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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in tohoku
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Traditionally a poor rural backwater with a harsh climate, today's Tohoku offers the traveller some of the best scenery in Japan. In winter, the Snow Country (Yukiguni) of the western Japan Sea coast racks up some of the highest snowfall figures in the world, which also means great skiing and lots of hot springs to warm up in.
Prefectures and Regions
Information in English tends to sparse in rural Tohoku, since foreign travellers are few in these parts; the positive side to this is that people will go out of their way to help you.
The rural Tohoku accent, known as z?z?-ben for its characteristic feature of turning all "s" sounds into "z", can be difficult to comprehend at times even if you do understand Japanese. Younger people are, however, universally versed in school-standard hy?jungo.
The Tohoku Shinkansen connects Tokyo to Mito, Sendai, Morioka and Hachinohe, with spur lines to Akita and Yamagata. It will take 2 hours from Tokyo to Sendai. The line remains under construction and is inching towards Aomori, from where it will eventually tunnel under the sea to Hokkaido.
Ferry services connect ports in northern Tohoku to Hokkaido.
Tohoku is large and mountainous and getting around in the boondocks can be time-consuming.
Tohoku's main train artery is the T?hoku Shinkansen (?????) bullet train line on the east coast, connecting Tokyo to Hachinohe via Sendai, Fukushima and Morioka, with spurs to Yamagata and Akita and an extension to Aomori under construction.
Outside the Shinkansen network, rural train services in Tohoku, known affectionately as donko, are slow and infrequent. It's not unusual to have waits of 2 or even 4 hours between trains, especially for services crossing the sparsely inhabited interior. The scenery along the twisty mountain routes can be stunning though.
While JR has a near-monopoly for connecting all major towns together, the stretch of ordinary track between Morioka and Hachinohe now belongs to a private company, and there are bits and pieces of private railways around the larger towns.
JR East Rail Pass
The JR East Rail Pass 1 (http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/eastpass/index.html) lets you travel for free on all JR East lines including the Tohoku Shinkansen and its spurs, and is a good option if you plan to travel extensively by train. There are three durations, 5-day pass (¥28,000), 10-day pass (¥48,800) and a 4-day Flex Pass (¥28,000). The 4-day Flex Pass can be used any four days within a one-month window.
If you're not in a hurry, you may also want to consider the cheaper Seishun 18-Kippu.
Tohoku (in particular north of Sendai) is one of the few areas in Japan where you might want to rent a car. Rental car outlets are conveniently located near the train stations in the major cities, as this is the way local business travellers get around. Please note when planning your trips that your average travel speed on the road will be around 60km/h. All sight-seeing spots have parking available, which is inexpensive as compared to the cities in the south.
For long distance travel, the Tohoku Expressway more or less follows the route of the Shinkansen, but it's a solid 10 hours of driving for the 900 kilometers from Tokyo to Aomori. A good starting point for exploring Tohoku is Morioka, which can be reached by train from Tokyo in 2:30.
See & Do
Most visitors come to Tohoku for hiking, history and hot springs, not necessarily in that order. Highlights include the temples of Hiraizumi, the holy mountains of Dewa Sanzan and the secluded hot springs of the Shimokita Peninsula.
Eat & Drink
Tohoku has not made very many contributions to the Japanese culinary scene, although (as always in Japan) even the smallest hamlet will boast something it claims to be famous for. But in mountain regions you will certainly have a chance to sample sansai-ry?ri, prepared from herbs and plants harvested from the forests and hillsides.
Unlike the sh?ch?-swilling south, Tohoku is sake country and manufactures some fine rice wines.