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Train to Tohoku: Your 6D5N Muslim-Friendly Itinerary To Japan’s Scenic Northern Region

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Atiqah Mokhtar  •  Oct 23, 2019

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Here at HHWT, we’re huge fans of Japan as a travel destination. What’s not to love? Japan has amazing sights, fascinating culture, delicious food and an undeniable uniqueness that sets it apart from the rest of the world. Credit: Giphy We love Japan so much that we’re always looking to further explore this incredible country beyond the more familiar cities like Tokyo or Osaka. We embarked on an incredible trip around Tohoku using the JR East Pass for the Tohoku Area and boy, were we blown away. We’re so excited to share this brand new 6D5N Muslim-friendly itinerary for exploring the Tohoku region, with the hopes that many of you will venture to this beautiful area of Japan for yourselves 😊
 Day 1: Arrival in Japan 
 Collect your JR East Tohoku Area Rail Pass  
  • Say hello to the Land of The Rising Sun! Once you touch down and get through immigration and customs, head to the JR East Travel Service Center to pick up your JR East pass. 
  • Both Narita and Haneda Airports have JR East Travel Service Centers where you can pick up your pass:
  •  When picking up your pass at the JR East Travel Service Center, you’ll need to show your passport, and they’ll ask to write and sign your name on the pass. Make sure not to lose it, as you’ll be required to show it to pass through ticket gantries when taking any trains! 
#HHWT Tip: If there are many people at the centre, you may have to queue outside the centre before you’re allowed to go to one of the counters available to get your pass. There’s staff on-hand to assist you with any queries you may have, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!  It’s time to head to Tokyo! (1h) 
  • Once you have your pass, it’s time to go to Tokyo! We took the Narita Express (also known as the N’EX), which is the express train that runs from Narita Airport to the Tokyo Metropolitan area. It’s covered under your JR East pass, so it’s a convenient way to get to Tokyo!  
  • You can also reserve seats for the N’EX when picking up your pass. If you didn’t reserve your seats, you can sit in any unoccupied seats in the Ordinary Cars. 
  • We rode the N’EX and alighted at Tokyo Station.
Perform your prayers at Tokyo Station  
  •  Head to the JR East Travel Service Center located by the Marunouchi North exit of the station. 
  • Turn right once you enter the service centre and you’ll find a prayer room which comes equipped with ablution facilities and a prayer mat (do note you’ll need to bring your own prayer garments). 
  • The prayer room has an intercom button by the door which you’ll need to press - staff will then unlock the door for you. The prayer room is open from 8.30am to 7pm on weekdays and from 8.30am to 5pm on weekends or public holidays. 
Have yummy Thai food at Siam Orchard Supreme (1h) 
  • It’s time for some dinner! Head over to Siam Orchard Supreme, a halal-certified Thai restaurant that’s located right in Tokyo Station. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the JR East Travel Service Center! 
  • The restaurant is located in the Kitchen Street area of Tokyo Station where several eateries are located. We found this laminated pamphlet near the prayer room with exact directions on how to walk there - head through the path next to the Marunouchi North exit and walk straight before taking the second left into the Kitchen Street area. 
  •  We tried the Tom Yum Noodles (JPY908), the Green Curry chicken and rice (JPY908) and the Gaprao (basil chicken) Rice (JPY908). The food was really flavourful and the restaurant’s service was friendly and really efficient - our food arrived super quickly! 
  • Halal status: The restaurant is certified halal by the Malaysian Halal Consultation & Training Agency. Only halal-certified meat is used, and all seasonings used are Muslim-friendly. Please do note that alcoholic beverages are served, however, the glasses used for it are washed and stored separately. 
 Take the shinkansen to Morioka (1.5h) 
  • After your bellies have been filled with Thai food, it’s time to begin your journey to Tohoku!  
  • Take the Akita Shinkansen or Tohoku Shinkansen heading to Morioka. All are reserved seating only, so be sure to make your seat reservations in advance either online or at the Midori-no-madoguchi counters. 
#HHWT Tip: There are overhead compartments where you can store backpack-sized luggage, but if you have larger bags, store them in the luggage racks that are usually located at the front or back of the car.   Check-in to Hotel Metropolitan Morioka  
  •  Once you arrive at Morioka, you can walk directly to Hotel Metropolitan Morioka that’s conveniently connected to the Morioka station (head out the East exit - the hotel is just a minute’s walk away!).  
  • This hotel is part of the Hotel Metropolitan group of hotels which are operated by JR East. All the Hotel Metropolitan hotels are either directly connected to or a short walk from the nearest JR station 😁 
  • Besides the super convenient location, there’s even a convenience store right at the lobby. We found the room clean and cosy, with free WiFi and complimentary water provided. 
  • Once you’re all settled in, get a good night’s rest to start your exploration tomorrow 😉
Day 2: Explore Aomori 
 Make your way to Aomori (1.25h) 
  • It’s time to start your Tohoku exploration! Head to Morioka station and take the Tohoku Shinkansen towards Shin-Aomori. 
  • For each of the five days utilised for your pass, you’ll need to get your pass stamped at the station of the first train you take for the day. 
#HHWT Tip: JR East’s Shinkansen trains have free WiFi! The directions for getting on the WiFi network are usually written on the foldable table in front of each seat. It’s easy to connect to, though do note that the connection may be intermittent when passing through tunnels. 
  • Once you get to Shin-Aomori, take the  Ou  Line train and get off at Aomori station, just one stop away.
Experience what Aomori’s famous festival is like at the Nebuta Warasse (1.5h) 
  • First stop - Nebuta Warasse, a museum dedicated to the Nebuta Matsuri! This annual summer festival is held from 2 - 7 August every year and has become a major attraction in Aomori. 
