Japan is often called the land of the rising sun, but where should you go to witness the sun rise over this beautiful land? For those of us travelling to Japan we have probably seen a sunrise whilst struggling with jet lag, from our hotel room or the airport. Even from the plane window! However, going to a scenic sunrise spot is a completely different experience.
The rising of the sun holds a significance to every culture worldwide. In Japan the most significant sunrise is the first one in the year and watching it is called “Hatsuhinode”. It is said that a god of good luck appears with the first sunrise of the year, and by witnessing this first sunrise you can get some of that good luck!
First sunrise in the year, or any of the other 364 sunrises, if you are anywhere in Tohoku, wake up early and check out these 3 spots!
In Tokyo’s neighbouring prefecture, Ibaraki, lies an often neglected seaside town – Mito. Mito is the capital city of Ibaraki prefecture and has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years and held great importance during the Edo period, being in direct connection with the Tokugawa rulers until the Meiji Restoration. Sadly, over three quarters of the city of Mito was destroyed during World War II, just one month before the end of the war. Mito was hit by disaster again on the 11th of March 2011 during the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.
Many tourists head to Mito in order to visit one of Japan’s top three gardens, Kairaku-en or to visit local museums. Right on the coast of Mito, facing the Pacific Ocean, is a shrine called Oarai Isosaki Shrine (大洗磯前神社). The shrine is said to have been initially built in 856 AD and is for the deities who created Japan; Ohnamuchi and Sukunahikona no Mikoto. One of the most unusual things about Oarai Isosaki Shrine is that at the entrance, instead of the usual dogs or foxes, stand statues of frogs! Oarai Isosaki shrine has three torii gates, but the one offering the best sunrise of all is the kamiiso no torii (pictured above).
Kamiiso no tori
This unassuming torii gate sits atop a rock on the shore in the Pacific Ocean facing east. From this position the sun rises directly behind the torii gate, offering a unique vista that you can see nowhere else in Japan. You will probably not be the only one here for sunrise, the day I visited there were about 15 photographers, tripods set up and waiting for colours to change and the sun to rise. However, as this spot is still little known, it isn’t as crowded as other sunrise spots across Japan.
How to get there
You can easily drive to the shore front by Oarai Isosaki Shrine, there is a large car parking a short walk up the coast from the famous torii. Or you can access the shrine from Oarai station by walking 2.5 km. You can also get on the train, but be careful to check carefully the time of the first train and the time of the sunrise (depending on the time of the year).
Train route: Ueno station (JR Joban Line) to Mito Station (Oarai-Kashima Line) to Oarai Station
Jodogahama Beach (浄土ヶ浜) is a stunning collection of white islands as part of the Sanriku coast in Iwate. Jodogahama means Pure Land Beach, and the white pebbled beach, crystal clear water, and ethereal islands definitely fits the name well. Jodogahama is one of the top beaches in all of Japan, making the top 100 list. The white, rugged islands are topped with lush green pine trees, making this area beautiful in silhouette. As well as getting a stunning sunrise here you can also swim in the clear waters. During the day you can take sightseeing cruises around the local area, which takes you through the jagged islands, caves, and viewpoints around the bay.
As with Mito city, Miyako city was also affected by the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which destroyed the visitor centre and facilities on the shore. The visitor centre, parking lot, toilets and shop have been rebuilt since. From the beach, facing towards the largest white islands, you will be facing the rising sun, silhouetting the islands throughout the rising of the sun. The sunrise here lasts a little longer than other seafront locations thanks to the protruding landmass blocking where the sun rises, meaning you can arrive a little later than sunrise and still have amazing views.
How to get there
The area is easily accessible by car, by bus (depends on the time), or you can even stay nearby to walk to it. From Miyako station, the beach is 10 min by taxi.
From Morioka station to Miyako station, there is the Rapid Service Train “Rias” which runs twice a day (about 2 hours), or another option is the Iwate Kenpoku Express Bus departing from Terminal 7 at Morioka station’s east exit (takes about 2,5 hours).
The Sanriku coastline was devastated by the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, with waves reaching heights of 17 meters in places. Many in the areas suffered great losses of life, property and history, however the natural beauty of the coast line remains. The Sanriku coast stretches 300 kilometers up the Pacific Coastline of Tohoku through Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. The Sanriku Fukko National Park (三陸復興国立公園) extends along the Sanriku coast, however this particular part of the park exists on a small end of a peninsula south of Kesennuma. There are few translations of this place into English, but this small section of the National Park holds a number of unique aspects. The “dragon pine”, a pine tree hit by 17 meter tall waves, a famous samurai statue, and a black jagged coastline, perfect for sunrise shots. This is also a wonderful place to see how the recovery for the 2011 tsunami is progressing, with new seawalls going up and new facilities being built for prospective tourists.
How to get there
There are several ways to get to the Sanriku Fukko National Park (三陸復興国立公園)
– 30 min by car from Kesennuma area or
– take the JR Kesennuma Line train from Kesennuma station to Rikuzenhashikami station. From Rikuzenhashikami station, 7 min by taxi or 20 min on foot.
All of Tohoku suffered greatly following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Since then, tourists have been visiting the area less and less, but Tohoku is the hidden gem of Japan, be it for its stunning rugged nature or deep culture. The area is rebuilding, but the natural beauty of the Sanriku coastline never dwindled. Why not see a new dawn in an area of Japan that you can see in a new light.