Bicycle Touring Tohoku (One Picture Per Day)

Other Sections:

Part 1Bicycle Touring Hokkaido

Part 2Bicycle Touring Tohoku ← You are here

Part 3Bicycle Touring Kanto

Part 4 Bicycle Touring Chubu

Part 5Bicycle Touring Kansai

Part 6Bicycle Touring Chugoku

Part 7Bicycle Touring Shikoku

Part 8Bicycle Touring Kyushu

Lincun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Edited by me

After spending 32 days cycling through Hokkaido, it was time for bicycle touring Tohoku! This region was probably what I was most looking forward to on my trip across Japan. I traveled through Tohoku in early 2020 by train, but there are many places in the region that are difficult to access by public transportation. My route through one of the least visited regions of Japan would hit spots that the majority of tourists don’t get to see.

Day 33 – Osorezan, Aomori

Waking up at my campsite felt like the beginning of a new journey. I was on a new island in a new prefecture for the first time! I would first be cycling through the axe-shaped Shimokita Peninsula. This region is very remote without many stores, but it is most famous for Osorezan – “Fear Mountain”. The story goes that 1,200 years ago there was a Japanese monk studying Buddhism in China. He had a dream that told him to return to Kyoto and walk east for 30 days where he would find a sacred place to set up a temple. He did so, and eventually found Osorezan which matched the dream. It is now considered one of the top 3 most sacred places in Japan. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited. The smell of sulfur coming up from the ground, the bright blue water, and the Buddhist statues all made Osorezan with the difficult detour to reach.

Day 34 – Yokohama, Aomori

Day 34 was what I have started to consider a “Distance Day” – a day in which I don’t have any interesting stops planned and I focus on covering distance towards Kagoshima. Sometimes during these days you do stumble upon interesting things though, such as this temple in a forest in the middle of nowhere.

Day 35 – Lake Towada, Aomori

Originally the weather forecast showed just small amounts of rain in the late afternoon, but instead I had consistent rain all day. The show must go on, so I rode through it anyways. After a short section in the morning without much to see in the rain, I reached the Oirase Gorge. This 10km stretch of road follows a river up to Lake Towada. The whole way there are tons of rapids and waterfalls all around, making it a very scenic route. Unfortunately pictures don’t do the place justice so you really have to see it yourself to appreciate the beauty. Instead of showing a mediocre picture of the gorge, I chose this picture of me reaching Lake Towada drenched in rain.

Day 36 – Lake Towada, Aomori

Before continuing my journey south, I did a little bit of sightseeing around Lake Towada. This is the Towada-jinja Shrine which is a short walk through the forest. I went early in the morning before any other visitors arrived. That, combined with the moss covered stones and tall trees really gave it a mysterious atmosphere. I didn’t stay long because I wanted to get as far south as possible before the rain came in. At the end of the day I reached my destination in the high mountains of Akita drenched. Not from the rain, the weather actually held out all day! I was just drenched in sweat from climbing to nearly 1,000 m elevation!

Day 37 – Goshogake Onsen, Akita

Out of every day so far, this was the most difficult to choose one picture for. The mountains of Akita were maybe the most beautiful location I have ever cycled. I stopped for four different nature trails on my way south to Lake Tazawa. This was the second one at Goshogake Onsen. The entire area is littered with boiling mud pits, sulfur vents, and hot springs. In the background is Mount Hachimantai. I had the option to either ride over the summit towards Morioka or ride south to Lake Tazawa. I chose the latter and was not disappointed in the route. Unfortunately due to the nature of one picture per day you will have to wait for a full post before seeing more of it!

Day 38 – Morioka, Iwate

Today was my weekly “rest day”. “Rest day” in quotations because I still rode 57 km over a 550 m high mountain to reach my hotel in Morioka. It still felt quite a bit easier than my previous few days that had a lot more mountain climbing! I arrived in Morioka with a bit of time before I could check into my hotel, so I did some sightseeing around town. This is picture is from the park that contains the ruins of Morioka Castle.

Day 39 – Kuzumaki, Iwate

My plan after cycling to Morioka was to head east towards the coast. However, there is a massive problem which is the mountains between Morioka and the coast. The most direct routes are for cars only and many of the other routes are extremely remote with no stores or places to stay along the way. I found a route that goes north around the worst of the mountains before cutting east. Even though I avoided most of the mountains, I still rode over two mountain passes – Daibo Pass (646 m) and Hiraniwa Pass (743 m).

Day 40 – Kuji, Iwate

Day 40 started out quick as I descended the 740 meters down from Hiraniwa Pass. While flying down a hill I had to make a quick brake because I saw a mysterious large animal near a river. Upon closer inspection it was a serow! I had never seen one before. I watched it graze for a while before leaving it in peace. Soon after I entered into Sanriku Fukko National Park – a coastal park with impressive views of large rocks jutting out from the sea.

Day 41 – Kitayamazaki, Iwate

The best views of Sanriku Fukko were left for this day as I started the morning at Kitayamazaki. This is probably the most famous and popular spot in the park because of how impressive the cliffs are. I always say this, but the pictures will never do it justice because you cannot feel the scale of these cliffs. My campsite was just a few kilometers away, so I arrived early in the morning before any other tourists. After Kitayamazaki, I continued exploring Sanriku Fukko National Park’s views. The ride was incredibly beautiful, but the constant going up and down steep cliffs made for an exhausting ride.

Day 42 – Miyako, Iwate

The famous Jodogahama beach was just a short 2 km ride from my hotel, so I spent the morning exploring the area. Staying near to the popular attractions and visiting them in the early morning before the flocks of tourists arrived has proved to be a great strategy on this trip! I had the whole beach to myself. In the afternoon I continued south along the challenging coastal road. With all of the ups and downs it’s hard to put in much daily distance, but the views of the sea make it worth it.

