Hi! My husband and I will be in Japan from July 22-31, and plan to spend the entirety of our trip (save for 1.5 days in Tokyo at the end) in Tohoku. We have a stay booked at Tsurunoyu Onsen from 23-25(!!) and I'm trying to figure out the best way to spend our time prior to arriving in Nyuto Onsen.
Currently we plan to head straight from Narita Airport into Tohoku (haven't decided if we'll go to Sendai or Morioka initially, but either seem like a good option here). We'll have that evening (22nd) to dine out, and the following day & night to spend doing--and eating--something interesting.
We'll have a JR pass and are open to ideas on how to spend that window of time (from where we go after landing in Narita around 3pm local time Monday to when we wind up at JR Tazawako sometime on Wednesday). We've looked into Morioka (husband wants to do wanko soba challenge) but it doesn't seem a fit for 2 nights. Sendai seems nice w/ Matsushima day trip but I've heard it's a bit crowded and touristy.
It seems like a cultural attraction such as a shrine, or a nice hike, etc could be in order. Just not sure what the right move is, and where the best spot might be to stay that wouldn't have us spending too much time in transit.
Do you have any must-see cultural sites, nature areas, top notch restaurants, yokocho, destinations for sake lovers (keeping in mind it'll be the height of summer, of course) that are in reasonable transit distance from the route between Sendai / Morioka / Tazawako?
For what it's worth, after a couple of days in Nyuto Onsen we plan to head over to Akita, take the resort shirakami up to Aomori, then perhaps stay over in Hachinohe for the bar scene before heading back south.
You definitely should make a stop at Yamadera (Risshakuji temple) in Yamagata Prefecture. It's a temple up on the mountain, the view from the top after walking over 1,000 steps is breathless. Also the quiet and forestry atmosphere are really relaxing.
I have been to Matsushima several times. It's a really beautiful place and I feel it's worth a visit at least once although some people might feel a bit touristy. However, it's only the bayside areas of Matsushima that seem touristy. Take a boat to Shiogama from Matsushima and you will have a really nice view of countless islands of Matsushima. Also, Shiogama Shrine on the Shiogama side was really beautiful. I went there in early May and different kinds of cherry blossom surrounded me in the shrine! It was magically beautiful. The Zuiganji Temple and Entsuin nearby the tourist areas in Matsushima are also beautiful and many people make a stop when they visit Matsushima.
Morioka's wanko soba challenge is fun! Try having more than 100 bowls so they'll give you a memorial present. I also recommend to make a stop by Fukuda-pan. It's a bakery specialized in coppe-pan, which is like plain bun. You will get to pick ingredients from the showcase and make your own sandwich. The coppe-pan is really fluffy and I have never had more delicious coppe-pan than here in my life! My recommendation is corned beef and potato salad :P
There is also a morning market in Morioka Mikoda Morning Market. The market is pretty small but it's fun place to get a feeling of local lives in Morioka.
Food finds in Morioka: https://hubjapan.io/articles/best-6-food-in-morioka-iwate-prefecture-in-tohoku-region