Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Thru-Hike – Day 6 : Historic city, Tagajo and Shiogama shrine

Our lodge for last night, Dormy Inn Express Sendai port, had amazing onsens so we really got re-energized. Plus, we knew today would be relatively shorter distance walk (15km) than past days, so we were able to enjoy a slow morning and had nice breakfast at the hotel.
At checking out, we gave the two new supply-boxes to the front desk staffs for sending them out. Next destination for the boxes will be the hotel we already booked to stay in seven days from this morning.

It’s been six days since we started hiking on MCT and we’ve found more and more advantages of taking the northbound route, which is, walking from the South trailhead in Fukushima to the North trailhead in Aomori.
One of the advantage is, so many shops are available along the route during this early stage of our long walk.

After walking almost a week including a lot of paved road and a little bit of mountain natural trails, we have learned what we actually need and what we don’t really need to carry. Having set our daily goal point in relatively bigger cities for the last two days, we were able to go shopping to get necessary supplies and to re-organize our gears to carry in our backpacks.

There was a big factory outlet behind the hotel. We dropped by the mall to visit the last Mont-bell shop along the northbound route of MCT for getting summer gloves and a hat strap. I emphasize again, up north from here, there is no decent outdoor gear shops along the route.


We walked through a small factory/warehouse area, passed some busy driveways, and a few residential areas. Then we realized our super short time in walking in Sendai city was already gone a while ago. Now, hello Tagajo city (多賀城市.)

The MCT route was running through a residential area, sometimes making weird detours and going in zig zag through narrow paths between houses. As I mentioned in the past posts, a lot of those detours on the route we had to follow in the last few days didn’t really made sense. We just could not find the reason why the route had to go through those particular streets…until today.

But today’s zig zag route was totally different.

Tagajo has a really long history of more than 1300 years. Long time ago, I read the name of this city and its historical importance in my high school history textbook.
That means this city has a lot of historic sites. The zig-zag route connects them for hikers to visit and see them.

First historic site was two very tall pine trees standing high on a small hilltop behind a temple. This small hill is called as “Sue no matsuyama (末の松山)” and was historically used in making waka (和歌 : thirty-one syllable Japanese poem) as a metaphor of a very high place and impossible things when it is used with “sea waves trying to reach them.” Thanks to classic Japanese class in high school, I know how interesting to see them in my own eye.
But of course, Erik would not know why these pine trees are special until I told him the story behind.

Only 70 meters away from the two pine trees, there was a tiny pond with a big rock laying in the water. It was in the middle of ordinary houses and looked so random. When I saw the names of the rock in the pond (Okinoishi 沖の石), I remembered the classic Japanese textbook again.
This rock was also used in waka as a metaphor of something hidden/unknown/unseen, because this rock was supposed to be always under sea water.

Today, both the pine trees and the rock in the pond were sitting in the middle of residential area, so far away from the ocean. I assume this area used to be rocky cliff by the ocean when people in ancient Japan saw them.

Cherry Blossom Front (桜前線) for this spring seemed to finally catch up with us.
As we were strolling through the city, here and there, we saw most of cherry trees were in one third or half bloom with white to pink flowers. It was really nice and warm today and the sky was much more blue and clearer than yesterday.

Unlike past two days, we didn’t have to worry if we could easily get drinks while along the way, because vending machines were everywhere at the corners. Well, the only tiny problem was Erik had been had such a hard time to find his favorite brand’s canned hot milk tea at any vending machines in southern Miyagi area.

As a Dutch man, he really loves hot milk tea and always drink many cans/bottles of them anytime he could even while walking. But, vending machines around here kept giving him disappointments lately. Probably, Miyagi prefecture may be more coffee drinking culture, not black tea drinkers so much, I guess.

Tagajo is not a really big city size-wise. But, relative to its small area, the city has several big open places, usually covered with lawn or forests. They were the historic sites of the ancient Japanese government facilities from Nara period (1300 years ago).
Following the lead of MCT route, we walked across those historic sites, passed by old shrines and museums, and found some very interesting things, such as a vending machine of vegetables freshly grown in the field right there.

More than 90 % of the time, we were still walking on the asphalt paved roads. But thanks to the good weather, many interesting things to see and learning a lot of history around here by reading the information boards at each site, we really enjoyed walking today, much much much more than past two days of walking on flat concrete roads.

