Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, is a town that I spent about three years of my life. I often go back to eat some of the world's most delicious seafood! Its warm, alluring community and beautiful ocean scenery is like none other. It's a town neighboring Ichinoseki and the local JR Ofunato line can take you straight there in an hour and a bit.
My connection to Kesennuma was through the JET Program. I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher for three years, teaching at four elementary schools. When I first googled my placement, I realized that it was a town devastated by the tsunami in 2011. I was very unsure of how things were over there - Was there housing? Is there still rubble? Is there anything to do? All these questions were answered the day I set foot in Kesennuma. On a surface level, if you never knew the tsunami had swept through, you may not even notice. Kesennuma continues to change and evolve with people coming to help from all over Japan and even the world, some end up staying and calling Kesennuma home. I am and will always be grateful to have experienced this town. So, what can you do here?
1) Go hiking!
At the heart of the town, there is an easily accessible mountain called Anbasan (Mt. Anba). You can hike from the bottom of the mountain which takes about half an hour to an hour to reach the peak, or alternatively, go halfway by car and walk the rest. The mountain has beautifully paved paths and accents along the course. Depending on the season, you can see camellia flowers, cherry blossoms and azaleas. Spectacular views of Kesennuma's port, mountains and islands await at the summit. The view transforms from morning to night. On some mornings if you get up Mt. Anba early enough, you can watch the sunrise combine with the fog over the ocean and if you are really lucky, you may witness a phenomenon known as 'kearashi', or frost smoke.
Mt. Tokusenjo is a true spectacle during mid-late May with 500,000 azalea flowers in bloom. Again this is an easy hike during a beautiful time of the year. There's also a tree house which makes for cute pictures!
2) Check out the sea!
Kawakura: The most northern part of Miyagi Prefecture is home to some unique, rocky coastline. One of Karakuwa's most iconic features is Oreishi. An 'Orure' hiking course has recently been established. If you are interested, visit this page.
Cape Iwaisaki: The 'Dragon Tree' of Iwasaki is a preserved, lone pine tree which withstood the tsunami. Nearby is Shiofuki-iwa, which spouts water through a hole in the rocks whenever a big wave rolls in.
Isuzu Shrine: This spot is a personal favorite of mine. A beautiful shrine looking out toward the port. On top of the hill there is a shrine, from there you can walk down toward the water. Part of the shrine is said to be a 'power spot', a place that endows visitors with refreshing or healing energy.
Oreishi Iwaisaki 'Dragon Tree' View from Isuzu Shrine
3) Eat the seafood
Kesennuma is one of Japan's biggest fishing ports and has some of the freshest and cheapest seafood available in all the country. Some of Kesennuma's main seafood's include bonito, saury, mackeral, scallops and oysters. If you are curious to try new things, there're unique delicacies such as sea squirt and shark heart. Another renowned delicacy associated with Kesennuma is shark fin. Some may feel apprehensive about this, but all I will say is that Kesennuma's fishing industry does try to utilize all the shark and not just the fin (when I say all the shark, they even make leather out of shark). Anyway, try the sashimi while you are in Kesennuma!
Lastly, if you are in town during festival season (usually the first weekend of August), I highly recommend checking out the port festival known as Minato Matsuri! I have to mention this as it was my first experience in Kesennuma. On the first day (Saturday), the 'Hamaranya' is danced in groups for hours on end. The feeling of a community of people dancing on a warm summer's evening, the smell of street food filling the streets and the sound of cheer and laughter is truly memorable. On the second day (Sunday), head over to the port and experience a fireworks display with the roar of taiko drums in the background while downing a few beers.