  • If you’re not able to be in Aomori during the festival itself, the next best thing is to visit the Nebuta Warasse! It’s a short walk from Aomori station - you can’t miss the noticeable red exterior of the building 😉 
  • The Nebuta Matsuri features daily processions of giant floats depicting mythical lore, accompanied by dancers and musicians. At the museum, you’ll get to see displays of actual floats used during the year’s parade. We were amazed at the sheer size of the floats and the intricacies of their colours and designs! 
  • The museum also has festival experience sessions where you can see performers doing the dances of the festival. You’ll even get the chance to play the traditional drums (called taiko)! The sessions happen at 11am, 1pm and 3pm daily.
Savour nokke-don at Aomori Gyosai Center (1.5h)  
  • It’s time for lunch! Head to the Aomori Gyosai Center (also known as the Furukawa Market). This indoor market has aisles filled with vendors selling various types of freshly-prepared raw seafood. 
  • Here’s where you can try a unique dish: Nokke-don! Nokke-don means ‘rice bowl with toppings’, and at this market, you can go around to all the vendors and choose the seafood toppings you’d like for your bowl! 
  • The market works on a coupon system. Head to the information counter and buy a set of coupons (JPY750 for a set of 5, or JPY1,500 for a set of 10). You can then head to the rice vendor and swap 1 coupon for a bowl of rice. 
  • Walk around the market and swap coupons for the seafood that appeals to you! The seafood is prepared in individual portions and may require between 1 to 2 coupons each. Once you’re done choosing your toppings, you can eat at the seating areas provided, which also have free-flow water and tea. 
#HHWT Tip : Do note that due to health authority regulations, you’re not allowed to bring any seafood out from the market and it must be consumed on the premises.  
  • We had lots of fun going around choosing our toppings! Some of our favourite ones include the scallops as well as the fatty cuts of tuna 🤤 The seafood was super fresh and delicious!
Note: For fish roe (called ikura in Japanese), please note that they are usually prepared and seasoned in either salt or shoyu (a combination of soy sauce and mirin which contains alcohol). It’s best to check with the individual vendors directly on how their ikura is prepared. Check out our guide on useful Japanese phrases for checking ingredients so you know what and how to ask 😊  
  • Halal status: Predominantly seafood options available. Do note that some vendors may offer non-seafood options like cooked chicken or beef, hence we recommend that you dine at your own discretion. Please note that the condiments provided (including soy sauce) may contain alcohol. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion or bring your own soy sauce from home! 
Try delicious apple products at A-Factory (1.5h) 
  • After the delicious nokke-don, it’s time to get a taste of something else Aomori’s super famous for - its apples! 
  •  A-Factory is a marketplace selling all kinds of products made from apples grown in the prefecture. It’s located right across from the Nebuta Warasse. 
  • Browse around the aisles of endless apple food and souvenir items. Muslim-friendly products to look-out for include the 100% apple-only juices, Apple Snack & Co brand apple chips, and dried apples. 
  • Don’t forget to try the freshly made apple gelato! Produced in-house using Aomori apples, the gelato is made using apples that are season, with usually more than one type available - the shop will display whether the apples used are sweet or tart, so you can choose the one to your preference! 
  • Halal status: Made with apples and plant-based ingredients and/or milk. Please do note that select flavours sold at the gelato stall (which includes other flavours beside apple) may contain alcohol, we recommend that you check with the vendor beforehand and dine at your own discretion.
Enjoy the beautiful views from the comfort of the Resort Shirakami Joyful Train (0.5h) 
  • It’s time to head to Hirosaki, and we took a very special train there from Aomori station. 
  • We got on one of JR East’s Joyful Trains!  These are trains specially designed with unique themes to make it a fun experience for passengers. In the Tohoku area, there are several Joyful Trains running on various lines throughout the region, which are also covered under the JR East pass! 
  • The train we took is called the Resort Shirakami. The train runs from Aomori to Akita and is known for having a scenic route along the coastline and for showcasing regional products. 
  • JR Pass coverage: The Resort Shirakami train is an all-reserved seating train. Passengers with the JR East Tohoku Area pass can make their seat reservation at no extra cost. 
Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company  
  • If you take the Resort Shirakami to Akita you can experience the beautiful seaside views as the train winds along the coastline. In addition, you’ll also be able to enjoy performances onboard such as people playing the shamisen (a traditional Japanese instrument) and puppet shows. The train also makes short pit-stops along the way where you can disembark and enjoy the scenery. 
  • While we weren’t able to see the ocean views as we were getting off at Hirosaki, we still really enjoyed the facilities of the train! For one thing, it has box seats that were a great way to admire the beautiful countryside views in comfort. The seats can be pulled out and expanded into tatami-style seating too for a different experience! 
#HHWT Tip: The Resort Shirakami has two sea types available - regular seats as well as the box seats. The seats are assigned at random, but if you’re looking to get the box seat, you should try requesting for it when picking up your reserved seat tickets. 
  • Car 3 of the train features a counter area where you can buy local snacks and drinks as well as a counter seating area where you can sit and enjoy the view. 
 Pick Aomori’s famous apples (1.5h) 
  • Pick apples in the largest apple-producing prefecture in all of Japan! Once you reach Hirosaki station, disembark from the Resort Shirakami train and take the bus from Hirosaki station to Hirosaki Apple Park (it costs JPY300 per person  you can find more information on the bus and it timings here). Alternatively, you can also take a taxi from the station (the park is about a 15-minute drive away).  
  •  Filled with more than a thousand apple trees, you can come here to pick and bring home as many apples as you like, with a fee of JPY200 per kilo of apples picked. 
