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Japan's Tohoku - a little-known treasure trove

22nd May 2012 Print

Tohoku in northern Japan is probably better-known for the tsunami that devastated its coastline than for its inland rural beauty. Yet this largely unexplored region is a place of forest-clad sacred mountains and hot springs; it is dotted with ancient temples and steeped in history. Tohoku is also home to the utterly exquisite Konjikido, a gold-gilded shrine in the Chuson-ji Temple situated in Hiraizumi, a town with a history dating back to 866.

InsideJapan Tours has created a 13-night Tohoku Treasures & Volunteering trip designed to highlight the gems of Tohoku but also to encourage people to help with the tsunami recovery efforts. Imagine if all the seaside towns along coastline from London to Newcastle disappeared overnight: this is what happened in Tohoku.

The self-guided Tohoku Treasures itinerary begins with private guiding in Tokyo’s historic district of Asakusa before heading northwards to Tohoku on the bullet train to the town of Nikko, situated in the Tochigi mountains. Explore the 17th century Toshogu shrine complex and witness the crashing waters of three stunning waterfalls in the surrounding national park. Take a scenic train ride to the samurai town of Aizu Wakamatsu and visit the modern city of Sendai. Tsunami-hit Ishinomaki is where travellers can volunteer with the charity It's Not Just Mud. For three days, work alongside locals clearing schools or parks, cleaning houses or taking part in community projects in temporary housing shelters. Says InsideJapan Tours’ guide Tom Orsman, “I’ve done exactly that and it’s both energising and humbling – I thoroughly recommend it as a way of meeting Japanese people, who are enormously grateful for any modest help that we can give, and in terms of appreciating just how lucky we are. It is a completely different way of experiencing the beauty of Japanese culture and the region”.

The journey continues to Hiraizumi, where travellers stay in traditional ryokan accommodation with hot spring baths overlooking quintessential Japanese gardens and where delicious Japanese fine-dining delicacies (kaiseki) are served. Visit the Chuson-ji Temple and the other havens of Zen peace that earned Hiraizumi UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2011.

“Tohoku Treasures is designed around the wonderful people and countryside that make this region so unique” says InsideJapan Tours’ Sustainable Tourism Manager, Ruth Hubbard.

“This itinerary presents a side of Japan that people might otherwise not see – that of real community spirit, generosity and stoicism, allowing them to form even longer-lasting memories of Japan. Tohoku Treasures aims both to help with the great work that charities such as It’s Not Just Mud are carrying out in Tohoku and to give travellers the trip of a lifetime”.

The Tohoku Treasures self-guided adventure can be booked for departures all year round. It costs £1,470 pp and includes 13 nights’ accommodation, all domestic transport and airport transfers, a private guide in Tokyo, daily breakfast, five evening meals plus a donation to It’s Not Just Mud. Flights are extra and cost from £650 pp return.

For further information, visit