At the end of typhoon season here in Japan, I spent two consecutive weekends in the small coastal village of Minamisanriku. My experience there was heart wrenching to the say the least but it was also filled with some of the most heart warming and genuine moments of my time in Japan. I detailed some elements of my camping trip in Minamisanriku in my post about Earth Camp. I wanted to provide some additional highlights in a dedicated post.
I camped both weekends at the Kamiwarizaki campground on the southern side of Shizugawa. It’s pleasant with a nice big flat areas for tents and a view that can compete with the likes the Mendocino coast and Big Sur campgrounds in California. However, the real highlight for me was sunrise. I got my happy ass out of bed at 4:3oAM to hike down and watch the sun come up over the water. A true land of the rising sun moment. What a spectacular sight. A some points in the year the sun can actually be seen rising in between the rocks of Kamiwari. This is all in Japanese but it’s got a picture of the sunrise
Near the camp ground there is a massive hotel that sits jutting out into the bay called Hotel Kanyo. Hotel Kanyo is very luxurious. Why am I talking about a hotel when I spent the entire time I was in Minamisanriku camping? Well the onsen at Hotel Kanyo is amazing. It is an indoor / outdoor onsen that looks out over the bay and surrounding islands. It is also an all natural onsen. One of my most memorable experiences here in Japan is sitting outside in the Hotel Kanyo onsen, in the rain, and being absolutely filled to the brim with serenity, zen, peace and comfort. The onsen is relatively expensive as onsens go at 800円 but it is totally worth it. Plus if you like camping, you know that camp showers are terrible and possibly the most disgusting places on earth.
Also during my stay in Minamisanriku I made several trips to the local “shopping village.” After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami the Shizugawa district of Minamisanriku was completely obliterated. Since then the village moved most of its commercial enterprises inland about 3 kilometers and set up shop. The village is primarily concrete block and temporary buildings so its not much to look at. However, some of the best food around is served in the shopping village. The village itself serves as testament to the spirit of the people of Minamisanriku. The village is filled with happy customers, a packed central dining hall (even during a typhoon), Japanese mascots like Octopus-kun and live music on a regular basis. There are some great handmade crafts as well that are great for gifts.
Despite the imminent typhoon my friends and I decided we would try to get to the peak of Mt. Tatsugane (田束山). It’s a relatively tame mountain as far as hikes go especially since we were driving almost all the way to the top. When we got there it was calm (but misty) and we had a running joke regarding the use of the word atmospheric. A tour guide site listed a mountain near Wakayama as being “atmospheric.” I should hope so, if not, everyone would die. Regardless the atmosphere of the mountain in Minamisanriku was misty, foggy and super creepy to drive through. On a sunny day I would recommend getting to the top.
Probably the worst thing about Minamisanriku is that it’s a little difficult to get to, and once you’re there, to get around. The train service to the area has been suspended for the foreseeable future due to the damage from the tsunamis. The train tracks have been paved over and there are now express busses that run where the trains used to. Without a car however, navigating in and around Minamisanriku would be very difficult. I lucked out with my friends having a van to take us everywhere. There are not a lot of places to walk to and from. so I would say a car is a must.
The Northeast coast of Japan is one of the most beautiful areas in the world from Matsushima all the way up the coast in to Iwate. It’s a mirror image of the North and central coast of California. Think Big Sur, Mendocino and Bodgea Bay, now subtract the wine country and the redwoods and you have the Northeast coast of Japan. Places like Kyoto, Nara, Fujiyama and Tokyo will give you more Japanese culture for your travel dollar but the Tohoku area is home to some of the best natural wonders of Japan. If you are looking for something off the beaten path in Japan, Tohoku is a great place to go.
Check out these other awesome places in Tohoku as well.