#HHWT Tip: Apple harvesting peaks from October to November, though there are certain apple varieties that are harvested earlier. When we were there (in mid-September) we picked Tsuguru apples which are ripe by then. The staff whom we met shared that his favourite apple is the Sekai Ichi (translates to best in the world) which is a HUGE and sweet variety so we definitely recommend that you visit during the peak season!   See the tranquil beauty of Hirosaki Castle and its surrounds (1h) 
  • Take a bus from Hirosaki Apple Park to Hirosaki Castle via the Dotemachi Loop Bus at JPY100 per trip get off at Shiyakushomae (市役所前) or Bunka Center Mae (文化センター前) (find more information on the bus here). Alternatively, you can also take a taxi. Admire the regal castle that has a history that dates back to the 1600s. 
  • Besides the castle itself, the grounds surrounding the castle are a must-visit spot to see cherry blossoms when they are in season, as there are more than two thousand cherry blossom trees planted there. 
Credit: Hirosaki City, JNTO, East Japan Railway Company  
  • The best time to view cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle is usually from late April to early May. The Hirosaki Sakura Festival is held annually from 23 April – 5 May to celebrate the event and visitors can expect amazing sights such as the cherry blossom trees being illuminated at nightthe “sakura carpet (where the falling petals of the cherry blossoms completely blanket the still waters of the castle moat), and the gorgeous view of the castle surrounded by the pink cherry blossoms.  
#HHWT Tip: Currently the castle is not in its original position as it is undergoing repair works to its base structure. The castle was moved in its entirety about 70m away 😯 The castle is expected to be put back into its original place by 2021, though full repairs will take a few more years. 
  • While seeing the park during sakura season would be breathtaking, it’s still beautiful all-year-round! It felt very peaceful walking around the gardens and the pretty bridges.
  •  Entrance to the inner park area surrounding the castle costs JPY310 yen per person (which includes entry to the castle museum) or JPY510 yen for combined entry to the museum as well as the botanical garden and Fujita Memorial Garden. After 5pm, however, entry to the inner castle grounds (excluding the museum) is free. 
Head back to Morioka 
  • It’s time to head back to Morioka! Take a taxi back to Shin-Aomori station and then take the Tohoku Shinkansen back to Morioka before calling it a day. 
  • Fun fact: there are a few types of Shinkansen trains in Japan, and the Hayabusa (translates to falcon in Japanese) train which runs on the Tohoku Shinkansen route is the fastest in Japan! It’s able to go up to speeds of 320km/hour 😯 You’ll recognise the Hayabusa by its green exterior.
Day 3: Geibikei 
 Take the shinkansen to Ichinoseki (0.75h) 
  • It’s time to head out for your second day in the Tohoku region, and today you’ll be heading south of Morioka to Ichinoseki! 
  • Check-out of your hotel and leave your bags at the concierge before walking to Morioka station and taking the Tohoku Shinkansen line to Ichinoseki station.
Ride a Pikachu-themed train on the POKÉMON with YOU Joyful Train (0.75h) 
  • If you’re a Pokemon fan, this is a Joyful Train that can’t be missed! The POKÉMON with YOU train runs from Ichoneseki to Kesennuma and is dedicated to everything Pikachu. The train was started to bring back smiles to the children in the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 
  • JR Pass coverage: The POKÉMON with YOU train is an all-reserved seating train. Passengers with the JR East Tohoku Area pass can make their seat reservation at no extra cost. 
  • Do note that the train usually runs once a day only on weekends, public holidays and Japanese school holidays, though the schedule may differ from month-to-month. Check the scheduled days and timings of the train on the JR East seat reservation website.
#HHWT Tip: The train is super popular and given its more limited schedule and smaller size, we highly recommend that you plan ahead and book your tickets as far in advance as possible as they do tend to run out quickly! 
  • The train is fully decked-out in Pikachu colours of yellow and brown, both on the outside as well as inside! The seating area is meant to cater to kids and families, so it features shared seating, with the seats facing each other. 
  •  The other key feature of the train is the playroom car. This open area is fully carpeted in yellow and is filled with Pikachu plushies of all sizes! There are also cute accessories like Pikachu ears and train conductor outfits (in kids’ sizes) for added fun.
#HHWT Tip: The playroom car is only opened to passengers once the train has departed from the station. It can get crowded pretty quickly with kids and other passengers, so if you want to be one of the first people in the car to see it while it’s empty (and still neat! 😂), we recommend for you to wait near the entrance of the playroom car shortly after departing.  Have lunch at Geibi Resthouse and perform your prayers (1.5h) 
  • It’s time to bid farewell to the POKÉMON with YOU train as you’ll be getting off at Geibikei station (two stops away). 
  • You’re here to see the natural beauty of Geibikei (or Geibi Gorge), but first, lunch! Walk from the station to Geibi Resthouse (about 5 minutes away). 
  • Geibi Resthouse is a restaurant and dining hall that’s connected to the Higashiyama Tourism Hotel. The restaurant offers Muslim-friendly meals (around JPY1,500 per person) prepared using only seafood and/or vegetarian ingredients that are free from alcohol and use halal-certified seasonings. Do book your Muslim-friendly meal ahead of time, preferably up to a week in advance (you can contact the reservation office which manages the hotel and restaurant bookings at +81-191-47-2341 or find more details on their website).  
  • We were served a hearty meal of stewed seafood, seafood udon and side-dishes. We even got to try a local specialty, the ayu (sweetfish)! It’s salted and skewered before being grilled, and you can eat the entire thing. 
  • Halal status: Geibi Resthouse can prepare Muslim-friendly meals that use only vegetarian and/or seafood ingredients as well as halal-certified seasonings. Please note that the restaurant also serves non-halal food as well as alcoholic beverages, hence we recommend that you dine at your own discretion. 
