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JR East Pass Budget Travel Guide: All Around Tohoku

Speaking of natural treasures in Japan, it’s hard to top Tohoku. Located at the tip of Japan’s main island, it has so much to offer: majestic rivers, snowy valleys, natural hot springs, volcanos, mountains, and many more!

As a traveler keen to see it all, you must travel all 6 prefectures: Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata, Iwate, Akita, and Aomori, each with their own set of  hidden gems waiting to be uncovered! But how can you travel all around without committing wallet homicide? We have just the guide for you! Find out the best way to travel around Tohoku region with budget tips for the sites you can’t miss, using the almighty JR East Pass!

1.What is JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Image via Fotolia

The unbeatable natural beauty is what draws travelers to Tohoku region. That being said, the long distance between major sites across all prefectures, and the high  transportation expense might become a challenge for most individual visitors.

Fret not, however, for JR East Pass has launched the railway pass for Tohoku region! It not only covers the Shinkansen and Japan Rail but also grants you unlimited JR bus rides.

  • Pass Type: 5-Day Pass (Ticket is valid for any 5 days within a 14-day period from the date of exchange)
  • Click here to check the applicable area and route of JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)
  • Recommended sites: Geibikei, Ginzan Onsen, Lake Towada, Nyuto Onsen, Oirase Gorge

2. Where to redeem your JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) ticket

Image via Shutterstock

If you book the pass via KKday before your trip, you will receive an email confirmation with your E-ticket. Remember to print the E-ticket and redeem your ticket with your passport in Japan, at following locations:

  • Tokyo Station – JR EAST Travel Service Center (Near Marunouchi North Gate): 7:30am – 8:30pm
  • Shinjuku Station – JR EAST Travel Service Center (Near New South Exit): 8:00am – 7:00pm
  • Sendai Station – JR EAST Travel Service Center:  Weekdays 8:30am – 7:00pm / Weekend 8:30am – 6:00pm
  • Sendai Airport Terminal 1F (Domestic Flights Arrival Hall): 9:00am – 9:00pm (8:30pm)
  • Narita Airport 1st, 2nd and 3rd Terminals: 8:15am – 7:00pm (8:00pm)
  • Haneda Airport International Terminal –  JR EAST Travel Service Center (Tokyo Monorail): 6:45am – 6:30pm

For other stations, check their official website.


3. Applicable area and route of JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

With this magical pass, you can take 4 kinds of Shinkansen and JR routes within the area ( it covers local trains, limited express trains, and express trains). Here are the popular routes:

    • Tohoku Shinkansen: Tokyo, Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Sendai, Ichinoseki, Morioka, Shin-Aomori
    • Akita Shinkansen: Tokyo, Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Sendai, Ichinoseki, Morioka, Akita
    • Yamagata Shinkansen: Tokyo, Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Yamagata
    • Joetsu Shinkansen: Tokyo, Ueno, Omiya, Takasaki, Yuzawa, Gala-Yuzawa, Niigata
    • Hokuriku Shinkansen: Karuizawa
    • JR East all routes (Including JR buses, Tokyo Wide JR)
    • Izu Kyuko Sen all routes
    • Aoimori Tetsudo all routes
    • Iwate Galaxy Railway all routes
    • Tokyo Monorail all routes
    • Sendai Kuko Tetsudo all routes

4. How to plan your trip with JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Fukushima, (Image via Fotolia)

Before buying the JR East Pass, you must be scratching your head, wondering how to use it, and what’s the best way to make the most of it! We won’t keep you waiting any longer, here’s everything you need to know.

Since the airports in Tohoku are mostly for domestic flights, unless you’re flying from Korea, China or Taiwan, the best way is to depart from Tokyo via JR to Fukushima. It is only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes via train.

