Sendai Travel Guide 仙台
A statue of Masamune in Sendai.
Zuihoden (瑞鳳殿), mausoleum of Date Masamune, in Sendai.
The Tanabata matsuri in Sendai is the most famous in Japan.
Medieval and modern
Vibrant and flourishing under the auspices of its founding knight, Sendai has recovered well from the earthquake of March 11th, 2011.
His helmet decorated with a half-moon, his black horse, his castle: everyone in Sendai knows Date Masamune (1567-1636), the great lord who made this small port town a prosperous and open city, from its founding in 1604. Renowned as angry and vengeful, Masamune was also an esthete, a connoisseur of Noh theater and calligraphy. The history and influence of the "One-Eyed Dragon" (the nickname of Masamune, who lost an eye as a child) can be discovered to the west of Sendai, nestled on Kyogamine Hill.
Japan and Saint-Tropez
The former castle of the lord of Sendai is worth a visit, more for the spectacular views it offers than for its few ruins, although the guard tower is filled with beautiful period pieces. Below, in the silence of a cedar forest, the magnificent Zuiho-den shrine holds the mausoleum of Date Masamune. Between gilding, reliefs, and flamboyant colors, it's a shining example of Momoyama style. On the other side of the hill, the municipal museum tells its glorious history, including this little-known fact: Masamune increased contact with the Christian West and Pope Paul V, and in 1613 he sent a galleon to Rome, which created the first meeting of France and Japan, on a beach in Saint-Tropez!
Sendai felt the brunt of the earthquake of March 2011, and though some of its coast was affected (Shiogama, Matsushima), central Sendai was hit, but held its own. It was enough to bring back bad memories from 1945 however, when Sendai was destroyed by American bombing, before being rebuilt with typical Japanese post-war town planning (a grid-like pattern crossed with wide tree-lined roads, like Aoba-dori, the local shopping area). 10 blocks north, Jozenji-dori leads to the most famous building in town: the media library, an amazing glass cube built by architect Toyo Ito.
Between these two avenues, the Iroha Yokocho (unaffected by American bombs) and Kokubun-cho areas are there for you to unwind, with bars, clubs, restaurants where you can sample the famous Sendai delicacy of grilled beef tongue (gyutan). It's also where the Tanabata star festival is in full swing: around August 7th, the city is adorned with bamboo and Japanese paper decorations (笹竹, sasatake) and celebrates the myth of Vega and Altair.