  • There’s also a prayer room conveniently connected to the dining hall. The room is divided into separate sections for men and women, and it includes ablution facilities and prayer mats. The prayer room is open daily from 8am - 5pm (April - November) or 9am - 4pm (December - March), though 24-hour access is allowed for guests staying at the hotel.
See the beauty of Geibi Gorge by boat (1.5h) 
  • Marvel at the beauty of Geibikei , a 2km gorge formed by the Satetsu River that’s surrounded by rock formations, cliffs and lush greenery. 
  • The best way to experience the gorge is by taking a traditional boat on a 90-minute trip through the gorge itself. The boat tour costs JPY1800 per adult.
#HHWT Tip: Geibi Gorge is particularly beautiful in the autumn months (particularly in late October to early November) as it’s filled with autumn foliage that’s magnificent to see! In winter, the boats have heated blankets and a clear roof to keep you warm! 
Credit: Geibi Kanko Center 
  • Boatmen push the boat using a long pole, and you likely see fish and ducks swimming alongside. You can purchase food at the boat pier or on the boat to feed them. (50JPY per packet) 
  • The boatmen will also serenade passengers with folk songs, particularly during the final stretch of the boat trip. 
  • About halfway through the ride, passengers can alight from the boat and walk to an area of the gorge called Ransho -Ga-Oka where there’s a Wishing Hole! You’ll see locals buying lucky stones (JPY100 for five stones) and attempting to throw them into the tiny hole in the cliff wall - it’s believed that if it goes in, the thrower’s wishes and dreams will come true. 
Head back to Morioka (2h) 
  • It’s time to head back to Morioka! Walk back to Geibikei station and take the train back to Ichinoseki (via the Ofunato line) before taking the Tohoku Shinkansen back to Morioka.
Try and finish 100 bowls of soba doing the wanko soba challenge at Azumaya Soba Shop (1h) 
  • Have a dining experience like no other by eating wanko soba, which is a specialty in Morioka! 
  • Head to Azumaya Soba Shop by taking a taxi from Morioka station to its Otesaki outlet (less than 10 minutes away), or you can also take a bus from the Morioka Eki Maye stop to Kencho Shiyakushomae stop.  
  • Wanko soba is a style of eating in which you are served bowl after bowl of soba noodles, with the aim of eating 100 bowls or as many as you can. 
  • Azumaya offers Muslim-friendly wanko soba that is made using seafood broth and is free from alcohol 😊 
  •  The bowls of soba (which are small in size) are served one after another by a server who will give cheerful encouragement. Condiments like tuna sashimi, seaweed, scallions and pickled veggies are served alongside. To put things in perspective, 15 wanko soba bowls is equivalent to one regular-sized bowl of soba! 
  • The server will continue serving soba noodles up until a point where you can’t take another mouthful - finish up your bowl and then cover it with the lid as a sign that you’re done!
#HHWT Tip: We wrote a detailed account of our wanko soba experience here! 
  • If you are able to eat 100 bowls, you will be awarded a certificate and a small wooden plaque. However, when we visited, Azumaya awarded it to us even though we didn’t manage 100 bowls as a token of appreciation for visiting from so far away 😊
  • Halal status: Azumaya offers a Muslim-friendly version of wanko soba that's made with seafood-based broth and excludes alcohol at its Honten and Otesaki outlets. Please note that the eatery does serve non-halal menu items (including pork), however, based on our checks, different cooking utensils are used to handle the ingredients that go into the broth. Reservations for the Muslim-friendly wanko soba must be made at least 3 days in advance via telephone (you find Azumaya’s contact details here ). Please note that alcoholic beverages are also served and that we recommend that you dine at your own discretion. 
Head to Sendai (0.3h) 
  • It’s time to say farewell to Morioka and head south to Sendai. Take a taxi back from Azumaya to Hotel Metropolitan Morioka to pick up your bags and walk to the station, where you’ll take the shinkansen to Sendai station.
Check-in to Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East 
  • Check-in to your hotel for the next couple nights: Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East! This hotel is connected directly to Sendai station that’s a short walk once you exit from the train platforms. 
  • The hotel is relatively new and we loved the modern and upscale furnishings! We stayed in a Superior Twin Room that was spacious and comfortable, with all the amenities you could need.
#HHWT Tip: Don’t confuse Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East with Hotel Metropolitan Sendai! The two hotels are run by the same management but are in separate buildings. 
  • Besides its convenient location by the station, it’s also connected to the S-Pal shopping mall, with plenty of eateries and souvenir shops all around, making it a great spot to pick-up souvenirs too. 
  •  In addition, guests at the hotel can also request for a halal-certified breakfast that’s served at its sister hotel Hotel Metropolitan Sendai (more on that below!).
Day 4: FruiTea Fukushima, Yamagata, and Toreiyu Tsubasa 
Have a hearty breakfast at Hotel Metropolitan Sendai (0.75h) 
  • Start your day off with breakfast from Serenity, the restaurant located at Hotel Metropolitan Sendai (a 5-minute walk away).  
  • Hotel Metropolitan Sendai has two restaurants that can provide halal-certified meals: Serenity and Hayase. Each restaurant has a set halal menu with breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. For Serenity, the meals are priced at JPY2,600 (breakfast), JPY3,600 (lunch) and dinner (JPY6,000) respectively 
  • Guests at both Hotel Metropolitan Sendai and Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East that make a reservation which includes breakfast can request for the halal Western-style breakfast from Serenity as part of their stay at no extra change. Alternatively, guests can also request for the Japanse-style halal breakfast from Hayase for an additional JPY700 per pax. 
  • We enjoyed the halal breakfast from Serenity – the serving size was generous and filled us up for our day of exploring. 