The popular trip routes for 5 Days and 4 Nights in Tohoku:

  • Fukushima → Yamagata → Sendai → Fukushima
  • Iwate → Aomori → Akita
  • Sendai → Morioka → Kuji → Misawa

However, some may think that merely 5 days is not enough to see the full beauty of Tohoku! If time allows, and you don’t want to fill your heart with regrets upon returning home, try to plan an 11 to 14 days trip to marvel at the serene and magnificent nature of northeast Japan. Get the full experience and travel all 6 prefectures! In that case, the best route from Fukushima (closest to Tokyo) would be counterclockwise, to Miyagi (Sendai), Iwate, Aomori, Akita, and finally, Yamagata.

Pro-tip: If you travel from Tokyo Narita Airport, consider including Karuizawa in your itinerary after your trip in Tohoku. It is also covered by the JR East Pass, and situated on your way back to Tokyo!

Aomori

Lake Towada

Lake Towada, (Image via Shutterstock)

Located on the border of Aomori and Akita Prefectures, Lake Towada is a double caldera formed by 2 volcanic eruptions 20 thousand years ago. The 327-meter deep water is clear and glistening, surrounded by ancient forests that, during autumn, transform and ripen into warm gold-red tones.

Other than being a perfect spot for awe-inspiring autumn foliage and cherry blossoms in spring, in summer time, you can also enjoy the mirror-like lake water reflecting the lush-green landscape, and let yourself be deeply moved by the pureness of nature.

    • Address: Towadakohanyasumiya-486 Okuse, Towada-shi, Aomori-ken 018-5501 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: From JR Hachinohe Station, go to west exit platform 1 to take JR Bus おいらせ (o yi ra se) to Lake Towada. (Passing Oirase Gorge)

Oirase Gorge

(Image via Fotolia)

Oirase Gorge, also located in Aomori Prefecture, is at the only exit from Lake Towada. It is a 14-kilometer long river boasting breathtaking waterfalls and diverse terrain. Walk along the trail close to the river and behold  the picturesque river view—rapid currents, bizarre-shaped rocks, and stupendous waterfalls surrounded by towering trees. A perfect natural therapy that’ll make you forget all the troubles!

    • Address: Okuse, Towada, Aomori Prefecture 034-0301
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: Take Towada Kanko Dentetsu Bus to Towadako Oirase station, or take JR bus to Yakeyama, 3 minutes walk

Akita

Nyuto Onsen

Nyuto Onsen, (Image via Shutterstock)

Have you have seen the image of snow monkeys soaking in a hot spring, with snowflakes on their heads, looking all warm and peaceful? You can get the same satisfying look here at Nyuto Onsen, the hidden gem of Akita. The legend goes that if you bathe in all seven hot springs here, all your illness will be cured!

The seven hot springs scattered in the Nyuto Mountain forest are famous for their mixed bathing. Each onsen has their very own style, they are not too far from each other, meaning they are all reachable within a 5 minute-walk via natural trails.

  • Address: Komagatake-2−1 Tazawako Obonai, Senboku-shi, Akita-ken 014-1201 (Google Maps)
  • Transportation: Take JR to Tazawako Station, then take Ugo Kotsu (羽後交通) Bus and get off at bus stops “休暇村前(秋田県)”(kyuukamuramae), “妙乃湯温泉前” (taenoyu onnsennmae) or “乳頭蟹場温泉” (nyutouganiba onnsenn). In the area, you can take the shuttle bus “湯めぐり号” to move easily between hot springs

Dakigaeri Gorge

Dakigaeri Gorge, (Image via Shutterstock)

Walk into the scenic wonder of Dakigaeri Gorge, where the river, like a turquoise blue ribbon, flows between hills of lush greenery. Needless to say, it is also a hot spot for autumn leaf chasers! Don’t miss the photogenic highlights like Mikaeri Falls and Dakigaeri Keikoku (the oldest suspension bridge in Akita). Standing on the bridge, you’ll be able to fully embrace the magnificent scenery before you.

