Humble offerings of common folk and one noble’s grand gesture
Minamisanriku is a small fishing town in the northeastern part of Miyagi. It is part of the southern section of the Sanriku Coast, a region considered the heart of Japan’s seafood industry. In particular, Minamisanriku is known for its salmon aquaculture, and for producing high-quality ikura (salmon roe). In the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the coastal regions of the city were inundated by a tsunami, and a majority of the buildings in town suffered complete destruction. In the eight years since the disaster though, with the support of people from all over Japan and around the world, the town has made an inspiring recovery. Although most visitors to Minamisanriku come to learn about how the town has recovered since the 2011 tsunami or to enjoy the fresh seafood, the town is also a good destination for history buffs.
The Oshu-Fujiwara clan, rulers of the Michinoku Gold region, aimed to create a peaceful society in accordance with the ideals of Buddhism. The construction of Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi was one extension of this vision; the the sutra mounds on Mount Tatsugane in Minamisanriku were another. Mount Tatsugane was considered a holy mountain by the Oshu-Fujiwara, so revered that Fujiwara no Hidehira, an Oshu-Fujiwara lord, built three temples there and buried many sutras in bronze vessels at its peak as a show of devotion. The mounds where these sutras were buried still exist to this day; we passed by many of them on our walk to the summit. We were lucky enough to have clear weather for our trip, so the view from the top was absolutely stunning. Some say that the name “Tatsugane,” is derived from characters which mean “dragon’s peak,” because the cape which the mountaintop overlooks is said to resemble a dragon.
If you’re visiting the area in May, you won’t want to miss the azaleas. The azaleas on Mount Tatsugane typically bloom from early until mid-May, so hikers who make the trek up to the peak during this time will be greeted with splendid views framed in magenta and orange.
Of course, no trip to Minamisanriku would be complete without a stop at the Sun Sun Shopping Village. We stopped by Hashimoto, one of several washoku restaurants in the Village, for a taste of the delicious seafood the Sanriku region is known for. Whichever establishment you choose, you can’t go with Minamisanriku’s signature dish kirakiradon, a rice bowl brimming with fresh seasonal seafood like bonito, salmon, and octopus. Rest assured that wherever you choose to dine in the Village, you’ll have a great meal. Not only that, but you’ll also be supporting local food producers who have worked hard to get their businesses back up and running in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.
After lunch we visited the nearby Kaminoyama Hachimangu Shrine, where priestess Mayumi Kudo teaches visitors how to make kiriko, artistically-cut paper offerings to the gods. Since the Edo period, kiriko have been used by local people as a means of worship in times of hardship, when food shortages made traditional offerings like rice and sake impossible. The experience was a chance for us to deepen not only our understanding of Shinto, but also to learn a little bit about the history of the Sanriku Coast’s history of tsunami—how the locals have endured and overcome these natural disasters for thousands of years.
Minamisanriku has something for everyone: hiking, ocean views, fascinating history, and seafood that’s guaranteed to be some of the best you’ve ever had!