  • Halal status:  Offers halal-certified menu where the dishes for these meals are made entirely with halal ingredients and prepared using separate designated utensils and cookware. Do be sure to make reservations for the halal menu items at least 2 days in advance.  
 Savour fruit desserts onboard the quaint FruiTea Fukushima Joyful Train (1.5h) 
  • Take the Tohoku Shinkansen down south to Koriyama (35 minutes) and from there, board the beautiful FruiTea Fukushima train heading to Aizu-Wakamatsu station. 
  • This Joyful Train was designed to showcase the abundance of fruits that grow in the Fukushima prefecture, including grapes, pears, peaches and apples. 
  • JR Pass coverage: The FruiTea Fukushima train is an all-reserved seating train. This train is not covered under the JR East Tohoku Area pass and will require separate purchase of tickets, which will include the basic fare for travelling on the train, your reserved seat ticket, as well as the desserts served. It costs JPY5,000 per person one-way if you take the train from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Koriyama (like we did). Tickets are available for sale from 1 month in advance at JR East Travel Service Centers for select stations including Tokyo and Shinjuku. The train also operates mainly on weekends only, so do plan ahead if you’re intending to take it!
#HHWT Tip: While most Joyful Trains require a minimum of two pax to reserve seats, for the FruiTea Fukushima train reservations are also accepted for solo travellers!  
  • The main attraction of the train is the fact that passengers are served two types of fruit desserts made with fresh fruits grown in Fukushima, along with hot coffee and fruit juice alongside. The train has box seat-style seating so you can enjoy your desserts comfortably while seeing the beautiful views outside. 
  • Halal status: Please note that the desserts served change according to the fruits in season. We recommend that you clarify the ingredients of the desserts with staff before consumption and to dine at your own discretion. 
  • When we visited, we were able to enjoy jelly that had Ogonto peaches and Shine Muscat grapes. The fruits were so sweet and delicious!  
  • The train also has a counter in Car 1 where passengers can help themselves to freeflow iced coffee and tea or water. There’s a counter seating area here too 😃
Head to Yamagata (2h) 
  • It’s time to explore another prefecture in the Tohoku region, Yamagata! Once you reach Aizu-Wakamatsu station, disembark and take the Ban-etsu West Line back to Koriyama. From there, take the Yamagata Shinkansen to Akayu 
  •  You’re now in Yamagata prefecture which is famous for its fruits (especially cherries!) hot springs, and natural beauty. 
Go grape-picking at Mahoroba Orchard (1.5h) 
  • Pick and eat all the grapes you want at one of of the many fruit orchards in Yamagata! You’ll find several located around the Takahata as well as Akayu stations. 
  • We went to Mahoroba Orchard (まほろばかんこうかじゅえん) (about 15 minutes drive from Akayu station by taxi). Here, you can pick and eat as many grapes as you want for JPY800 per adult and JPY500 per child. Do note that if you don’t finish your grapes and want to bring home the excess, you’ll be charged an extra fee by weight of the grapes.
#HHWT Tip: When we visited, it was grape-picking season (from late July to mid-October), however fruits available will depend on when you visit. Cherry harvesting peaks in mid-June to July, while peach-picking happens early August to September. Different orchards may grow different fruits, so do check ahead of time before visiting. 
  •  The orchard has many different varieties of grapes available. They were all super sweet and delicious! You can even buy some of the grapes at the orchard store to bring home - the staff will pack the grapes in a box so it’s easy to transport. The grapes cost anywhere from JPY1,000 per box depending on the type, which is so much cheaper than if you were to buy them at home! 
#HHWT Tip: Make sure to wear insect repellant or risk getting mosquito bites while picking the grapes! At Mahoroba Orchard the orchard caretaker had a bottle on hand for customers to use.  Soak your feet in the footbath of the Toreiyu Tsubasa Joyful Train (0.75h) 
  • Once you’ve had your fill of yummy grapes, take a taxi back to Takahata station. It’s time to head to Fukushima but the train you’ll be taking is no ordinary one. It’s the first-ever shinkansen to feature a footbath on board! 
  • The Toreiyu Tsubasa is a Joyful Train that is part of the Yamagata Shinkansen line which runs between Shinjo and Fukushima. 
  • JR Pass coverage: The Toreiyu Tsubasa train is an all-reserved seating train. Passengers with the JR East Tohoku Area pass can make their seat reservation at no extra cost. However, please note that to enjoy the footbath you need to reserve your slot separately. It costs JPY450  per person for a 15-minute slot and is subject to availability. You can reserve your footbath slot at the counter located in Car 15 (near the end of the train) when boarding.  
  • Given that it’s a shinkansen, the Toreiyu Tsubasa is larger compared to Resort Shirakami, POKEMON with YOU and FruiTea Fukushima Joyful Trains. It features 3 cars which have tatami mat seating.
#HHWT Tip: You can choose the tatami seating (select box seats) when reserving your seats online!  
  • For your footbath, you’ll be allocated a specific time slot. Head to the footbath car (Car 16) 10 minutes prior to your scheduled timing. You’ll be given a special commemorative towel (to dry your feet with after the footbath!) and a bag to store your shoes. The water is nice and warm, with jets swirling the water around - it’ll feel like heaven for your feet while you watch the views outside! 
  • Once your 15-minute footbath is up, you can relax in the Yuagari Lounge (in Car 15). This lounge car has a counter selling local products. We recommend getting the 100% fruit juices made with local fruits (JPY150 each), which are so sweet that it’s hard to believe there’s no added sugar! There’s a seating area as well where you can relax.
Try gyutan and have a sukiyaki feast at Hayase (1.5h) 
  • It’s time for a super special dinner! Once you reach Fukushima station, alight from the Toreiyu Tsubasa and then catch the Tohoku Shinkansen back to Sendai. 
