Miyagi-ken (宮城県) is something of a transition zone between the rural hinterlands of the far north and the massive urban development that typifies much of central Honshū. Its capital, Sendai, has excellent tourist infrastructure, unique culinary offerings and plenty of cultural attractions to boot.
Despite being Japan's sixth-largest island, Sado-ga-shima is relatively undeveloped and is characterised by rugged natural beauty and eccentric reminders of its rich and evocative past. Crowds peak during the third week in August for the Earth Celebration, headlined by the world-famous Kodō Drummers. Outside of the summer holiday season, it's blissfully quiet.
Japan’s second-largest prefecture, Iwate-ken (岩手県) is a quiet place, largely characterised by sleepy valleys, a rugged coastline and some pretty serious mountain ranges. Although the region once played host to warring states and feudal rule, there are few remnants of this turbulent past, aside from the magnificent temples at Hiraizumi.
Visitors to Yamagata-ken (山形県), best known for the three sacred peaks of Dewa Sanzan, revered by yamabushi (mountain ascetics) and hikers alike, will be rewarded by the scenic beauty of mountain ranges and coastal vistas, the likes of which once enchanted the legendary travelling poet Matsuo Bashō.
Fukushima-ken (福島県), Japan’s third-largest prefecture, is Tōhoku's eastern gateway, from where the characteristic mountains of the north begin to rise. Come this far and you've left the Tokyo day trippers behind; the wilds of the beautiful Bandai Plateau attract hikers and skiers seeking deeper exploration.
Akita-ken (秋田県) is shaped by the soaring Oū-sanmyaku and Dewa mountain ranges, which have long kept the region isolated. Even today development is divinely sparse. Akita's peaks shelter remote, rustic hot springs that are among the best in the country: paired with neighbouring Lake Tazawa-ko, Nyūtō Onsen is a unique retreat.
Sprawling Aizu-Wakamatsu, a former feudal capital, is a pilgrimage destination for Japanese history buffs. It's looking a little rough around the edges, but plays to its history well. Nanoka-machi-dōri has a number of old-fashioned shops selling local crafts. Aizu is also famous for its sake, and there are a number of breweries around town that do tours and tastings.
Prefectural capital, Aomori is a compact city, a stopover point for travelers en-route to Hokkaidō and a regional transport hub. There are a handful of attractions scattered around the city including a pleasant harbourfront area near the station. Aomori's most famous draw is its Nebuta festival, in August.
Morioka is a pretty former castle-town framed by three flowing rivers and a brooding volcano, Iwate-san. Once the seat of the Nanbu domain, it is now the prefectural capital and a regional transport hub. Though the castle itself is long gone, the park in its place and surrounding area make for a pleasant stroll.
Dewa Sanzan is the collective title for three sacred peaks – Haguro-san, Gas-san and Yudono-san – which are believed to represent birth, death and rebirth respectively. Together they have been worshipped for centuries by followers of Shugendō, a folk religion that draws from both Buddhism and Shintō.