    • Address: Tazawako Sotsuda, Senboku-shi, Akita-ken 014-1113 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: Take Akita Shinkansen to Jindai Station, then reach the destination via 5- minute taxi ride

Iwate

Ryusendo

Ryusendo, (Image via Shutterstock)

It’s high time for a mysterious underground adventure! Ryusendo is one of three largest limestone caverns in Japan, with the accessible length of 1.2 kilometers and depth of 2.5 meters. Slowly walk through the dark, chilly cave, and you’ll discover the world less known to  humankind: rocks of strangest shapes brighten up by different colors of light, breathtaking underground lakes, bat caves, and other secrets are waiting to be unveiled!

    • Address: Kannari-1番地1 Iwaizumi, Iwaizumi-chō, Shimohei-gun, Iwate-ken 027-0501 (Google Maps)
    • Opening Time: Everyday from 8:30am – 6:00pm
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: From Shinkansen Morioka Station, take JR bus to the destination (2 hours).

Geibikei

Geibikei, (Image via Shutterstock)

Sitting on a wooden punt, you’ll be taken on a trip that will truly steal your breath away. As the boat glides through the crystal green-blue river, see impressive rocks, trees that decorate sides of the river generously with green, red and yellow. On your boat trip back, the boatman will sing inspiring folk songs. Astounding scenery accompanied by boatman’s singing voice will make your journey impossible to forget.

    • Address: Machi Higashiyamacho Nagasaka, 一關市岩手 029-0302 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: Take Shinkansen to Ichinoseki Station, then take the JR Ofunato Line to Geibikei Station, 430 meters walking distance to the pier.

Yamagata

Mogami River Boat Ride

(Image via Shutterstock)

Mogami river, the river that has inspired numerous poets, was crowned the title, “The Mother River” by the locals. Plenty of visitors also come here for the renowned Japanese TV drama “Oshin”, as this prefecture is the very hometown of the main character. The best way to view the river is by taking the Mogami River Boat Ride (最上峡芭蕉ライン舟下り). It is operated all year long for the travelers to admire  the river view in different seasons.

    • Address: 86-1 Furukuchi, Tozawa-mura, Mogami-gun, Yamagata-ken 999-6401 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Opening Time: 8:30am – 5:00pm (April to November), 9:00am – 4:30pm (December to March)
    • Transportation: Take JR to Furukuchi, 5 minutes walk
    • Tip: The boat route and the required time depend on weather and water level. The trip is around 1 hour. No need to book in advance

Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen, (Image via Fotolia)

Stroll down the historical street of Ginzan Onsen, you might wonder if you’ve accidentally fallen into the fantasy world of Studio Ghibli’s, ‘Spirited Away’.  Enjoy the enchanting onsen changing its beauty along with the four seasons: Cherry blossoms in spring, cool streams in summer, tinged leaves in autumn, and a pristine beauty in winter. Watch the snow sugarcoating the roofs of aburaya. At night, when the houses are romantically lit up, you will be reluctant to leave this place!

    • Address: Obanazawa, Yamagata Prefecture, 999-4333
    • Official Website    
    • Transportation: Take Shinkansen to JR Oishida Station, then take the bus to Ginzan Onsen
    • Tip: The free shuttle bus service is available if you book an accommodation there!

Mount Zao

Mount Zao, (Image via Shutterstock)

What are these army of snow monsters standing on the white land? Don’t be scared! They are not made by the Disney snow queen Elsa. Instead, these are  an extremely precious sight to see in real life. These are the frost-covered trees, which can only be formed under certain weather conditions and certain tree species!

Mount Zao has a snow resort where you can take the cable car to the top of the mountain, and be awed by the frosted snow forest that can be found nowhere else!

    • Address:  蔵王坊平高原2174 蔵王ライザスキー場ゲレンデ内, Nagano, Kaminoyama-shi, Yamagata-ken, 999-3114 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Best Months to Visit: December – February
    • Transportation: Take Shinkansen to JR Yamagata Station or JR Sendai Station, then take the bus to the final stop (Zao Onsen).

