Tohoku Region

The Tohoku Region is the northernmost part of Honshu, Japan’s main island, and it consists of six prefectures: Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima.

Tohoku region, Japan
Prefectures in the Tohoku Region

Stretching a long distance from north to south, this region has a vast land area, which accounts for about one-fifth of the nation’s total. However, the population of Tohoku is not very large, and even the combined population of its six prefectures is less than that of Tokyo Prefecture alone.

the rice-paddy area in Tohoku, Japan
Paddy field in Wakuya-cho, Miyagi Prefecture

Historically, Tohoku has long been called Michinoku (a shortening of Michi-no-Oku), which can be roughly translated as “a place deeper down the road.” In this case, the “road” refers to the “eastern road” (or the eastern country). This comes from the fact that, throughout most of Japanese history, the emperors almost always reigned in the Kinki Region (Nara or Kyoto), and Edo (present-day Tokyo) and its surrounding area would often be called Togoku (the eastern country) by the people and court nobles in what they considered to be the “center of Japan.” In those days when people generally traveled on foot, it is said to have taken about two weeks to go from Kyoto to Edo (a distance of about 492 km), and to reach Tohoku, people had to walk farther north after reaching Edo. So, the term Michinoku reminds us how far and “unexplored” Tohoku used to be for the general populace of Japan.

Kakunodate in winter, Akita Prefecture, Japan
Kakunodate in winter, in Akita Prefecture

The Tohoku Region is blessed with rich nature. In particular, places like Shirakami Sanchi (Shirakami Mountains), Mount Hachimantai, and the Bandai Plateau are well-known for their beautiful and pristine natural environment.

Shirakami-Sanchi in Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Buna forest in Shirakami Sanchi in the Tohoku Region

Straddling both Aomori and Akita Prefectures, Shirakami Sanchi is a mountainous area, which boasts of the primitive forest of buna, which is a Japanese Siebold’s beech tree. Those buna forests have been almost unaffected by human beings and their scale is one of the largest in the world. In 1993, Shirakami Sanchi was registered as one of Japan’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites (natural heritage), along with Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture, Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, and Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area in Nara Prefecture.

Photographs: Properties of Unfamiliar Japan