The capital city of Miyagi prefecture and the largest city in the Tohoku region. Founded by Date Masamune It was once known as the city of the trees and it’s mascot is Musubi Maru.
To me Sendai is a beautiful city that perfectly balances green, buildings and population density. It has very good restaurants, shops and department stores and is a very youthful city because of the Tohoku University.
I really want to promote regional tourism across Japan and I hope that by sharing my experience I can show a different side of a city often overlooked by travel guides.
A normal day in Sendai
This would include, exploring the city’s department stores and going out for lunch or at night with friends. Because of this I was able to discover really cool places that I can leave as recommendations.
So for bargain hunting I would recommend, 100Yen stores, Daiso and Donkihote. In these three shops you can find probably all of the basic things you may need for travel and living.
What makes this better than the others is that everything in here will cost you about a dollar. Things don’t necessarily have great quality but they do their job. For example mugs, tea filters, pens, clothes’ hangers and detergent are pretty much universal at what they do.
A supermarket in the basement of a 100Yen store
Usually, these stores, will have a mini supermarket in the basement where food can be a little on the cheaper side than the normal markets, make sure to check it out.
Daiso is a great for cheap really cute things, whatever you may be looking for, you can find it here. From notebooks with flower patterns, rubbers in shape of dogs, colorful magnets, sponges with expressions, pens, house organizing items, mini themed chocolates to a million other things you will find everything with prices between 1 to 5 dollars.
Although this is a great place to find smallish things to take home as mini souvenirs from Japan, beware that most of them are not made in Japan.
This is the place where I bought towels and toilet amenities at a very good price. It has a wide range of products. I still want to go to Japan and buy that mahjong set that cost 3000Yen… next time!
Stuff, stuff and more stuff
Food – The favorites
I am a foodie, food is really important and represents an essencial part of my life. These are my favorites in Sendai, but since they are from 2013/2014 it’s probable that some of them will have already closed by the time you read this.
In the street level of Donkihote in Sendai you can find a takoyaki store. Takoyaki are small pastry balls filled with octopus pieces and ginger. It is a staple for festival food in Japan and you can find it anywhere.
Donki hote – the takoyaki place is hidden behind the car
This was the most convenient for me and I would grab some before going home from the University. I really recommend this place. Takoyaki is served very hot so be careful when eating
[Yaki Niku] 焼肉屋 ローズガーデン
Yaki Niku means grilled meat and in these types of restaurants you order a set of different meats and vegetables which come seasoned and raw to the table. The waitress turns on a griller in the center of the table where you are sitting and which you will use to cook.
Publicity for the yakiniku restaurant
These are one on my favorite types of restaurant in Japan. First because the meat is really tender and delicious; second because I get somewhat enchanted with the fire burning. It awakens the introvert in me.
It is an amazing experience and the meat is usually really good. The best thing about this restaurant is that it is less expensive than usual and the meat is still really tasty.
Here I tried Gyuutan, cow tongue, which is a very famous dish in Sendai. I found it a little too chewy of me, but maybe you will like it.
In Sendai I had two sources of sushi, seyu supermarket in Hirosedori and its shelves of sushi with its late night discounts and a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.
A small example of sushi from the supermarket
Seyu’s sushi it’s a good deal sushi. They have chefs cutting fish and making sushi that they serve in sets for people to buy and take home.
An insider’s note is that every day at the end of the day someone passes and puts some stickers with an updated price. Usually the later you go you can find the best prices on fresh food.
But we also had a proper restaurant for sushi where we would go. In the city center, next to the Disney store you can find a conveyor belt restaurant. You sit and on the table you have a tablet where you see the pictures and order from.
Our meal in the sushi restaurant
We came here several times and we really liked it. It’s not high end sushi but it was a decent place for the right amount of raw fish, and every time we went they gave us a 100¥ voucher for next meal.
Sugar Sugar Rush
The Japanese have a really great tradition of healthy and delicious deserts, rice cakes, bean pastes, whichever you choose you will not regret
One weekend friends asked me to go to a place where there was a desserts buffet. I could not believe it.