Easy access to vending machines, food stores, and bathrooms.

Absolutely, no boredom today.

There was only short section the route became natural trails.

It went through vegetable farms to get to a big pond (Kasenuma 加瀬沼), where some kids and families were enjoying the view. The MCT route merged into the walking path around the pond for a while and eventually took us to a shrine.

As always we didn’t know the path around the pond was running exactly on the city border of Tagajo, so we unknowingly said good-bye to this nice little city with rich history and walking down the street of next seaside city, Shiogama (塩竈市).

Shiogama city is a port town. We were walking down through residential neighborhoods to the direction of Shiogama bay. Our goal for today was going to be a ferry port, from where we will be taking a ferry to some islands tomorrow morning. Yes, Michinoku Coastal Trail route does include walking through some islands in the ocean.

Nearly the end of today’s hike, just before reaching the ferry port, we arrived at one more tourist attraction for the day to visit.

It was a big historic shrine on top of a forest hill, Shiogama Jinja (鹽竈神社).

Looking around, the busiest area of this city by the bay was surrounded by small hills. Apparently, this lower part must have been under the water millions years ago and those small hills use to be small islands in the sea or coastal cliffs.

Looking through the big rock torii (鳥居) gate of the shrine, I was frozen.
I was, like, petrified by what I was seeing in front of me.

Super steep long long stone stairs going straight up to the air.

The visual impact was shocking and the psychological impact I got was even bigger.

I saw some shrine visitors were relying the metal handrails and literally pulling their bodies up, slowly moving up towards the shrine gate whose roof parts were only visible atop. Even poorer was the people who was trying to walk down the steps. They were tightly crutching the handrails and very carefully taking one small step down at a time.

THIS is definitely not something you want to deal with at the end of long walk. Especially when you were seeing the goal and so off-guard.

While Erik almost joyously hopped up all the steps, I managed to make it up to the shrine building after several minutes of serious struggles.

At least there was a reward waiting for us.

The shrines buildings were absolutely stunning. Dozens of various kinds of cherry blossom trees stood all over the shrine area. Finally, the view of the downtown and the sea port over the beautifully designed Japanese garden was just great.

There was a cafe by the Japanese garden where visitors can have seat and enjoy teas and Japanese sweets. We would have stayed there if we had a bit more time. But we wanted to get to the hotel early today to prepare for tomorrow’s island hiking.

Going up to this shrine and walking down from is a part of the MCT route. Turned out, it was a very rare time MCT route actually going through the shrine or other historic sites.
In many cases, MCT route goes near the tourism destinations but not actually going inside to take hikers in. It seems its all up to each hikers if they actually step out of the route a bit to visit the touristy places or keep walking without sightseeing.

Since the driveway we walked down before reaching the shrine’s long stone stairs keeps going straight and soon re-joins the MCT route down from the shrine hill, the idea of skipping the going up and down might be tempting. But I want to say this shrine and the views from there are really worth visiting.

We arrived at the hotel for tonight before 4pm.
After checking in and leaving our backpacks in the room, we went to the ferry port, Marin Gate Shiogama (マリンゲート塩釜) to see how it was like and to make sure we know how to buy tickets.

Tomorrow, we were walking three islands and then going to the fourth biggest island which is so close to the mainland that it looks just a peninsula.
Tickets can be purchased with ticketing machines before boarding the ferry without reservation.

To Katsurashima/one way/adult, push the top left of the 10 buttons

There was a small shopping mall between the ferry port and our hotel, so we dropped by and had dinner at Saizeriya. A convenience store and a drugstore were also nearby so we were well-prepared for tomorrow.

The hotel looked a bit old from outside but our room was apparently renovated quite recently.
When we stayed there they didn’t have coin laundry, but we didn’t really have to wash anything today.
(Update: the hotel has installed coin laundry shortly after we stayed! Yay! )

It was very enjoyable day and we walked so comfortably all the time.
My feet didn’t hurt today.

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021

Day 6

START : Sendai Port

GOAL : Marin Gate Shiogama

  • Distance walked 16km
  • Total elevation gain / loss 270m / 269m
  • Time 5h 17m
  • Highest / lowest altitude 61.2.m / 2.2m
USEFUL INFORMATION

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