Taking the Banetsu Expressway from Koriyama JCT to Ono IC, we headed to our first destination of the day, ‘Abukuma-do’ limestone caves, which we discovered in the Autumn edition of ‘Hightabi’ magazine (pg. 11) that we picked up at Sugo SA . The year 2017 marked 20 years since the opening of the Banetsu Expressway! It’s the perfect place to take a drive and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
TAMURA: Abukuma-do Limestone Caves
Abukuma-do is a series of limestone caves created by the re-crystalisation of limestone melted away by rain water. Said to be the largest in the East, the cave stretches on for some 600 metres. Considering that it takes some 70~100 years to grow just one centimeter in length, it is pretty mind-boggling!
Around the cavern various areas were illuminated by pretty Christmas lights, making for some fantastic #gramming opportunities. Ducking down under rocks, climbing narrow stairs making our way through the cavern, it really did feel like we were on an adventure!
Discovered by excavation in 1969. The cavern is said to stretch for a further 2500 metres beyond the section open to the public.
Entrance: Adults, 1200 yen Challenging course + 200 yen extra
Hours: 8:30~17:00 (winter 8:30~16:30)
Homepage (English): http://abukumado.com/en/index.html
TAMURA: Famous brand-pork Tonkatsu
Off we went to Abukuma-Kogen SA in pursuit of lunch! ‘Egoma-Tonkatsu’ is made from a delicious and healthy pork fed on lean vegetation and sesame seeds (egoma), so the meat is full of essential fatty and alpha-linolenic acids.
Just the right amount of fat to make the meat juicy and tender – not a crumb was left! We’re stuffed!
You can fill-up at the petrol stations conveniently located at service areas and parking areas. When riding the expressway it’s always recommended to fill up in advance, just in case! With a full tank, it was back on the Banetsu Expressway, and off to the Pacific coastal city of Iwaki.
Banetsu Expressway Abukuma-kogen SA
A comfortable establishment located in the attractive Abukuma highlands. The food court offers a varied menu of dishes made with local ingredients.
‘Egoma-Tonkatsu Set-lunch’ 1030 yen
Open hours: 7:00～22:00
Homepage (Japanese): http://www.driveplaza.com/
Banetsu Highway Takekuma-kogen SA
IWAKI: The art of tea-drinking!
Have you heard of Shoko Kanazawa? Practicing calligraphy since age 5, she has blossomed into a prodigy, despite her down-syndrome. Many of her incredible works are now lovingly displayed in this beautiful, spacious building, originally specializing in textiles (kimono).
Try out your calligraphy skills with this giant brush!
After checking out the exhibition, it was time to check-out the in house café ‘Hishoan’. Catch some quiet time, looking out over a perfectly manicured Japanese garden. Here they serve a high-class variety of green tea ‘Gyokuro’ which has received award for ‘the best tea in Japan’! The delicate flavor of the tea changes as it brews between pours. Once you’ve finished drinking, splash some sesame oil over the drenched tea leaves and enjoy a whole new flavor sensation. A unique way to fully enjoy a pot of tea; fit for the best tea in Japan!
Kanazawa Shoko Art Museum
The museum was opened in December, 2011, a sign of recovery following the Great East Japan Earthquake. The exhibition displays are changed with each season.
Entry: Adults 800 yen
Hours: 10:00~16:00 (last entry 15:30)
Holidays: Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Homepage (Japanese): http://kanazawa-shoko.jp/museum/
Kanazawa Shoko Art Museum
IWAKI: Back to the Jurassic Age
Switching our curiosity from art to science, we hit the Iwaki City Coal and Fossil Museum ‘Horuru’. As well as marveling at the fossils of giant dinosaurs excavated in the city area, here you can learn a thing or to about the fascinating coal-mining history of the town. (Check-out more info in the winter edition of ‘High-tabi‘, pg.13)
The highlight is definitely the fossil display! Huge full-scale dinosaur skeletons tower over you as you walk through the display.
There is also a corner of recreated lifestyle scenes from the peak era of Iwaki’s coal industry.
We’ve nearly reached the end of our adventure. But we all decided we can’t leave without some souvenirs!
Iwaki City Coal and Fossil Museum
As well as permanent exhibitions of fossils and simulations demonstrating the history of the coal industry, the museum also holds season events and hands-on workshops throughout the year.
Entry: Adults, 650 yen
Open hours: 9:00～17:00(Last entry ～16:30)
Holidays: Every third Tuesday, January 1st
Homepage (Japanese): http://www.sekitankasekikan.or.jp/
Iwaki City Coal and Fossil Museum
IWAKI: Tasty treasures by the sea!
By some miracle we made it to Iwaki’s ‘Lalamew’ fish market just before it closed! Here you can find the best of Iwaki’s fresh seafood and processed goods. (Check-out more info in the soon-to-be-released winter edition of ‘High-tabi’, pg. 13)
We were curious to try everything – there were all kinds of fish and tidbits that we’d never seen before. The market sellers were super friendly and welcomed us warmly. It was a struggle to choose what to take home!!
Awesome! With this we still have something to look forward to when we get home! But it is still a 2.5 hour drive back to Sendai. We will take our time, stopping for breaks at the PA and SA along the way and enjoy a safe journey home.
Along with local produce market there are plenty of restaurants to enjoy! This is also the departure point for sight-seeing cruises.
Hours: 09:00~18:00 (may vary depending on store)
Holidays: usually open every day, with occasional irregular holiday. Please check website for updates before visiting.
Homepage (Japanese): http://www.lalamew.jp/
Returning the rental car, our journey had finally come to an end!
What did you think of our trip?
Especially for those coming back to Japan for a second or third time, Tohoku is the best option to experience the natural beauty and warm hospitality of the ‘real’ Japan. Traveling by car is the best way to make the most of your Tohoku journey; take your time exploring roads less traveled and enjoy the freedom to decide how long you want to stay and when you want to go home…or not!
Why don’t you jump in the car and embrace the freedom to enjoy Tohoku’s natural scenery on your next Japan adventure?
Read more about our roadtrip!
Leaving Sendai, we set out on our way to Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture! Who is crazy enough to climb Mt. Haguro in the snow? We are! From a detoxifying healthy lunch packed with rare Japanese wild veggies, to one of the world’s most unique aquariums packed with jellyfish! All that’s left to do is relax our weary travel legs in the only way we know how…in an onsen!
Read more about NEXCO East’s Tohoku Expressway Pass here!