  • Once you’ve arrived in Sendai, walk to Hotel Metropolitan Sendai and head to Hayase, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant which also offers a halal-certified menu. 
  • Similar to Serenity, Hayase offers a set halal menu with a meal available for breakfast (JPY3,000), lunch (JPY4,000) and dinner (JPY10,000 for 2pax). Guests staying at both Hotel Metropolitan Sendai and Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East whose reservation includes breakfast can request for the Western-style halal-certified breakfast from Serenity at no extra charge or they can also request for the Japanese-style breakfast from Hayase for JPY700 per person. 
  • The dinner menu features sukiyaki! This yummy dish comprises of thinly sliced beef which is simmered lightly alongside vegetables and other ingredients in a pot of sweet soy sauce-based soup. The ingredients are usually dipped in a raw beaten egg just before eating.
  •  While the price for the sukiyaki dinner is quite steep, it’s meant to be a sharing meal for two, and we can definitely say the portions are super generous and can easily feed more! Do note that reservations are required at least two days in advance.  
  • Hayase staff will prepare the sukiyaki in a pot right in front of you. We loved every mouthful of the tender beef and the cooked veggies 🤤 
  • Hayase also arranged for us to try a Sendai specialitygyutan (beef tongue)! The hotel can arrange for halal gyutan if you make reservations at least one week in advance. There are also plans to introduce it as a regular item on Hayase’s halal menu too 😍 
  • Gyutan is typically served in slices which are grilled. The chewy texture and meaty taste of the gyutan was really enjoyable!  Being able to try this local specialty was a great way to end our day. 
  • Halal status: Hayase offers a halal-certified menu where the dishes for these meals are made entirely with halal ingredients and prepared using separate designated utensils and cookware. Do be sure to make reservations for the halal menu items at least 2 days in advance. For the gyutan, please reserve at least one week in advance.
Day 5: Half-day trip to Matsushima & souvenir-shopping in Sendai 
See the islands of Matsushima Bay by boat cruise (1h) 
Credit: Carissa Loh , East Japan Railway Company  
  • Check-out and leave your luggage at the hotel. Today you’ll be heading out to Matsushima! 
  • Matsushima is a coastal city with a bay that has 260 pine-covered islands dotted about. It’s often been ranked as one of Japan's most scenic views. The best way to see the splendour of Matsushima Bay is on a sightseeing boat! 
  • To get to Matsushima, take the Senseki line from Sendai to Matsushima-kaigan station (about 40 minutes away). Once you reach the station, the boat dock is a short walk away. 
  • Multiple boat companies offer boat tours on various courses around the bay. Tourists usually opting for the round trip cruises, which last around 50 minutes and cost around JPY1,500 per person. Read more about the boat tours and where to buy tickets here.
#HHWT Tip: Book your seats ahead of time online, as they tend to be cheaper and you can get access to seats in the green area (the premium upper deck) for free! If you buy the tickets at the ticket counter by the dock, green seats cost JPY600 yen more per person. 
 
Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company 
  • The boat tour we went on (Marubun Matsushima Kisen ) had accompanying English commentary, which was really useful! It was fascinating to learn how all the islands have individual names and stories behind them.
Cross the red bridges of Godaido Temple (0.5h) 
  • Visit this historic temple overlooking Matsushima Bay whose roots trace back to 807. 
  • The temple is named for the five Buddhas of wisdom housed within. The Buddhas inside Godaido are only shown during a special ceremony once every 33 years. 
  • There are bright red bridges leading to the temple. Watch your step as you cross, as the planks that make up the bridge have spaces in between. Locals believe that if you trip, you are not yet ready to reach the temple!
Walk to Fukuura Island (0.75h) 
Credit: @tpe_freesoul on Instagram 
  • Fukuura Island is one of three islands in the bay that you can walk to. To get there, you need to cross the 252-meter long bridge with red railings that leads to the island. 
  • It costs JPY200 yen to cross the bridge and enter Fukuura Island. You can buy tickets at the ticket vending machine in the information centre located right by the bridge entrance. 
Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company 
  •  Fukuura  Island itself has walking paths and trails that you can explore and see scenic views of the bay from.
Indulge in an all-you-can-eat grilled oyster buffet (0.75h) 
  • You can’t visit Matsushima without eating oysters! The city is a big producer of oysters and grilled oysters are a local specialty. There are several eateries serving all-you-can-eat grilled oyster buffets around Matsushima. 
  • We ate at Matsu, which is a short walk away from Fukuura bridge (it’s near the Date Masamune Historical Museum). The eatery offers a buffet where you can eat as many grilled oysters as you like within 40 minutes for JPY2,000 per person.
#HHWT Tip: Reservations are recommended for the buffet, especially for weekends. 
  • The server will bring you a plate of freshly-grilled oysters that you open up yourself and eat directly from the shell! Gloves, a knife and paper apron are provided. The staff can demonstrate how to shuck oysters so don’t worry if you don’t know how to! 
  • Once you finish your plate of oysters, you can ask for a refill. You can keep going for 40 minutes or until you’re completely stuffed! 
  •  It took us a few tries to get the hang of opening the oysters but once we did, we couldn’t stop eating! The oysters are grown right in the bay so you know they’re super fresh. The flavour of the oyster was really delicious and naturally salty from the seawater! 
  • Halal status: Matsu offers a grilled oyster buffet. Please note that Matsu also serves non-halal food and alcoholic beverages, however, based on our checks the oysters served are grilled in special cooking containers that are designated specifically for oysters only. Should you require condiments alongside your oysters such as soy sauce or ponzu, we recommend that you bring your own.