Miyagi

Okama Crater Lake

Okama Crater Lake, (Image via Shutterstock)

This majestic crater lake is surrounded by three mountain hills, and its acidic water makes it impossible for any creature to inhabit. The color of lake water changes with the angle of sunlight, making the lake seem like a colorful and mysterious pearl well-embedded in the volcanic crater.

    • Address: 蔵王町遠刈田温泉倉石岳国有林内, Zao, Katta District, 宮城, 989-0916 (Google Maps)
    • Closed Time: Late November to late April
    • Transportation: Take Tohoku Shinkansen to JR Shiroishi-Zaō Station, then take the bus to the final stop (藏王刈田山頂站 Zaokaritasancho)

Zao Fox Village

Zao Fox Village, (Image via Shutterstock)

Who would refuse to get a close encounter with adorable foxes? Zao Fox Village is a new-emerging traveling spot, famed for hundreds of foxes bred naturally in the mountain. The inconvenient transportation does not stop the visitors to come and interact with the foxes. Not only can you admire these adorable creatures, you get to feed and hug them too!

  • Address: 字川原子-11-3 Fukuokayatsumiya, Shiroishi-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-0733
  • Official Website
  • Transportation: From JR Shiroishi Station or JR Shiroishi-Zaō Station, take the taxi to the destination (around 4500 yen)

Fukushima

Aizuwakamatsu Castle

Aizuwakamatsu Castle, (Image via Shutterstock)

The Aizuwakamatsu castle, built 630 years ago, has been selected one of Japan’s best 100 castles! Come visit during springtime, as the historical castle will be accompanied by rich cherry blossoms. Reach the 5th floor and you will get a panoramic view of the whole Fukushima city.

    • Address:1-1 Ōtemachi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0873 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Opening Time: 8:30am – 5:00pm
    • Transportation: Take JR to Nishi-Wakamatsu Station, 25-minute walk

 

 

Goshiki-numa

Goshiki-numa, (Image via Pakutaso)

One of the most iconic attractions in Fukushima, Goshiki-numa is a cluster of five volcanic lakes at the foot of Mount Bandai, inside Bandai-Asahi National Park. What’s special about it? Like Mother Nature’s own color palette, each lake has its own unique color, including hues like azure blue, rusty brown, and turquoise green. During Fall, the autumn leaves contrast beautifully with the lake, turning it into an ethereal paradise.

    • Address: 耶麻郡北塩原村桧原, Hibara, Kitashiobara-mura, Yama-gun, Fukushima-ken, 966-0400 (Google Maps)
    • Official Website
    • Transportation: From JR Inawashiro Station, take Bandai Toto Bus to the destination (30 minutes).

Miharu Takizakura

Miharu Takizakura, (Image via Shutterstock)

Last but definitely not the least, Miharu Takizakura— the cherry tree that’s over 1,000 years old! When spring arrives, visitors from all over the globe are drawn to admire its spiritual beauty, seeing its branches bent down by lush cherry blossoms like pink waterfalls. At night the tree will be lit up, giving it a mysterious glow and a magical appearance.

  • Address: 大字滝字桜久保296, Taki, Miharu-machi, Tamura-gun, Fukushima-ken, 963-7714 (Google Maps)
  • Official Website
  • Transportation: Take the JR Ban’etsu East Line to Miharu Station, then take the free shuttle bus for cherry blossom or taxi to the destination.

After looking at all these beautiful images, are you still hesitating to put Tohoku on your travel bucket list? It’s easy to start your Tohoku adventure today with KKday by booking a JR East Pass. Be there, for the camera can never capture its full beauty, neither can it reflect the magical colors as perfectly as your own eyes! What you need for your trip to Tohoku:

The JR Pass Guides:

 

 

 

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