What mode of transportation do you prefer to travel by? Although it depends on the distance between locations and the time which visitors have, choice of transport is often a reflection of the individual style of each traveler. In many cases, visitors might choose to join a trip arranged by a travel agency so that they can just take a chartered bus directly to every spot and have no need to find the way around by themselves. Or, some people will jump on a train due to lack of time, and others enjoy driving on their own so that they can freely adjust their schedule as they please. Recently, more people are prefering to use their bikes as transport during their trips, to challenge themself and bring them a sense of achievement.
However, there are also people choosing to take regular route buses to travel. Technically, besides chartered bus, there are two more types of bus system we can use; one is highway express buses (高速バス), and the other is regular route bus (路線バス). For international students who live in the Tohoku area, we don’t have a huge budget for traveling, so often taking a bus is the most economic option. Besides, it can also be a great way to explore the everyday street views of country Japan. Moreover, as winter is so FREEZING COLD (waaaaaay too cold to ride bicycles outside) taking the bus around becomes the most suitable method.
If you are visiting or live in Sendai, here are several suggestions for great day-trips from Sendai – by regular route bus!
1. Sakunami Onsen (作並温泉)
This is a great suggestion especially for those who purchase a city bus pass, either one-day or monthly. I have bought the monthly city bus pass before (to go to school), and this travel plan is the one I usually take. At Sendai station bus stop, you can take line 840 Sendai city bus to Sakunami Onsen bus stop. On the way, there are also many spots you can get-off and take a walk around.
Firstly, I got off at the “Houmei Shijyuhachitaki” entrance (鳳鳴四十八滝)” bus stop. There are 3 main observation platforms for viewing different angles of some stunning natural waterfalls, and there are clear signs which you may follow to help you find your way around.
Signs showing direction to observation plaform
About beginning of spring
The most beautiful time to visit is probably summer time, as you can see the photos on the informal website of the Houmeishijiuhachitaki. When I recently visied at the beginning of spring (end of Feb.), there were only naked tree branches and still a little snow beside the waterfalls. But in fact, whatever the season, it is the perfect place to relax on a picnic, listening to the sound of the water.
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Medium shot from the platform
Medium-up shot from the platform
After exploring the waterfalls, I walked slowly along Sakunami Street (作並街道), and captured some picturesque views of country Japan. It will take you about 1 hour and 10 minutes to walk from the waterfalls to the closest onsen hotel where you can relax your tired muscles, or you may get back on the line 840 bus (although it comes by once per hour according to the schedule). However in the end, I walked so slowly that it took me 1 and half hours…but it was worth my hardwork because the views amazed me so much.
Suburban views along Sakunami Street
Clear upper stream of the waterfalls
My original plan
Real distance I walked for
There are some other tourist spots which are well known in the area, such as Kamakurayama (location: 鎌倉山) which is also named ‘gorilla hill’ due to its gorilla-like appearance, a snack house which is named as Tsutsumiya (location: つつみ屋); or, you may like to visit the Nikka Whiskey factory (location: ニッカウヰスキー仙台工場宮城峡蒸溜所) to taste and learn about the origins of Japanese Whiskey. More information can be found on the Sakunami Onsen Website.
3. Akiu Onsen (秋保温泉)
Another alternative taking advantage of local route buses is to head to Akiu Onsen town on the Miyagi Kotsu Bus bound for Akiu Onsen, so that you can enjoy the streets views along the road (it takes about 1 hour). On the other hand, you might prefer to take the express bus, Sendai Seibu Liner Bus bound for Kawasaki-machi, which will get you to Akiu even faster (about 40 minutes).
In Akiu, besides the famous hot spring baths, you can make yourself some glass ware (location: ガラス工房元), like plates or bowls; however, remember to make a reservation in advance. Moreover, there is a traditional craft village (location: 秋保工芸の里) where you can try your hand at making Kokeshi dolls (a traditional wooden doll of the Tohoku area).
The very famous souvenir of Tohoku area in Japan
3. Yamagata Zao Onsen/Okama Crator (山形藏王溫泉/御釜)
Departing from Sendai, you can take the highway express bus (高速バス：山形－仙台) to Yamagata station.
1) Zao Onsen
There is so much more than just onsen in Zao Onsen area! If you ask a local Japanese, he or she may tell you more about the fantastic ski ground there; to take an onsen bath is just a additional bonus. Moreover, during winter time (from middle of January to beginning of March), you can go to see the increasingly famous ‘ice monsters’ of Zao.
Lots of people skiing
Ice monsters outside the window
In addition, I highly recommend you to pick-up some of the famous snacks which are only sold in Zao area. You will not regret it – especially if you are into Japanese takes on western desserts.
Super delicious: 樹氷ロマン
2) Okama Crator
The ‘Okama’ crator-lake is one of my favourite views in Tohoku. In Japanese, Okama is written as “お釜” which means a cooking “pot”. From the middle of March to the end of October, you can take a bus from Yamagata station to see the Okama crator. However, the company may suspend operation of this bus line if the situation of roads doesn’t permit safe trave;; for example, the snowfall is too heavy. Okama’s beautiful deep blue-green lake is considered the symbol of Mt. Zao. It’s estimated that the perimeter is about 1.5 kilometers and water depth is about 25 meters. It is also sometimes refered to as ‘Goshikinuma’ (five coloured lake), due to the changeable color at different times of the day and angles of sunshine.
The search results of Okama from Google
See? What an amazing view! I am waiting for the bus to restart soon so that I can go on my next trip!!