Visit the peaceful Zuiganji (0.75h) 
Credit: @dysha_bzu on Instagram 
  • Marvel at one of the most prominent Zen temples in the Tohoku region. 
  • The temple actually comprises of a few structures located on the temple grounds including the Main Hall, the kuri (former kitchen area), and the Seiryuden (also known as the Zuiganji Art Museum) that contains artefacts like the fusuma and a life-sized wooden statue of the warrior Date Masamune. 
  • Entrance costs JPY 700 per adult and JPY400 per child. You can buy tickets at the counter near the entrance.   
Credit: @hajimed750 on Instagram  #HHWT Tip:  Volunteer English guides from the Matsushima Goodwill Guide association are available at the temple on Sundays between 10am - 3pm.   Have matcha and desserts in a traditional teahouse (0.5h) 
  • Have a calm and relaxing teatime treat at Kanrantei Tea House, where you can enjoy Japanese desserts in a traditional setting overlooking the bay. 
  • Kanrantei means "place to view ripples on water". This former samurai teahouse has a rich history and was previously located in Kyoto before being moved to Matsushima. 
  • The tea house has two rooms, each with golden sliding doors (fusuma), which were used to house the feudal lords' wives, visiting princesses and envoys of the shogun.  
  • Entry to the teahouse costs JPY200 per adult or JPY150 per child (children under 6 enter free). You can also purchase matcha tea and dessert sets. Order these when you pay for your tickets at the ticket counter.  
  • The matcha and dessert sets cost anywhere between JPY300 - 700 per set. Based on our checks during our visit, the Zunda mochiNamagashi and Kabocha cake are all made with fully plant-based ingredients. 
  •  The serene experience of enjoying our desserts while watching the views of the bay was lovely! The desserts were not too sweet and its small size was perfect for a tiny treat to have alongside the matcha. 
  • Behind the tea house is the small Matsushima Museum which houses armour, weapons, tools and other relics of feudal times.
Head back to Sendai (0.75h) 
  • After ending your time on Matsushima on a sweet note at Kanrantei Teahouse, walk back to Matsushima-kaigan station and take the train back to Sendai.
Stock-up on souvenirs and try zunda delicacies in Sendai station (1.5h) 
  • Shop for souvenirs to bring home around Sendai station. The area immediately surrounding the exits from the platforms are filled with many souvenir shops. 
  • Be sure to try some zunda desserts while you’re there! Zunda is a sweet edamame paste that’s a Sendai specialty. It is normally used to top rice cakes, dumplings or other dessert items. Zunda Saryo is a shop that specialises in zunda products and you’ll find multiple outlets scattered around the station. 
  • Give the zunda milkshake a try - this shake is made only with milk and zunda. While the idea of an edamame milkshake might seem a bit weird, it’s actually really thick, creamy and delicious! In addition, some of the zunda outlets have a cafe area where you can order desserts like the   zunda mochi. They also have packaged versions you can buy to bring home. 
  • Halal status: Based on our checks with staff, the zunda mochi served in the cafe as well as the packaged zunda mochi are made with plant-based emulsifiers. Please note that other Zunda Saryo products may contain alcohol or use ingredients that are not plant-based, hence we advise that for those items for you to clarify with staff and dine at your own discretion. 
  • Don’t forget to check out S-Pal, the mall connected to the station. Head to level B1, where you’ll find a whole area dedicated to food souvenirs from around the region, many of which are Muslim-friendly!  
  • One must-try souvenir is the Hagi no Tsuki. This famous Sendai product is a sponge cake with custard cream inside. Another popular souvenir is the Kamome No Tamago, a specialty of the Iwate prefecture in Tohoku. The name translates to seagull eggs, but don’t worry, it’s actually white azuki bean paste coated in cake and white chocolate. 
  • We tried both these items and they were so delicious! Definitely the perfect souvenir to bring home. 
  •  Halal status: Hagi no Tsuki and Kamome mo Tamago are both made with plant-based ingredients and do not contain alcohol. 
#HHWT Tip: Because the food souvenirs contain custard or bean paste that are made fresh without many preservatives, please note that they tend to have shorter lifespans. Do check the expiry date of the products you buy (which are printed on the boxes) so you know when to eat them by.   Enjoy a sushi dinner at Chikara Sushi (1h) 
Credit: Enjoying Tohoku Food for Muslims and Vegetarians on Facebook  
  • Have Muslim-friendly sushi at Chikara Sushi, an eatery located just a 6-minute walk away from Sendai station (head there from the East exit). 
  • Halal status: Chikara Sushi offers Muslim-friendly sushi made with plain rice, alongside alcohol-free soy sauce. Please reserve your meal at least 3 days in advance. Please do note that Chikara Sushi has two outlets, however only the main branch located near the station offers the Muslim-friendly sushi. Please note that the eatery also serves non-halal food items and alcoholic beverages, hence we recommend that you dine at your own discretion.
Take the shinkansen to Tokyo (1.75h) 
  •  Say farewell to the Tohoku region and make your way back to Tokyo!  
  • We stayed in the Ikebukuro area for our final night in Tokyo. We took the Tohoku Shinkansen one final time from Sendai to Omiya and subsequently took the Saikyo line from Omiya to Ikebukuro.
Check-in to Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro 
  • Our hotel was the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro, which is just a 5-minute walk away from Ikebukuro station.  
  • Given its location, the hotel is within walking distance to shopping malls, convenience stores and other stores surrounding the station. 
 Day 6: Explore a bit of Tokyo before you head home  
  • It’s your last day in Japan! Check-out and leave your bags at the hotel. You can head out to explore a bit of Tokyo before you go to the airport to catch your flight 😁We decided to explore Ikebukuro and see some of its key attractions.
