This itinerary includes all part of Tohoku and covers many popular spots, such as Nikko, Zao, Matsushima, Hiraizumi, Oirase, Lake Towada, Shirakami Sanchi and Kakunodate, in 7 days. So you can simply use Japan Rail Pass 7 days. I also try to minimize an extra cost.
You may start this itinerary either from Tokyo or from Osaka. But if you can start this from Osaka, you need to take the overnight train Sunrise Seto/Izumo from Osaka to Tokyo. As long as you catch “Nobi Nobi seat” on Sunrise Seto or Izumo before the date change, you can travel without any extra charge.
07:08am Arrive at Tokyo station
Departing from Tokyo
08:08am Depart from Tokyo by Tohoku Shinkansen Max Yamabiko 127
09:01am Arrive at Utsunomiya station
09:12am Depart from Utsunomiya station by Nikko line local train
09:54am Arrive at Nikko station. After arrival, enjoy exploring in UNESCO World Heritage site, Nikko
14:20pm Depart from Nikko station by Nikko line local train
15:01pm Arrive at Utsunomiya station
15:59pm Depart from Utsunomiya station by Yamagata Shinkansen Tsubasa 143
18:00pm Arrive at Yamagata
*You can get Nikko from Shinjuku directly by Limited Express Nikko. But this express train goes on Tobu line. Japan Rail Pass does not cover this section. If you need more info, please refer Limited Express Nikko and Kinugawa.
*You can go to Zao Hot Springs after arrival at Yamagata. I choose only major cities to stay in this itinerary because you can find the accommodation very easily. But you can skip Yamagata and go straight to Zao. The last bus depart from Yamagata station to Zao at 18:40 and arrive at Zao at 19:17. (2011 summer timetable) Zao hot springs is a nice spa resort.
Overnight in Yamagata
07:40am Depart from Yamagata station by Yamako bus
08:17am Arrive at Zao hot springs
Zao Ropeway start to operate at 08:30am. You can enjoy the fresh air and easy trekking at the summit. You can enjoy it for 1.5 hour.
10:10am Depart from Zao hot springs by Yamako bus
11:07am Arrive at Zao Kattasancho (Zao the summit of Katta mountain. It is known as “Okama”.)
Okama is a lava lake. You cannot access this spot in winter time. There is only one restaurant there. So it is very busy in lunch time. If you have a plan to have a lunch there, please make sure your schedule.
13:00pm Depart from Zao Kattasancho by Yamako bus
14:40pm Arrive at Yamagata station
*The extra cost to get to Zao is the following:
Yamako bus from Yamagata station to Zao hot springs — 980yen one way
Yamako bus from Zao hot springs to Zao Kattasancho — 1430yen one way
Yamako bus from Zao Kattasancho to Yamagata station — 1900yen one way
Zao Ropeway to the summit — 2500yen round trip
15:43pm Depart from Yamagata station by Senzan line local train
15:59pm arrive at Yamadera station
Yamadera means the mountain temple. There are several temples. Most well-known haiku poet Basho Matsuo wrote one of his famous haiku there. You can skip here if you want to arrive at Sendai earlier.
17:59 Depart from Yamadera station by Senzan line local train
18:59 Arrive at Sendai
Overnight in Sendai
08:59am Depart from Sendai station by Senseki line local train
09:35am Arrive at Matsushima Kaigan station
*The pier is 5 minutes away from the station
10:00am Depart from Matsushima Kaigan pier by Matsuhima bay cruise
10:50am Arrive at Matsushima Kaigan pier
*The fare for Matsushima bay cruise is 1400yen per person
*You can enjoy easy hike up to Ogitani. The trail head is 10 minutes away from the station. It takes only 10 minutes hike up to the view point. Enjoy the panorama view of Matsushima.
You can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch here at Matsushima Sakana Ichiba (Matsushima fish market — Japanese website) after sightseeing at Matsushima. You may have a seafood lunch around 1000yen. Of course you can go back to Sendai.