Day 43 – Ofunato, Iwate

My next destination was Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture which was a reasonable 80 km away or so. Normally I would aim for this distance in one day. However, knowing how challenging and steep this route was, I decided to take it relatively easy and camp halfway in Ofunato. I stopped in at a mall to relax before arriving at my campsite with a nice sea view.

Day 44 – Rikuzentakata, Iwate

Continuing south I approached the areas that were hit hardest by the 2011 tsunami. Many buildings had been preserved as the ruins that they were after the disaster as a reminder of the power of nature. Pictured here is the remains of a youth hostel next to what has been called “the Miracle Pine” as part of the Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum. This area was a park lined with thousands of pine trees, and this one was the only one that remained standing in the aftermath of the tsunami. They say it was likely because this concrete youth hostel absorbed the brunt of the damage. The tree actually died shortly after due to being inundated with salty sea water, so it was hollowed out and filled with concrete to preserve it as is.

Day 45 – Kesennuma, Miyagi

After crossing into Miyagi Prefecture, I had another tsunami memorial museum to visit. This one was the remains of Kesennuma Koyo High School. The museum aims to share the memories of the people that tragically lost their lives in the disaster as well as the lessons learned to prevent any deaths in future tsunamis. After seeing the destruction of the school firsthand, the museum shows videos from survivors to hear firsthand accounts of how the disaster played out and how the town was affected in the aftermath.

Day 46 – Matsushima, Miyagi

As a little change of pace from witnessing the sad stories from the 2011 tsunami the past couple days, I arrived at Matsushima Bay, which is known as one of the three most scenic places in Japan. This bay just outside of Sendai has tons of little islands that are best seen by sightseeing boats that cruise through the bay. I didn’t stop for the boats and just enjoyed the view from the shore briefly as I had already visited Matsushima on a previous trip to Tohoku.

Day 47 – Sendai, Miyagi

Reaching Sendai put me at almost exactly 3,000 km, and I was almost at the exact halfway point on my visa, so I decided to take my first planned extended rest here. Sendai is by far the biggest city I’ve passed through so far and so I figured I could easily keep myself entertained while resting my legs for the rest of the trip. On my first rest day, I found out about a large Duel Masters tournament happening in the city. This is a trading card game I played when it released in America in 2005. That game was pretty much my life in middle school! I was very sad when the game was discontinued in English shortly later in 2006. However, in Japan the game has remained incredibly popular. When I moved to Japan to teach English I had no choice but to get involved with the game again! I didn’t bring any cards with me on this cycling trip, but I was able to find someone on Twitter who could lend me a deck to use in the tournament. I won 4 rounds and lost 3 to end up at 65th place – just one place short of receiving the promo card for top 64!

Day 48 – Sendai, Miyagi

Continuing my rest days in Sendai, I visited the ruins of Sendai Castle. While there isn’t much to see of the castle remains itself, the view of the city was spectacular. I felt like this was the picture to choose for day 48 because it represents my current resting in the city.

Day 49 – Sendai, Miyagi

For my last rest day, I went to the ruins of a castle just outside of Sendai. There wasn’t much to see there, so I slowly returned to the city while stopping at various card shops along the way in search of my favorite card, Garabon the Glider. While it is only a common card, it is now 20 years old so it is pretty rare to find. I dig through bulk storage bins where each card costs 20-30 yen to find them. I think I own close to 300 copies of this card now; I could happily spend all day looking for it in random card shops. This shop had three of them hiding in the depths of the bulk bins.

Day 50 – Kunimi, Fukushima

I’m finally back on the bike! Unfortunately there wasn’t too much to see on the route between Sendai and Fukushima. It was almost entirely city lined with stores. The one exception was going over a small mountain that separates Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Coming down into Fukushima there was a nice view of the distant city, but there wasn’t any good places to stop for a picture so this is the best I’ve got.

Day 51 – Inawashiro, Fukushima

My plan in Fukushima was to head to Aizuwakamatsu, which involves going up over a 500 m high mountain pass. However, I found a route with a detour up a 1,220 m mountain pass that goes through Bandai Asahi National Park. I love the mountains so I chose that route. Unfortunately it misted most of the day so I didn’t get any grand views until I came down the mountain a bit. This picture is at around 600 m elevation.

Day 52 – Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

The next day I rode down the mountain to Aizuwakamatsu city, home of Tsuruga Castle, which I had planned to visit. It turns out that I was insanely lucky because the Aizu Festival was starting the night I arrived! Instead of riding to a campsite after touring the castle, I stayed in Aizuwakamatsu for the night to watch the lantern parade and dancing in the streets at night.

Day 53 – Ouchijuku, Fukushima

In the morning the festival continued in Aizuwakamatsu and I watched a big parade of people in all kinds of samurai and other traditional costumes. When the parade ended I was back on my regularly scheduled touring up to Ouchijuku, a small post town that preserves the appearance from the Edo era. From up on this observatory you can see the entire little town. It’s a cool place to walk around.

I camped at an elevation of around 500 m that night, and it was the first night of real fall weather. Temperatures dropped to 52°F/11°C and I was very happy to be snuggling into my sleeping bag rather than camping in the heat like I had for a while. 

More Pictures

Part 1Bicycle Touring Hokkaido

Part 2Bicycle Touring Tohoku ← You are here

Part 3Bicycle Touring Kanto

Part 4 Bicycle Touring Chubu

Part 5Bicycle Touring Kansai

Part 6Bicycle Touring Chugoku

Part 7Bicycle Touring Shikoku

Part 8Bicycle Touring Kyushu