matcha or amazake - a traditional non-alcohol drink, made from rice.
3-9 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Closed on Wednesdays
After a warming drink in a cosy atmosphere of Harema, we went to the highlight-spot of the tour Shiogama Jinja, here participants had to go through a challenge- to climb a tall stone stairs leading to the main building. In fact, if you don’t like stairs, there is another entrance, much more convenient, but that wouldn’t be a challenge anymore.
Shiogama Shrine is especially beautiful in cherry blossom season, when all it’s cherry trees turn white and the paths leading to the shrine’s buildings are covered with petals. Nevertheless, beautiful places are worth seeing in any season. It must be very pretty when covered with snow, or drowning in summer’s green, and it was magnificent when we visited it this time - red autumn leaves matching red roofs and gates, torii, already started to fall down, and it was almost unbearable to step on them. Down and in front of us there was the sea, and even when it couldn’t be seen behind the trees, it reminded us about itself with some hidden objects - like a giant clam in front of the gates.
When we left the shrine, it was already time for lunch. A small traditional restaurant Ichinomori, very popular among the locals, but almost unknown to the outside world, opened its’ doors to us and treated us with delicious sushi.
Fresh salmon, tuna, squid, red caviar and more, what can be better for a trip to the seaside?
4-2 Nishimachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Hours: 11:00–15:00; 17:00~
Closed on Wednesdays
And for the dessert, we visited another local sweets shop, Osankochaya, to learn one big secret.
Have you already tasted zunda-mochi? One of the things you just have to eat when you are in Sendai, zunda-mochi is said to have been born here, in Shiogama’s Osankochaya (おさんこ茶屋本店)! The place has a 200 years history, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is true. Anyway, their zunda-mochi was very good!
11-12 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Next stop was Kumakyu (熊久商店), a shop with a long history (started in 1860) selling alcohol drinks, including Urakasumi and many other local types of sake.
We had a chance to taste Ichinokura from Osaki and Abekan from Shiogama- two other famous sake brands. It was so hard to decide which one should we buy as a souvenir! Maybe the best option is to buy many small bottles and enjoy them all.
11-5 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi
Hours: 8:00–19:00 (on holidays - until 18:00)
Closed on Wednesdays
The museum’s permanent collection is dedicated mostly to an oil painter Jun Sugimura, who lived in Shiogama and was deeply inspired by its maritime charm. But the building itself is stunning- its auditorium with an inverted catenary arch, added in 1957, resembles a Christian church or a concert hall.
And the last stop for this walking tour was a gelato shop Gelateria Fruits Laboratory.
Italian-style ice cream, gelato, is presented in many different kinds - chocolate, milk, haselnut, matcha, apple, and some rare ones like persimon or sweet potato. Very light and fruity, this ice cream is much beloved by locals. Ice cream is a kind of a treat you want to have in summer, but only in autumn you can taste kogyoku, a type of apple from Aomori Prefecture, or murasaki-imo, purple sweet potato. I wonder what kind of ice cream they offer in winter!
It is good to visit one more beautiful town in Miyagi Prefecture, but the biggest merit of this walking tour was a possibility to dive into its everyday life, usually unseen by the tourists. Local shops, cafes and restaurants that we wouldn’t notice ourselves are what we remember when we think about a great time spent in Miyagi.
The walking tour is going to be offered to the foreigners who want to get to know Shiogama on a regular basis, so look out for updates!