image: The Blue Cave in Miyako City, Sanriku Coast of Iwate

Are you looking for a special place to visit in 2019 that is not so many other travelers know about? Do you like the ocean? Are you crazy for seafood? Try visiting the Sanriku Coast of Iwate Prefecture for an experience unlike any other!

map: This place is the Sanriku Coast.

Sanriku is a coastal region consisting of a couple hundred kilometers of beaches and rocky cliffs on the northern coast of Japan, in a province called Iwate. When you hear Japan, you may think of neon lights and crowded cities, but if you travel a few hours north, you’ll find yourself in the natural wonderland of the Sanriku coast. Its geological features have made it the perfect place to host tiny fishing hamlets where you can grab a bite of the freshest fish on the planet. And that doesn’t even include how friendly the people are.

But why let us ramble on, when we have six people here to tell you why Sanriku will be perfect for your next excursion in Japan.


Six long-time foreign residents of Iwate tell us their favorite parts of the Sanriku coast

1. The SL Ginga Locomotive

image: The SL Ginga Locomotive
map: ginga-map

The SL Ginga is a refurbished steam locomotive that takes trips from Hanamaki in central Iwate to Kamaishi on the coast. Enjoy a step back into the past with its retro design and relaxed itinerary. The train usually leaves on Saturdays for Kamaishi, and returns to Hanamaki on Sundays, so you could even spend the night enjoying the coast and come back the next day.

image: Anna Thomas

Anna Thomas
Oshu City (originally from Oregon, USA)
-Been in Iwate for 7 years-

“I’ve always wanted to ride the SL Ginga! It passes through a place I used to live and every time, everyone took so many pictures. Every time I see it, it’s so special. I’d really like to ride it so I’ve hinted to my husband that it would be a good birthday/Christmas gift. Then, once you get on the Ginga, you’ll be headed for all the good food on the coast! For example, you can go to Burger Hearts in Ofunato, and there’s a ramen place in Kamaishi that gives you lots of meat. It’s great.”

Learn more about the SL Ginga

2. Kaminari-iwa Rocks and the Goishi Coast

image: Kaminari-iwa Rocks and the Goishi Coast
map: kaminariiwa-map

The Goishi Coast of Ofunato City is home to massive rock formations rising out of the sea and gorgeous ocean views. It's a part of both the Sanriku Reconstruction National Park, and the Sanriku Geopark. Its crowning glory is Kaminari-iwa which literally means “Thunder Rock.” Everytime the waves crash against this rock, it sounds like the rumble of thunder.

image: Mark Mino-Thompson

Mark Mino-Thompson
Sumita Town (originally from Canada)
-Been in Iwate for 20 years-

“Kaminari-iwa is a place I discovered in my very first summer in Iwate. It’s very nice and peaceful. I used to bring a lawn chair and spend a couple of hours on sunny days and just read a book. It’s also close to an onsen and some good restaurants, as well as a campground. There’s something for everybody. Growing up in Toronto, I’m used to lakes and forests, so the ocean is a new experience for me. It’s a nice place to walk even if you’re just hiking casually or to get some exercise.”

Learn more about Goishi Coast

3. Beaches on the southern coast

image: Beaches on the southern coast
map: beaches-map

While the northern coastline is dominated by tall cliffs jutting out the ocean, the southern half of Sanriku is blessed with quite a few sandy beaches. You’ll find calm and tranquil waters in the many inlets on our rias coast, but there are also plenty of places with good waves for surfing. Taking a dip in the Pacific Ocean is the perfect way to cool off during Japan’s dog days of summer!

image: Mark Mino-Thompson

Emily Hallams
Kamaishi City (originally from Australia)
-Been in Iwate for 2 years-

“The Sanriku Coast has very beautiful and dramatic scenery that is completely different to that of where I grew up. I love the beaches. It’s just my favorite thing to go to, especially a place called Aragami, a white sand beach in Yamada. It’s a really nice drive; a long windy road and beautiful views of the ocean. There’s no shortage of very beautiful spots up and down the coast. Take a book and lie on the beach. The water’s really cold, but on a really hot summer day it’s just right. Stop for ramen on the way home and you’re good.”

Learn more about beaches in Sanriku

4. Sappa boat rides

image: Sappa boat rides
map: sappa-map

What’s a Sappa boat? It’s just the name for a small boat that local fishermen use to travel out from the coast to the Sanriku sea. You’ll see some of our most impressive geological formations up close and personal, and even go through rocky arches and caves! Sappa can be found in Ofunato, Miyako, and Tanohata.

image: Mark Mino-Thompson

Amanda Wayama
Morioka City (originally from the USA)
-Been in Iwate for 10 years-

“By Kitayamazaki in Tanohata Village, you can go out on a sappa boat to see the cliffs. I really like that. You get to talk with the fisherman, too. I’ve gone two or three times to the one in Tanohata. They take you by a rock arch, and you go right through it. The water can get a bit choppy, but the fisherman is a total pro. ‘I’ve been on the water thirty years, this is totally fine.’ I went once with my parents, husband, and his parents as well. It was such a nice experience, because my father-in-law had never done it, even though he was born and raised in Tanohata.”

Learn more about Sappa boats

5. Hakoneyama Terrace

image: Hakoneyama Terrace
map: hakoneyama-map

Hakoneyama Terrace is a small lodge in the hills of Rikuzentakata that uses the most out of its surrounding natural setting. It’s a simple place, but designed to be the perfect place to relax, with plenty of natural light. Opened after the 2011 disaster, the owner also desires to make it a place where visitors can talk with local people and learn more about what happened. They run workshops throughout the year with that goal in mind.

image: Renata Piazza

Renata Piazza
Tono City (originally from Italy)
-Been in Iwate for 2 years-

“My mind immediately came up with Hakoneyama Terrace. First of all, it’s like an oasis in the midst of the construction taking place to rebuild Rikuzentakata from the 2011 disaster. It’s a place you don’t expect to find. It’s quiet, with trees, nature, and a beautiful view of the sea. And the building is beautiful and well designed. They have a commitment to the environment. The person who runs it is an amazing entrepreneur as well. It’s just a small piece of paradise within the reconstruction.”

Learn more about Hakoneyama Terrace

6. The food, the festivals, the people!

image: The food, the festivals, the people!

Sanriku may have lots of beautiful sights, but it’s the experiences that will stay with you! There tons of festivals that take place throughout the year, with folk dances with centuries of history.There’s no shortage of good food, of course, thanks to the Sanriku sea: rice topped with scrumptious sashimi, Pacific saury grilled to a nice char, konbu seaweed that lend soups that special umami flavor. But it’s the people that you will meet here that you will never forget. People who are strong and resilient, warm and friendly. Come for the food and the festivals. Stay for the people.

image: Youxi Zhou

Youxi Zhou
Iwaizumi Town (originally from China)
-Been in Iwate for 1 year-

“During spring and summer, there are festivals that a lot of people come to. They perform their traditional dances, and there’s food, of course. They use local ingredients in traditional dishes and for making new food. I went to all the festivals last year just to experience the local culture and the dances and the food. And of course, without people, there’s no food or festivals. The Sanriku people are so friendly. When you ask them questions, they can talk for hours. They have so many stories to tell you. And you can definitely learn a lot from them. ”

Learn more about People of Iwate