The Shimokita Peninsula is a little known gem,
affectionately referred to by locals as "the hatchet" due
to its unique geographic shape. Boasting beautiful cliffs,
forested mountain areas, tiny fishing villages, and wind-
swept beaches, this area is a magical travel destination
that is a bit off the beaten path. The peninsula, called
Shimokita-hanto, is located on the northeastern-most
tip of Honshu, the main island of Japan. It is separated
from the northern island of Hokkaido by the Tsugaru
Strait. Its hatchet shape curves to form a natural bay,
which is called Mutsu-wan, or Mutsu Bay. While the bay
is popular for kayakers and ferry tours, its main purpose
is fishing. Small fishing boats can be seen dotting the
bay at all times of day, and coveted glass fishing balls
can often be found by taking a stroll along the rocky
The western side of the peninsula overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and since the roads hug the sides of the cliffs, something as simple as driving will give travelers spectacular views. There are numerous sites to take in while visiting the Shimokita Peninsula! Toward the south end of the “handle” of Shimokita-hanto is the small village of Rokkasho, which is known for its annual late-spring salmon festival. To the northwest is Yokohama-machi, a town overlooking Mutsu Bay. Yokohama is known for its vibrant yellow fields of nanohana, also known as rapeseed or canola, which typically bloom in the late spring. The town also boasts small shrines, natural hot springs, and a plethora of cultural festivals!
Traveling west along the “blade” of the hatchet-shaped peninsula will take explorers to Mutsu-shi, or Mutsu City, Shimokita’s largest urban area. Similar to Tohoku’s other large cities, Mutsu-shi creates and displays Nebuta floats for annual festivals and celebrations. The city also boasts museums, distilleries, and popular restaurants. Mutsu-shi’s dining choices often feature the fish of the region, caught and served fresh.
Not far from Mutsu-shi is one of Shimokita’s popular tourist destinations: the Bodai-ji temple at Osorezan. The valley is considered one of Japan’s most sacred places, and the peaks of Mt. Osore offer beautiful views of the peninsula. The temple is home to Buddhist monks, and is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists across the country. Bodai-ji is located adjacent to Lake Usori, a caldera lake situated near the center of the mountain range. Long, winding roads will take travelers up to the range’s eight famous peaks. The most popular of these, Kamafuseyama, has an observatory offering panoramic views of the peninsula, Mutsu Bay, Tsugaru Straights, and other surrounding areas. The low-hanging clouds provide mists that are almost other-worldly, but on those rare cloudless days, observatory visitors can often see as far as Hokkaido!
The “tip” of the peninsula is an adventurer’s paradise, with dramatic cliffs and coastlines bearing large rock formations. Visitors can take a ferry near the village of Sai to see the Hotokegaura, large volcanic rock formations; or climb to the top of Gankake-iwa, the “wishing rock,” for breathtaking views of Mutsu Bay. The northern edge of the peninsula boasts many places of interest as well, including Yagen Onsen, one of Japan’s many natural hot springs; and Shiriyazaki, home to Shimokita's lighthouse and the famous Kandachime wild horses. A visit to this tucked-away peninsula will be one remembered for years to come!