Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture is an area with surprisingly little snow despite the cold winters. Here, you can find loads of local cuisine and traditional events that you can only be experienced during the winter season. Since old times, Sendai’s traditional foods and traditions have inherited the area’s deep culture, and are a must-see when visiting Sendai. This article will be your introduction to all of Sendai’s offerings that are best experienced in the winter.
[Local cuisine] How to enjoy winter around Sendai
Miyagi prefecture is famous for its abundant oysters
Miyagi Prefecture has many foods that are in season in winter. Among them, we’ve specifically picked the winter dishes that can be enjoyed in Sendai City and its surroundings. All of them are local specialties that shouldn’t be missed while sightseeing Sendai.
Authentic Hot Pot with the Long-rooted “Seri”
Long stretched "seri"
Japanese parsley, one of the seven spring herbs, is said to have been named after a Japanese word of the same sound, "seri" The word means “to compete”, and is appropriate for this herb whose stock is always growing towards the sun. Miyagi Prefecture has the highest production volume of seri in Japan, and it is a traditional vegetable that has been produced for about 400 years in Natori City.
This "Sendai seri" is grown by hydroponic farming, using the clean underground streams of the Natori River The long, white roots of the Seri are a result of the waist-deep paddy that they are grown in. Seri-nabe is a local food, and a hot-pot dish that uses a whole seri up down to its long, white roots. As it turns out, the roots of seri only came to be regularly eaten in recent years, and neither local farmers nor Natori residents ate them before that.
■Having Seri Hot Pot at "Suzutake" in Natori City
Although seri-nabe (“nabe” means hot pot) is now famous as a Sendai specialty, this was not the case until the restaurant “Suzutake” brought it to popularity. The former owner of Suzutake (who is currently a Seri farmer) told us that the origins of seri-nabe lie in the “kiritampo-nabe” of Akita prefecture.
In kiritampo-nabe, seri is used abundantly, all the way to the root. Natori City’s unique seri-nabe was born as an arrangement of this. It then made its way to the national spotlight, by winning twice in the Sendai Nabe Grand Prix in 2014 and 2015, and receiving the special judge’s award in the National Japanese Nabe Grand Prix.
The whole root of seri is eaten
In Natori City, the length of the served seri’s root is long unlike anywhere else. The seri circulated nation-wide is almost entirely of a size referred to as “M-size”, but in Natori City where providers trade directly with the farmers, seri comes much longer at its “2L-size”. They are delivered to restaurants after deliberately waiting for their roots to grow out. This “ne-seri” (rooted seri) is soft and delicious until March.
*Ne-seri is off-season from April to October
The soupstock is different for each shop
Each seri-nabe maker has its own secret soup formula, making it fun to try out different stores. Suzutake’s flavorful, soy sauce-based soup is seasoned to resemble the “ozoni” (a new year’s rice-cake soup, typically seasoned mildly with bonito stock and soy) to strengthen the flavor of the seri. Chicken, enoki mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, carrots, tofu, and fish cake are put together in the pot, and topped with Sendai’s seri to make the hotpot. You are sure to enjoy the soft, fragrant taste of seri in this dish.
Suzutake’s cozy interior invites conversation with the owner
Address：1-11-2 Otemachi, Natori City,
Opening hours：17:00～23:00（LO. 22:30）
Regular holidays：Sundays and holidays
Access：Walk from JR Tohoku Main Line Natori Station West Exit (about 4 minutes）
Sendai’s New-year Zoni with Goby
"Sendai zoni" with grilled goboy (Photo courtesy of Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division)
Also keep an eye out for “Sendai Zoni (Sendai Zoni)”, a local dish of Sendai that only appears during the New Year. Zoni, a savoury soup with mochi, is a common new-year’s dish all around Japan, but Sendai’s is a touch different. Boiled shredded radish, carrot, and burdock root are cooked in a broth seasoned with soy sauce and grilled goby. Finally, square-cut mochi is added to make this lucky new-year’s staple.
“Haze-no-Yakiboshi” (dried roast goby) is a traditional food of Matsushima Bay that has been passed down for generations. To make it, goby is skewered and cooked over a charcoal fire, tied in rice straw, and hung outside to dry.
Depending on the region you might find salmon roe or seri on zoni, but a sweeping characteristic of Sendai zoni is the roasted goby on top.
Baked goby (image)
[Traditional events] How to enjoy winter around Sendai
There are various traditional events around Sendai
If you visit Sendai in winter, be sure to check out the many traditional events. Of course, Sendai City’s large-scale illumination, “Hikari-no-Pageant” (held annually until December) is a must-see, but even after January, Sendai is filled with many traditional events full of history.
Japan's Largest Donto Festival
During the “Donto Festival”, old talismans are burned into a fire. Visitors pray for their good luck and health in the following year by receiving the heat of the flames. It is a festival held across Japan around the middle of January, and is a annual staple of Miyagi prefecture in Takekoma Shrine (Iwanuma City), Osaki-Hachimangu (Sendai City), Shiogoma Shrine (Shiogama City).
