Looking for a travel adventure in Japan? Why you should visit Tohoku

Crystal blue waters as seen from the Michinoku Coastal Trail in Tohoku, Japan

This past summer, I spent a month walking 600km through Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region.

Tohoku was devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami , which claimed almost 20,000 lives and wiped several coastal communities completely off the map.

I walked the entire length of a newly opened hiking trail, the “Michinoku Coastal Trail”, which winds along the gorgeous Sanriku coastline and passes through the towns that were most severely hit by the tsunami.

Walking along Tohoku’s coastline, I aimed to document the recovery of the region, and support its revitalization by promoting tourism to the area.

I interviewed dozens of local residents about life after the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear crisis, and took hundreds of photographs of the areas I traversed.

Now, after 6 years, people living in Tohoku are busy rebuilding their lives. And , importantly, they are eagerly welcoming tourists from all over the world.

Watching sunrise from a tent in Noda, Iwate Prefecture in Tohoku

Tohoku is one of Japan’s best kept secrets.

Offering stunning natural scenery, delicacies such as fresh seafood and sake, and off-the-beaten-track adventures for travelers, it has plenty of potential to grow as a tourist destination — especially for international tourists. And an influx of travelers is seen as one of the most effective ways to boost the local economy and ensure a sustained recovery.

So, after a month of walking solo along the coastline, I came to the following conclusion:

The coastline is even more beautiful than I’d thought — but it’s the people I met who completely blew me away.

Osuka beach in Aomori Prefecture, Tohoku — the sand is said to be so untouched that it makes ‘squeaking’ noises underfoot
Catch a ferry to the beautiful Oshima Island near Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture

This may sound a little over the top, but the encounters I had during my journey renewed my hope in humanity.

Despite being a solo, male, non-Japanese-looking traveler (who probably looked rather rough, after several weeks of minimal hygienic up-keep), I was on the receiving end of COUNTLESS Random Acts of Kindness.

Here are a few examples, from just the first 5 days of my journey, to give you a small flavour of the kindness I experienced from total strangers:

Example 1: A man saw me walking into a shop in a small village. He ran up to me, screaming “hello!!” (in English), bought me a meal, and walked off without saying another word.

Example 2: An elderly woman saw me walking up the path towards her, and told me to stop. She ran into the house, and brought out a chair, along with an ice cream, and 3 cans of juice. We sat and talked until it was all gone…

Example 3: I had an early-morning chat with an elderly woman on top of a hill. We parted ways, and I continued walking. A few hours later, I hear a car screech to a halt next to me. There she was, with a bag of freshly picked berries and sweets.

Example 4: One of Iwate’s famous “Ama” female divers (world-class free divers who catch sea urchin) pulled over to give me some water and help me out, and told me her life story.

Example 5: I was sitting outside a convenience store eating instant noodles and watching the world go by. A woman walked up to me and asked “are you poor?” (in English). I laughed and told her my story, but I don’t think she really took any of it in… A few minutes later, she reappeared and handed me orange juice and bread.

Example 6: After a few minutes of conversation in a park, a local man, who turned out to be a pottery master, offered me a room for the night in his home.

One of many encounters along the Michinoku Coastal Trail in Tohoku, Japan

This is just a very small sample of the encounters I had in Tohoku over my month-long walk.

Throughout my journey, it was unusually hot (36+ degrees C at times), and my feet and back were in constant pain from lugging around a 25kg backpack. There was also the regular threat of bears in the forests, as well as several torrential downpours.

BUT, whenever I felt even a little tired or down, something magical happened because of a complete stranger’s kindness.

So next time you’re looking for a worthwhile adventure (or looking to have your faith in humanity restored…) look no further than Japan’s Tohoku region.

If it’s anything like what I experienced, you won’t be disappointed.

This article is part of the Explore Tohoku project. In July 2017, I set off on a 600km walk along Japan’s tsunami-affected coastline, following the newly opened “Michinoku Coastal Trail” (みちのく潮風トレイル ). The project aims to document the region’s recovery, 6 years on from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and support local communities by promoting tourism to the area. See the “Explore Tohoku” Facebook page here for more photos, videos and interviews from my journey.

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