Things to do around Chikusenso
Chikusenso is located a couple of kilometres and an easy walk from the centre of the local town of Togatta Onsen in the Miyagi prefecture, north of Tokyo and west of Sendai in the Tohoku region. Nestled at the foot of Mount Zao (a popular Japanese ski resort) the area is known to be rich in minerals which not only feed into the fresh mountain water hot springs, but also make the local produce some of the finest in Japan. There are paths around the town, including along the river as well as rising up into the forest from the Kattamine Shrine.
Depending on the changing seasons, the area farms include blueberries, apples, pears and daikon - all of which you can pick and eat fresh from the farm. There are also dairy farms where local cheese is made - you can watch and even try your hand at making some.
Miyagi Zao Kokeshi Museum
A short walk away from Chikusenso is the Miyagi Zao museum of Kokeshi. The Tohoku region has been known for Kokeshi dolls since 1590. The craftsmen moved to Togatta Hot Springs when people started to visit the springs for cures, where they sold their wares as souvenirs. The craft lives on today and you can see how the designs have changed over the years and their significance to each area and artist. The museum also offers opportunities to paint your own Kokeshi doll as well as Bamboo lantern making and instrumental performances in the woods on the ocarina.
ZAO DAiry Centre
A 30 minute walk away is the Zao Dairy Centre and cheese factory with a great selection of gifts, local produce and a garden (mostly roses). You'll pass the Blueberry farm on the way (with more great gifts and cafe).
Make a Japanese Pot
There are a few places around the town where you can make or paint your own pottery with a hand wheel or even a potters wheel. Pre-booking is recommended. You will be given a pre-determined weight of clay and a certain amount of time in which to create your pots as well as lots of help and with a great choice of colour finishes you could create something really special. Once complete, they will fire your pot and post it out to you (for an additional fee). Manpugama is 3.5km away, Genyo is 3.9km and the pottery painting at Hana Hana (a branch of Genyo) is just 2.2km away from Chikusenso.
Places to Visit in the Town
Atelier Chofuan are only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but they use hand dyeing techniques and colours (including Indigo) to reflect the landscape to make some truly beautiful items. If you have a favourite item of clothing that has been ruined by a stain, they can create a unique design with their colouring techniques and give it a new lease of life.
Zaodo is a shop that sells handcrafted goods that relate to onsen bathing as well as a specialist milk and egg pudding (like a creme brûlée) called Yukemuri.
There is a tourist information centre in the town very close to one of the public onsen. You will also find an outdoor foot bath there that is free to use - though you will need a towel to dry your feet afterwards. There is car parking in this area as well as public conveniences. There is a 7-Eleven convenience store which has an ATM inside as well as printing services and hot snacks too. The off licence is also really worth a visit (Kimura Shouten). Japanese sake is a must but so too is shochu and Japanese beer tastes so much better in Japan.
Strolling around the town you will discover much more. There are 2 Tofu shops which usually sell a surprising range of tofu products. Just like Japanese alcohol, the tofu here is so much better than anywhere else and highly recommended. You will be able to taste fresh tofu as part of your meals at Chikusenso. Don't forget to take a peek in the Butchers shop too. Sendai beef is not internationally known but it's on a par with wagyu beef.
There is a bus stop in Togatta Onsen, bus number 33 goes to and from Sendai (in front of the railway station), the journey taking just over an hour. The Zaocho Line operates a regular daytime service.
The Okama (Volcanic Crater) is a popular viewpoint. The Zao mountains offer a range of hiking trails for all skills and abilities, accessible any time during any season. There are designated parking lots along the Echo line enabling you to choose your starting point, or you can drive to a viewing area.
Snake says driving is easy in Japan as they drive on the same side of the road as the UK. If you hire a car (make sure you understand how to use the sat nav or use Google maps) you could travel further afield to Yamagata and the Yamadera Temple (though be warned their are over 1000 steps to get to the top). Matsushima on the coast is home to the impressive Seiryuzan Zuiganji Temple and the bay is picturesque, dotted with many small islands. You can barbecue a kamaboko stick in one of the seaside stores. The Sasakawa one that you can grill yourself is similar to a crab stick it's fun to do, though the tofu ones that come ready cooked are perhaps tastier!
To drive in Japan you will need an International Driving Permit 1949 which you can get from most large post offices, just take your Uk driving licence, a passport sized photograph and the fee (currently £5.50).