Sweets Paradaise cakes
We went there near Sendai station on the top of a building and inside there were maybe 20 different types of beautifully delicious cakes.
I recommend this place for sweets craving days but beware, it’s full with loud young girls, especially the one in Harajuku Tokyo but that’s another story.
Kazunori Ikeda カズノリ イケダ アンディヴィデュエル
Kazunori Ikeda cakes
Kazunori Ikeda is a cake shop on the modern side, that I highly recommend. The cakes are absolutely beautiful and they are really tasty. We would usually go there whenever we had craving for cakes, as it was close to the University campus, but not as often as we wanted because they are really expensive small cakes.
All around Sendai, several bakery shops were popping up when I was there. This was our usual bakery, Velvet.
The concept of a bakery in Japan was really interesting to me. In the shop there are several plates and baskets with all the different types of bread, both salty and sweet. When you enter, you grab a tray and you go around grabbing your favorites. In the end, you take them to the cashier and you pay for them.
Velvet Bakery where we would get our break for the laboratory
Maybe this is common in Europe but in my country I never saw it. I really hope someone opens a place like this and brings these delicious Japanese flavors.
Mochi is a rice cake and a really traditional sweet in Japan, one of my favorites. Usually it’s filled with different fillings such as anko, red bean paste, or strawberries.
Near the University campus we had a shop that seems to have already closed, that sold the most delicious mochi. At about 4 in the afternoon we would sneak from the laboratory and go to this shop. We would go there for the Ice cream filled ones which and we were supposed to wait two hours for them to reach the perfect texture after unfreezing. To me it was just torture.
If you ever go to Sendai make sure you eat some zunda mochi. Zunda is a sweet paste made from edamame beans and it’s traditional from Sendai. I’ve looked and near this store where I used to go there seems to be another one that sells these. Hope you can try them.
You can also find cheap mochi with zunda in supermarkets, they are ok but not the traditional ones with zunda on the outside.
Tea, Cafe and Entertainment in the city
Tea container souvenir
I recommend this shop if you want to buy some green tea to take home or to give as a souvenir. Not only do they have several types of green tea they also have a large selection of other products made with tea as well as some really beautiful traditional containers.
In Portugal, whenever you have a building, it’s generally residential and shops will only be at the ground level. In Japan, buildings in the center, had shops and studios and galleries up until the top floor. It’s unbelievable! It took a long time for us to get used to it and to start looking up.
One day me and a friend were on the street and she said: “Let’s get into any building, go up to any floor and enter one of this shops”. We chose a building, a floor and took the elevator and that is how we found our first cat café.
For this cat café you paid for the amount of time you want to be inside, enter and watch and pet all of these extremely cute cats just laying around. The whole experience was really magic.
Cat cafés are unique places, they are common and loved in Japan because usually people are not allowed to have pets in rented houses.
In Sendai we had another place for going out. In Ichibacho a Czech friend of a friend opened a bar called Cheskoya. At that time it was a very cozy place that promoted socializing by having a large center where everyone would sit and drink and talk.
Pictures for Cheskoya, click to open the website
They hold several special events and have beer from all over the world. I recommend this place for a social night out.
THE HA’PENNY BRIDGE
The Ha’penny Bridge is an Irish style pub with very friendly staff and was our pub choice almost every week. They serve alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and some food snacks such as onion rings and burgers. They have a very good vegetarian burger for those looking for vegan friendly places.
Burget night out in Ha’ppeny
They serve popcorn to go with your drinks which added the right amount of salt to my beer drinking. I had never tried this combination before and I really recommend it.
Markets and Fresh Food hunting
Vegan and Healthy products Store
I found this store by chance when I was cycling in the direction of Jozenji dori. At that time I needed to eat a lot of dark bread and whole wheat pasta and rice. I was really happy to discover there is a store in Sendai where you can buy these items. I really recommend it, however prices are not kind here.