The Donto Matsuri, or Donto Festival, is a new-year’s event praying for health and wellbeing. Talismans from new year’s decorations and household altars are collected and burned into a fire, and participants pray for their year’s good luck by receiving the heat of the flames. It is a tradition throughout Japan after new years, around the middle of January.
In Miyagi prefecture too, many shrines hold the festival annually. Takekoma Shrine of Iwanuma City, Osaki Hachimangu Shrine of Sendai, and Shiogama Shrine of Shiogama City, are a few examples.
In the Donto festival, flames rises vigorously
The name “donto” seems to describe the flames’ vigor, and is otherwise called “Dondon-yaki” or “Sagicho” in other regions. It is believed that the year’s god that brings prosperity and happiness to the new year, rides these flames back home.
Donto festivals are held all over the country, but Miyagi Prefecture has one of the largest donto festivals in Japan.
What makes this festival special, is that it is not just about the divine fire. Alongside this, a “hadaka-mairi” (naked visit) takes place in which large groups of men, dressed in loincloths in the snowy peak of winter, pay their visits jointly to shrines. This is hosted by several shrines and cities, namely Osaki Hachimangu of Sendai City (Matsutaki Festival), Tsushima Shrine of Tome City (Sanuma Donto Matsuri Hadaka-mairi) and Kakuda City’s (Kakuda Donto Matsuri Hadaka Mairi).
In the next section we will introduce Osaki Hachimangu’s “Matsutaki Festival” -- an intangible cultural heritage of Sendai City, with a history of 300 years.
■Osaki Hachimangu Shrine “Matsutaki (pine-burning) Festival”
According to the official website of Osaki Hachimangu, the Matsutaki-matsuri was started in the Edo period by Sake makers praying for luck in the coming brewing process.
The attire is strictly defined for participants. Men dress in white headbands and white underwear, and the women dress in white happi. All walkers carry a bell in their right hand, a lantern in their left, wear white socks, with straw decorations on the waist. To discourage talking, all participants bite on a piece of paper. In the Matsutaki Festival of January 2019, a total of 3,200 people from 116 groups such as local companies, neighborhood associations, and university seminars, participated in the walk.
The vigor of the participants keeps them warm during the hadaka-mairi (Photo courtesy of Miyagi Prefectural Tourism Division)
The faint ring of bells can be heard from the roofed shopping street near Sendai station, as the silent procession passes by.
The hadaka-mairi takes place annually from the night of January 14th to the day after. A deep resolve can be felt from the participants, as they head towards Osaki Hachimangu Shrine with little more than a loincloth, at a time of the year when temperatures dip under 0 degrees Celcius.
Event name：Pine fire festival
Address：4-6-1 Yawata, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture 980-0871 (Osaki Hachimangu)
Date：Tuesday, January 14, 2020
An Ancient Tradition, "Nihonto-Uchizomeshiki (Japanese Sword Forging Ceremony)"
The forging ceremony astonishes with the sight of its process（Photo courtesy of Saburo Hokke）
Have you ever seen the traditional process of Japanese sword making, in which a smith hits a heated block of metal with a giant hammer? Every year, the “Nihonto-Uchizomeshiki” (Japanese Sword Forging Ceremony) takes place in Matsuyama, Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture.
In the latter half of the Heian era, the powerful Fujiwara Clan held its headquarters in what is now Hiraizumi City, Iwate Prefecture. The Fujiwara received its supply of weapons from a skilled sword-making guild named the Oshu Swordsmiths.
After the fall of the Fujiwara, these weapons were scattered throughout Japan as spoils of war, and the Oshu Swordsmiths were captured for their skill. Later, they continued to build robust swords as the Yamato guild.
The forging ceremony carries a tight atmosphere (Photo courtesy of [Saburo Hokke]：Saburo Hokke）
Hokke Saburo Nobufusa, an inheritor of the Yamato swordsmiths’ style, has a workshop in Osaki City where the new-year’s sword making ceremony is conducted. Japan currently has a little over 200 working swordsmiths, and Hokke Saburo Nobufusa and his son are the only inheritors of the Yamato style. Miyagi Prefecture gives you the rare opportunity of seeing this forging ceremony.
Event name："Japanese sword strike first ceremony" (Osaki City Intangible Cultural Property)
Address：76 Sengoku Matsuyama, Minami Kameda, Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture
Date：January 5 * Same day every year.
TEL：0229-55-2106Hokke Saburo Japanese Swordsmith)
Find new ways to enjoy winter around Sendai
The activities of Sendai’s winter that we introduced here, were just one part of the region’s offerings. Even if you just take seafood, there’s oysters, tuna, crab, whale, and an endless list! Sendai and its surrounding areas have season-specific activities all year round. When you visit, be sure to check out all the traditional events and local foods, to find your own Sendai adventure