11 essential stops along Tohoku’s Michinoku Coastal Trail in Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) National Park

Built to support the post-tsunami recovery of Japan’s under-visited Tohoku region, the 1,000km Michinoku Coastal Trail takes in unspoilt nature and local culture. Here are 11 essential stops on the trail

Team Wanderlust
18 February 2022
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Tohoku Michinoku Coastal Trail Japan

1. Jodogahama Visitor Centre

The Michinoku Coastal Trail runs just over 1,000 kilometres along the Tohoku region’s east coast, stretching north from Fukushima Prefecture through Miyagi and Iwate prefectures and on to Aomori Prefecture. The Jodogahama Visitor Centre makes a great starting point for exploring the 230km-long northern route located within Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) National Park. Spread across three floors, there are exhibits here covering local ecosystems, wildlife, the trail, and the national park, which like the Michinoku was established after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 to help with the region’s recovery. Equally good, the visitor centre offers guides and a variety of hands-on activities, from sea kayaking and trekking to craft workshops.

2. Jodogahama Rest House

With views onto the white stone beach of Jodogahama Beach and the blue sea, this rest house offers a scenic spot for recharging mid-hike. Most notably, the restaurant here serves up a local speciality called bindon — a dish that takes some explaining. It starts with a milk bottle filled with several kinds of fresh seafood, which you crack open and pour over a bowl of steaming hot rice. The classic version features just raw sea urchin, but there are plenty of variations that combine raw squid, scallops, fish roe, and other seafood caught off the Iwate coast. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, don’t worry, there’s curry and ramen on the menu too.

3. Shiobuki Tide Hole

Just north of Jodogahama, on a picturesque stretch of ria coastline dotted with sea caves and jagged islets, the Shiobuki tide hole (Shiobuki-ana) was formed by millennia of wave erosion. When the sea is churning out large waves, it forces seawater through the bottom of the tide hole, where the increased pressure then shoots jets of water up to 30 metres in the air. It’s an impressive sight that’s even been designated as a national natural monument. Just be aware that on calm days, the hole won’t perform.

4. Taro Seawall

You encounter frequent reminders of the tsunami along the Michinoku Coastal Trail. There are memorials and evacuation zone signs, as well as recently built protections like the new Taro Seawall. On March 11, 2011, the original 10-metre-high, 2.5-kilometre-long seawall in Taro was breached by over15-metre waves, which broke through to claim 181 lives and destroy 1,700 homes in this fishing community. It has since been rebuilt to a height of around 15 metres, and the port of Taro is back on its feet too, but nearby the heavily damaged Earthquake Heritage Taro Kanko Hotel has been left as a poignant memorial to the disaster.

5. Hotel Ragaso

Hikers find a mixture of accommodation along the Michinoku Coastal Trail, from camps sites and family-run minshuku (bed and breakfast) to traditional ryokan inns. For a bit of pampering, there’s also Hotel Ragaso in Tanohata village.

When the tsunami hit in 2011, the Ragaso took extensive damage on its lower floors, and then became a base for recovery workers. Now the hotel is fully up and running again, it’s one of Tanohata’s largest employers and a key part of the local tourism infrastructure, offering plush tatami mat rooms, multi-course kaiseki meals centred on local seafood, and public baths that are perfect for soaking tired legs.

6. L’aureole Tanohata

Hiking the coast, a lot of the restaurants you come across specialise in tradition preparations of locally caught seafood. L’aureole Tanohata is different. Sitting right on the Michinoku Coastal Trail, Chef Katsuyasu Ito’s restaurant serves up views of the coast alongside French-inspired cuisine made only with fresh, local produce from the Tohoku region. The menu changes frequently, but you might find smoked Maesawa beef shoulder roast or in-season fish with a shitake sauce, then a sweet ending like chocolate mousse with yuzu.

7. Tsukuehama fishing huts and sappa boat experience

Before the 2011 tsunami devastated the area, Tanohata’s Tsukue fishing port was known for its collection of small, old-fashioned banya fishing huts, from where boats powered by little outboard motors would set off to catch sea urchin, abalone and other hauls. Rebuilt, these banya huts now also host hands-on workshops where you could learn to make salt or take cooking classes. They also serve as a base for guided treks, as well as tours of the coast in small sappa fishing boats—a chance to get a different look at the geological wonders of the coastline you’ve been hiking.

8. Kitayamazaki

The stretch of trail between Fudai and Tanohata villages has some of the most dramatic scenery and challenging terrain along the entire Michinoku Coastal Trail, with steep ups and downs through thick woods, breathtaking 200-metre-high clifftop views, hand-dug tunnels, and even patches of rocky coastline where hikers need to clamber up ladders and hang on to ropes. The occasional bear warning sign adds to the sense of adventure. It’s worth all the effort just for the views from the Kitayamazaki Visitor Centre’s observatory, where the cliff-edged coastline—sometimes called the ‘alps of the ocean’—unfolds like something from an old sumi-e ink wash painting. With a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and restaurants here, it’s also a good place to stop for a night.

9. Tanesashi Coast Information Centre

As the trail approaches its final section, way up north in Aomori Prefecture, it comes to this smart information centre, a hub for all sorts of activities and tours. On the rolling Tanesashi Natural Lawn opposite the centre—a patch of coastline that almost feels like you’ve stumbled onto a links golf course—you could try yoga or horse riding. There’s spring and summer glamping too. Via the centre, you can also sign up for guided treks and eco tours, lunch visits to local fisherman’s huts, and plenty of other immersive experiences.

10. The Final Stretch to the Northern Trailhead

From the Tanesashi Coast Information Centre, the final eight kilometre stretch of the Michinoku Coastal Trail provides a beautifully varied end to a hike. After leaving the Tanesashi Natural Lawn in front of the centre, it passes through an old pine grove and along the two-kilometre-long Osuka Beach—where the white sand sometimes ‘sings’ when walked upon. Then comes rocky grassland and craggy capes, before the trail winds up at Kabushima Shrine in Hachinohe city. Located on a small hill that from late February to early August is home to 30,000 seagulls, the shrine marks the northernmost end of the trail. But don’t be put off by the gulls. If one of them poops on you, it’s considered good luck—the shrine will even issue you with a lucky certificate.

11. Miroku Yokocho

After reaching the northern end of the Michinoku Coastal Trail, unwind in the port city of Hachinohe—very possibly Japan’s most under-the-radar foodie destination. As well as being home to one of the country’s biggest weekly markets (held every Sunday), Hachinohe is known for its yokocho, the name given to alleyways packed with small restaurants. There are eight yokocho in central Hachinohe, including the magnificent Miroku Yokocho, which combines 26 covered food stalls, each with just enough space to sit eight customers around a counter. In them, you’ll find local specialties like senbei-jiru hotpot, regional sake and locals happy for a chat.

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