Get your caffeine fix at Blue Bottle Coffee (0.5h) 
  • Start your day right by having some coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee. This US-based specialty coffee roaster has cafes mostly in the States but it also has some outlets in Tokyo, Kyoto and Seoul! The Ikebukuro outlet is a 10-minute walk from Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro. 
  • Halal status:  Please note that Blue Bottle Coffee’s beverages are all espresso or drip-coffee-based, with no other ingredients besides coffee and/or milk. However, please note that the cafe is not halal-certified and that we could not ascertain the ingredients of the pastries sold in the shop, hence we recommend that you dine at your discretion. 
Visit Sunshine City (1.5h) 
  • Explore one of Ikebukuro’s best-known attractions, Sunshine City! This large complex is home to a shopping mall, aquarium, observatory deck, hotels and more.  
  • Pokemon-lovers have got to visit the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo (located on Level 2), the second-largest Pokémon Center in all of Japan (the largest Pokémon Center is the one located in Tokyo's Nihonbashi Takashimaya). 
  • You’ll be spoilt for choice with the sheer array of Pokémon-related products ranging from plushies, toys, electronics, jewellerypyjamas and so much more. We loved the variety of plushies available beyond the super famous Pokémon characters like Pikachu, Snorlax and Eevee. 
  • Just across from the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo is Kiddyland that has a collection of products related to many beloved cartoon characters. If you’re a fan of Sumiko GurashiRilakkuma or Disney, you’ll want to visit! For Disney-lovers, there’s also a dedicated Disney store located on level B1!  
  • Other interesting stores to check out include Donguri Republic, which is dedicated to all things Studio Ghibli, as well as Sanrio for your fix of cute Hello Kitty items.
Make a pit-stop at Tokyu Hands (1h) 
  • No trip to Japan is complete without a bit of shopping at Tokyu Hands. This famous department store sells everything from cute stationery to household and kitchen items and the outlet in Ikebukuro is pretty massive, spanning 8 floors!
  • One thing we highly recommend picking up at Tokyu Hands is an umbrella. The Japanese have definitely got it covered when it comes to umbrellas, with so many pretty styles available. We love their foldable umbrellas, which come in various sizes, are super light and some even come with UV protection.
#HHWT Tip: If you have a pet, don’t forget to head up to the 8th floor where there’s a whole section dedicated to our furry friends!  Other interesting stores 
  • If you have extra time, there are plenty more interesting shops to explore in Ikebukuro! If you walk from Sunshine City towards the main shopping street, you’ll see stores like Animate, which is the largest anime and manga merchandise store in Japan -  it’s  Ikebukuro store is its main branch! For electronic fans, don’t miss Bic Camera or Yamada Denki. 
  • You’ll also see plenty of more familiar stores like Uniqlo and Don Quijote around the area, so you’re all set for some last-minute shopping 😉
#HHWT Tip: Be sure to take advantage of the tax exemption for tourists when shopping in Japan! It’s applicable when you spend more than JPY5,000 at a store in a single day. Japan’s sales tax was recently increased from 8% to 10%, so take advantage of the tax exemption! Stores usually have a dedicated tax exemption counter where you can get your tax refund on the spot. You’ll also need to hand your purchased receipts to ay tax exemption counter at the airport.  Read more about the tax exemption program here.  Time to head home!  
  • Your Japan trip exploring Tohoku (and a bit of Tokyo!) has come to an end ☹️ It’s time to head for the airport.  
   
  • We decided to go for the airport limousine which conveniently has a pick-up/drop-off point directly at Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro! It’s recommended that you reserve your tickets in advance - you can do so easily at the concierge counter of the hotel. Our tickets cost JPY3 ,200 per person to get to Narita Airport. It’s a great option for those who may not want to manoeuvre with their luggage in and around the train stations to get to the airport.
#HHWT Tip: If you’re flying out from Narita Airport as we did, check out our Narita Airport guide that breaks down halal food options, prayer spaces and more! 
 We had an incredible time exploring the Tohoku region! We really felt like we were able to make full use of our JR pass to see Tohoku’s amazing sights. Trains are such an integral part of travel in Japan, and we were glad we got to fully experience Tohoku by train which was not only super comfortable but also included amazing experiences on the Joyful Trains. We also really love how Muslim-friendly amenities are becoming more widely available even in the regions located further out from the major cities  🤗 So if you’re thinking of exploring another side of Japan, Tohoku is calling!  Information on the JR East Tohoku Area Pass 
Credit: East Japan Railway Company 
  • The JR East Tohoku area pass is a special pass available for  tourists that allows  unlimited rides on all JR East train lines in the designated area (as shown above). This includes the shinkansen, limited express, airport trains (i.e. Narita Express for Narita Airport, Tokyo Monorail for Haneda Airport and Sendai Airport Transit for Sendai Airport). 
  • Price: The JR East Tohoku area pass is priced at JPY19,350 for adults and JPY9,670 for children (aged 6 – 11)when you buy it overseas. We do recommend this as it’s slightly cheaper than buying it in Japan, which would cost JPY20,360 for adults and JPY10,180 for children. 
  • Duration: This flexible pass can be used on any five days within 14 days of issuance, so you can stay overnight at any of the cities you explore in Tohoku without worrying about having to use your pass!  
  • Advanced seat reservations: The pass also allows you to make seat reservations for trains with reserved seating (such as for the shinkansen as well as the Joyful Trains) up to 1 month in advance from 10am Japan time for free. It’s highly recommended to reserve your seats in advance for travel during peak periods or for popular trains with limited seating like the Joyful Trains. 
  •  Eligibility to purchase:  Only foreign passport-holders on short-term tourist visas are eligible to purchase the pass.
The JR East Pass (Tohoku) can be purchased from:  This article is brought to you by East Japan Railway Company