Asahi Morning Market
One of the most famous locations in Sendai it’s the place where the morning market is. In the open air, it is a great experience to come here and buy fresh fruit I think directly from the producer. Walk around and explore the different stores, sometimes we even found great food with lower prices.
Main Spots Jazz and the world in a minute
Either if you fly to Sendai airport or go by other means of land transportation you will probably arrive at the station. Every single transport line passes here and because of that, this station will be the starting point of many adventures for the next blog posts.
Train stations in Japan, most times are treated as the heart of a city. For example, In Sendai this point connects by 3 metro metro lines one of them to airport (4 stations away), by 4 regional train train lines, 2 shinkansen lines and countless buses, intercity, regional and suburban. Because of their dimension station in Japan are usualy the location of the tourist information office, there with perfect english they can point you to any direction in the city.
Dinner in the station
This makes the station a place that ends up attracting a lot of people and thus an excelent place to put really cool shops and food markets. The station building itself, had some of the coolest clothes and shoe shops in the city. It also had in the basement a really good market where you could get fast meals, sushi, deserts and a couple of restaurants.
If you are traveling here, make sure you check whether there is an event happening in Jozenji Dori.
Jozenji dori in December
This street is often the setting of events. In December lights are placed on the trees for Christmas celebrations and in October every year there is a Jazz festival. Wide and lined up with trees it’s the perfect place for a casual stroll any time.
The Covered Area in Ichibancho
This is the main shopping area in Sendai. If you want to go shopping but don’t want to be stuffed inside the station, this is the place. Many of the places I mentioned before are located here but there are also a lot of small clothes shops, flower shops with cute totoro figurines, traditional arts shops and convenience stores.
Ichibancho and Kokubuncho
The center of the covered area is marked by Disney’s store the usual meeting point in Sendai. It is very common to see people waiting here for each other and since this is commonly the starting point for a going out night, you will see staff from several restaurants carrying a restaurant’s menu with them and starting conversations to persuade people to try out their restaurant.
Disney’s store crossing look at those buildings!
Kokubuncho is the entertainment area. It is packed with Izakaiyas and bars. I came here with the laboratory team for the welcoming party and later with the dormitory friends to really good izakayas. An Izakaya is a type of restaurant in Japan where you go for traditional food and drinks, for some Izakayas you even sit on the tatami.
Dinner at an Izakaya
I don’t remember the name of the place where I had my welcoming party, but I remember we had some sushi and nabe, a traditional stew of vegetables, meat and tofu. Here I also drank shochu for the first time, a Japanese drink made from rice with less than 45% of alcohol. It is stronger than sake and is usually served on ice. The best however is when it’s mixed with orange or other juices.
At a restaurante called石巻港 津田鮮魚店 I had by far the best sushi and fish experience I ever had in my entire life. I really wish I could go back there. But the whole experience of going with a large group of friends also helped making the whole experience a lot better.
Sendai is very well connected. You can get there through the Tohoku shinkansen from Tokyo in 2 hours. And it’s on the way to Aomori and Sapporo if you choose to go in that direction.
Besides the city itself there are a lot of places you can visit from Sendai which makes it a really good stopping place. From here you can visit Yamadera in Yamagata prefecture, Matsushima, Zao and Sakunami onsen. I will talk more about these places in following posts.
In case you are there for the food experience, don’t forget, Gyudon and Zunda Mochi are an absolute must have.
To travel around, try the Sendai loople it will make a tour around the city and it’s a very traditional looking bus.
Note: These must be the saddest looking pictures from Sendai of all the travel blogs in the whole Web. I am really unhappy for not having decent quality photos here, but I guess that because I was living Sendai I forgot to register it on pictures. However this is no excuse.
One reason for this is that maybe 3 weeks after arriving in Japan, a Japanese guy dropped my phone while trying to take a picture and for the small pictures I ended up with my ipod touch 4.
I promise that for the next posts, pictures will have better quality and will really show Japan’s beauty. Hope to keep you interested.