Explore Japan off the beaten track: Kesennuma

A four-part series on the country's hidden gems worth seeking out

Kesennuma view
Photo: Yoshida/Pixta
Written by Time Out. Paid for by MGM Resorts Japan |

A small port town along the Sanriku Coast in Miyagi prefecture, Kesennuma was devastated by the tsunami of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. However, it is well on the road to recovery now, welcoming visitors to revel in the area’s natural beauty. As fishing is the town’s main livelihood, the abundance of fresh seafood here is a big draw, along with its art and memorial museums.

5 things to do in Kesennuma

Fish at market
Photo: Chuttersnap/Unsplash

Sample fresh seafood at Kesennuma Osakana Ichiba

This market provides a large variety of seafood delivered directly from the Kesennuma port, which the eateries turn into local delicacies, including the award-winning amazake-marinated and lightly grilled Pacific saury. Don’t miss the kaisendon, a bowl of rice topped with the freshest seafood including ikura (salmon roe), sea urchin, squid, tuna and bonito.

2-13 Minatomachi, Kesennuma, Miyagi (Kesennuma Station). 0226 29 6233. 8am-6pm daily.

Rias Ark Museum

Appreciate contemporary art and local culture

Built on the hills overlooking Kesennuma, the Rias Ark Museum looks, from afar, like a ship sailing along the coast. Inside you’ll find works by artists who either reside in the Tohoku or Hokkaido area or have some connection to the region. You can also learn about the city’s history and culture, with a focus on the local fishing industry.

Kesennuma City Memorial Museum

Learn about tsunami at the Kesennuma City Memorial Museum

The Kesennuma City Memorial Museum is set in the ruins of a former high school that was decimated by the 2011 tsunami. In spring this year, the facility was turned into a memorial to educate visitors on the horrors of tsunami. It’s a solemn site with large sections preserved in the same state as they were left after the disaster, with an upturned car lodged in the interior along with a mess of debris washed up by the waves. Thankfully all the pupils and teachers survived the disaster, but this remains a sobering reminder of the power of nature.

9-1 Hajikamisemukai, Kesennuma, Miyagi (Rikuzen-Hashikami Station). 0226 28 9671. Apr-Sep 9.30am-5pm (last entry 4pm), Oct-Mar 9.30am-4pm (3pm), closed Mon (Tue if Mon is hols). ¥600, high school students ¥400, junior high and primary school students ¥300, free for younger children.

Kesennuma Knitting

Shop for artisanal hand-knitted clothes at Kesennuma Knitting

Kesennuma Knitting started back in summer 2012 as a project to support the disaster-stricken area through the sales of handmade cardigans and sweaters created by local women who survived the catastrophe. Since then, the brand’s increasing popularity has led to several collaborations with famous American brands including Simon Miller and Harvey Faircloth.

1-12 Kashizaki, Kesennuma, Miyagi (Kesennuma Station). Sat & Sun 11am-6pm.

Kesennuma view
Photo: Yoshida/Pixta

Enjoy pleasant views of Kesennuma from Mt Anbasan

Mt Anbasan, whose name means the ‘mountain of safe waves’, is the tallest peak in Kesennuma with a height of 239 metres. There are several hiking trails to explore, all with lookout points offering picturesque views of Kesennuma’s port and bay area. The hike up to the peak can easily be done in under an hour, and depending on the season you can admire camellia flowers, cherry blossoms or azaleas along the way.

Machiura, Kesennuma, Miyagi (Kesennuma Station).

How to get to Kesennuma

Shinkansen in Tokyo | Time Out Tokyo

From Tokyo Station, it’s approximately four hours by train to Kesennuma Station.

Why I love Kesennuma

Jason Hyland, president of MGM Resorts Japan

‘I feel a strong connection with Kesennuma and its people, and would like to encourage international tourists to visit Kesennuma and all of Tohoku to see the incredible natural beauty, meet the wonderful people, enjoy the delicious food, and learn more about the deep history.’ 
- Jason Hyland, president of MGM Resorts Japan

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