Introducing Japan: Sendai
By Dr. Nam Hoai Do
Family photo at Zuigan-ji Temple in Matsushima
The Japanese are very fond of their country’s four distinct seasons. Located about 300 kilometers north of Tokyo, Sendai superbly reflects this seasonal transition. In the winter, the area experiences snowfall, though not as heavy in the lowlands as other parts of northern Japan. In the summer, the temperature is much cooler than in the southern area of the country. Spring seems short—a transitional period between winter and summer, accented by the budding and bloom of plum, peach and cherry trees. Autumn is perhaps the most wonderful season with its mild climate and deep blue sky. It is the season when red and yellow leaves paint the landscape, with nature’s colors spreading from the valleys across the mountain slopes. A relatively small city with a population of more or less a million, Sendai is often called an “academic city” due to its atypically large educational sector. Life in Sendai is, therefore, more relaxed than in the bustling big cities to the south.
Each of the seasons features its own tourist attractions. At the beginning of spring, cherry blossoms are exquisite, particularly when viewed along the embankment of the Shiroishi River lined with a thousand cherry trees. In the summer, Matsushima Bay, spotted with 260 pine-clad islets, can be toured on a cruise boat, while enjoying a pleasant sea breeze and the trailing flight of lovely albatross birds. The entire bay can also be viewed from four panoramic observation points along its shoreline. Fall takes the tourist to the Narukokyo Gorge with the Oya River running over waterfalls and in cascades below cliffs covered with scarlet-tinged maple trees and varicolored foliage. Winter brings skiers and snow-fun seekers to the winter wonderland of Mt Zao, located to the west of Sendai. From the top of the mountain, the ski course weaves through snow-draped trees, whose strange shapes give them the name “snow monsters.” At the bottom of the hill are onsen, sulfurous hot-spring spas and baths.
Sendai’s cuisine is always flavorsome and sometimes unique. Besides having delicious sushi, sashimi, fresh oysters and noodle soups, Sendai is known for its original gyutan—slices of cow tongue mixed with tasty ingredients and grilled over a charcoal fire, usually served with barley rice, beef-broth soup, and pickled vegetables. In Sendai, there are many restaurants serving gyutan. If you come here, why don’t you drop in one of them and try gyutan—I think you’ll like its tender smoky taste.