12:34pm Depart from Matsushima Kaigan station by Senseki line local train
12:58pm Arrive at Sendai station
13:42pm Depart from Sendai station by Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko 59
14:14pm Arrive at Ichinoseki station
14:37pm Depart from Ichonoseki station by Tohoku line local train
14:45pm Arrive at Hiramizumi station
You can enjoy the newest UNESCO World Heritage site, Hiraizumi. The most famous spot in Hiraizumi is Chusonji temple. It is 25 minutes (1.6km) away from Hiraizumi station. The admission is 800yen per person. (English website)
17:39pm Depart from Hiraizumi station by Tohoku line local train
18:10pm Arrive at Kitakami station
18:33pm Depart from Kitakami station by Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko 67
18:52pm Arrive at Morioka station
Overnight in Morioka
08:59am Depart from Morioka station by Tohoku Shinkansen Hayate 11
09:33am Arrive at Hachinohe station
10:20am Depart from Hachinohe station by JR Tohoku bus Oirase 23 (JR Tohoku bus is covered by Japan Rail Pass)
12:35pm Arrive at Lake Towada
After arrival at Lake Towada, take JR Tohoku bus to Oirase rapids. Oirase rapids is located between Hachinohe and Lake Towada. But you have to get your hotel in Lake Towada and drop your luggage off because you hike at Oirase rapids.
15:00pm Depart from Lake Towada by JR Tohoku bus Mizuumi 13
15:35pm Arrive at Ishigedo bus stop
Hike from Ishigedo to Kumoi no Taki
*I choose 1 hour course (2.6km) at Oirase rapids. If you have a time and energy, you can take 9km (3 to 4 hrs) or 14km (4 to 5 hrs). In the peak periods, JR Tohoku bus have an extra bus that departs at 14:00pm. You have a time to hike in day 5 too.
*You can access Oirase rapids in winter time. But you need to prepare for the snow and cold weather. There are lots of snow in winter time.
16:57pm Depart from Kumoi no Taki bus stop by JR Tohoku bus Oirase 27.
Overnight in Lake Towada
Enjoy Lake Towada
12:10 Depart from Lake Towada by JR Tohoku bus Oirase 22
14:25 Arrive at Hachinohe station
14:55 Depart from Hachinohe station by Tohoku Shinkansen Hayate 25
15:19 Arrive at Shin-Aomori station
15:38 Depart from Shin-Amoroi station by Limited Express Super Hakucho 25
15:45 Arrive at Aomori station
Overnight in Aomori
08:21am Depart from Aomori station by Rapid train Resort Shirakami
11:25am Arrive at Juniko station
11:35am Depart from Konan bus to Oku-Juniko
11:50am Arrive at Oku-Juniko in Shirakami Sanchi
*Oku-Juniko is a part of UNESCO World Heritage site Shirakami Sanchi. Juniko means 12 lakes. But there are 33 lakes. Especially Aoike has beautiful blue water. The extra fare to Oku-Juniko is 350yen one way.
*Resort Shirakami is a seasonal train. Please check the updated schedule at Seasonal Trains Schedule.
16:25pm Depart from Oku-Juniko by Konan bus
16:40pm Arrive at Juniko station
16:57pm Depart from Juniko station by Rapid train Resort Shirakami
18:51pm Arrive at Akita station
Overnight in Akita
08:56am Depart from Akita station by Akita Shinkansen Komachi 20
09:43am Arrive at Kakunodate station
*Kakunodate is called “Small Kyoto” in Tohoku. There are lots of heritage buildings.
14:50pm Depart from Kakunodate station by Akita Shinkansen Komachi 30
18:08pm Arrive at Tokyo station
*If you want to stay in Kakunodate more, the last Komachi to Tokyo departs at 19:50 and arrive at 23:08.
Departing from Osaka
The last Hikari to Shin-Osaka depart from Tokyo at 20:03pm. You need to catch this Hikari. Otherwise take Overnight train Sunrise Seto/Izumo at Tokyo station. These trains depart from Tokyo at 22:00.
As long as you catch “Nobi Nobi seat” on Sunrise Seto or Izumo before the date change, you can continue to travel without any extra charge. (Please refer Japan Rail Pass official site, “Notes regarding use” point 6.)