InsideJapan Tours has marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating Tohoku tsunami with the launch of a new add-on, designed to show how visitors how quickly the region was able to recover from the disaster.
Tohoku was front page news for weeks in the aftermath of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami back in 2011, which brought devastation to the region – claiming in excess of 15,000 lives and triggering the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The region attracts only about 2% of Japan’s international visitors, with most heading south from Tokyo to Kyoto rather than north, but InsideJapan believes Tohoku’s rich rural culture and heritage deserves far greater attention.
InsideJapan has long featured more northerly destinations on Japan’s main island of Honshu; "The region has always been important to the specialists," said InsideJapan co-founder Alastair Donnelly.
The operator’s new Rural Tohoku Trail itinerary, launched to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the tsunami, can be added-on to its long-standing Northern Soul small group tour or its self-guided tailor-made Northern Highlights trips.
"The Tohoku tsunami was a huge event for the region, for Japan, and for us as a Japan travel specialist,” said Donnelly. “It affected people we know – suppliers, friends, and employees. It was personal, and the event has become part of our company’s fabric."
At the time, InsideJapan’s customers raised thousands of pounds to help non-profit organisations provide relief and clean the area up. "We can only continue trying to do what we can for the region in the form of tourism when travel is allowed again," said Donnelly. "Tohoku really is the untainted Japan that most people imagine."
The trail features stays at a traditional ryokan guesthouse in the onsen town of Ginzan, at a sacred temple atop Mt Haguro and a converted storehouse in the samurai town of Kakunodate. Guests will also travel through rural Yamagata, and sample the street food and izakaya bars of Sendai.
Product manager Madeleine Bromige said: “Despite everything the region has been through, it is the culture, the countryside and the people that make the area so special, and why we are so keen make it as easy as possible for travellers to get there.
"These are places people don’t hear about, and that’s even more a reason to go. The Tohoku experience is unfiltered but fantastically Japanese, which is why we plan to introduce more of the region.”
Donnelly added the trip highlighted how destinations like Tohoku can go from Foreign Office "no-go zones" to bucket-list destinations in a relatively short period of time, stressing the story of Tohoku’s recovery could well resonate as the entire world seeks to emerge from the Covid crisis.
"I think that Tohoku and Japan showed the world how quickly it could come together and rebuild," said Donnelly. "Tohoku is special. We will not forget what happened there, but there is so much there to look forward too."
InsideJapan’s seven-day Rural Tohoku Trail add-on leads in from £1,608pp, excluding international flights. Prices cover six nights’ accommodation, a daily breakfast, regional transport, train passes, a night tour of Sendai, and more.