Day 6 of MCT (Michinoku Coastal Trail): Tagajo & Shiogama 多賀城市&塩竈市

We stayed at Dormy Inn Express Sendai Port last night, and it had amazing onsens. So, we really got re-energized. Plus, we knew today would be a relatively shorter distance walk, 15km, than in past days, so we were able to enjoy a slow morning and had a nice breakfast at the hotel.
At check out, we shipped out two new supply boxes at the hotel front desk to a hotel we already booked to stay in seven days.

It had been six days since we started hiking on the MCT. Every day, we found more advantages of going northbound, walking from the South terminus in Soma, Fukushima, to the North terminus in Hachinohe, Aomori.
One of the advantages is that so many shopping options are available along the route in this early stage of our long walk.

After walking for almost a week on mostly paved roads and on a little bit of mountain natural trails, we have figured out what we actually need and what we don’t really need to carry in our backpacks. Having our daily goal point in relatively bigger cities for the last two days allowed us to go shopping for the necessary supplies and to re-organize the contents of our backpacks.

There was a big factory outlet mall behind Dormy Inn Express Sendai Port. We dropped by the mall to visit the last Mont-bell store along the northbound route of MCT to get summer gloves and a hat strap.
I emphasize this again: up north from this Mont-bell, there is no hiking/camping gear specialty store along/near the MCT route.

We walked through a small industrial area and crossed a few busy highways and residential areas. Before we realized it, the super short Sendai City part on the MCT was already finished.
Hello, Tagajo city 多賀城市.

The MCT route kept running through a residential area, sometimes making weird detours and going in zig-zag through narrow streets and lanes between houses. As mentioned in the past posts, a lot of detours on the MCT route we followed strictly as the map showed in the last few days didn’t really make sense to us. We just could not see the reasons why the route line had to be drawn on those particular streets. But today, that has become a situation of the past.

The zig-zag route finally showed us the reasons we need to walk there.

Tagajo has a really long history of more than 1300 years. A long time ago, in my high school history textbook, I read the name of this city and its historical importance. There are a lot of historic sites scattered across the city. The zig-zag route leads the hikers to visit them.

The first historic site was two very tall pine trees on a small hill behind a temple. The hill is called “Sue no matsuyama 末の松山” and was traditionally included in many “waka 和歌: thirty-one syllable Japanese poem” to describe sea waves trying to reach them, as a metaphor for very high places or impossible things to overcome. I recalled how often I saw the name of this hill in my high school’s Japanese classics class. I could not believe I was actually watching it in person.

Meanwhile, Erik could not get why these ordinary-looking pine trees were so special until I told him the meaning. But I would not be surprised. If a foreigner knows what Sue-no-Matsuyama is, he/she is special.

Only 70 meters away from the two pine trees, a big rock lies in a tiny pond in the middle of a typical Japanese neighborhood. It was so random. But the name of the rock, Okinoishi 沖の石, immediately recalled my old memories in the Japanese classics textbook again. This rock was also often used in waka as a metaphor for something hidden/unknown/unseen because it was supposed to be always underwater.

The clearly visible Okinoishi rock that is supposed to be always underwater…

Both the Sue-no-matsuyama pine trees and the Okinoishi rock were left in the middle of a residential area, far from the Pacific Ocean. I assume the seashore line used to be more inland than this area hundreds of years ago when the waka poets in ancient Japan saw them.

The Cherry Blossom Front (桜前線) in spring 2021 seemed to catch up with us finally.
As we strolled through the city, here and there, most of the cherry trees were in one-third or half bloom with white to pink flowers. It was a really nice and warm spring day today, and the sky was much more blue and clearer than yesterday.

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

As a Dutchman, he really loves hot milk tea and always drinks many cans/bottles of it anytime he finds it in vending machines, even while walking. But vending machines past few days have failed him. Probably, Miyagi prefecture may be more coffee-drinking culture, not so much black tea, I guess.

In terms of size, Tagajo was not a really big city. However, its big and open space ratio seemed relatively high, and they were usually covered with lawns or forests. These were the historic sites of former ancient Japanese government facilities from the Nara period (approx. 1300 years ago).

The MCT route led us to walk across them and to pass by old shrines and museums. We also found some very interesting things, such as a vending machine of vegetables fresh from the field right there.

More than 90 % of the time, we walked on the asphalt paved roads. But thanks to the beautiful spring day and many interesting things to see, walking on the hard-surfaced road didn’t bother us. I, a history major in college, learned a lot of history in the city from the information boards at each site. Can I mention one more time the joy of easy access to vending machines, food stores, and bathrooms?

We really enjoyed walking through Tagajo city, much more than the past two days of walking on flat concrete roads.
There was absolutely no boredom today.

There was only a short section where the MCT route ran on the earthen/native trails through vegetable fields to get to a big pond called Kasenuma 加瀬沼, where families with kids enjoyed the view. Then, the route joined a walking path around the pond for a while that eventually took us to a shrine.

As always, we didn’t realize the path around the pond ran exactly along the city border of Tagajo. So, we unknowingly left this small but history-rich city and walked down a street in the next seaside city, Shiogama 塩竈市.

Shiogama is a port town. We walked down through a residential area towards the Shiogama bay. We planned to call it a day at the ferry port, from where we would be taking a ferry to an island the next morning.
Yes, the Michinoku Coastal Trail does involve walking on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean.

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

It was an old big shrine, Shiogama Jinja 鹽竈神社, located on the top of a forested hill.

The city’s busiest area by the bay was surrounded by small hills, which suggested the downtown must have been underwater a long, long time ago, and those small hills used to be either small islands in the ocean or coastal cliffs.

Looking through the big stone-built torii 鳥居 gate in front of the shrine hill, I was petrified.
My eyes refused to accept what I was watching in front of me.

A flight of extremely steep and long stone stairs went straight up into the air. At least, it looked like that to me.

Its shocking visual impact was big, and the psychological impact of it hit my spirit quite hard.
A group of tourists relayed on the metal handrails on both sides of the stairs and literally struggled to pull their bodies upward to the shrine’s main gate atop the hill, but we could see only a part of its roof.
Even more miserable were the people trying to walk down. They crutched the handrails tightly and took careful small steps at a time to go down.

THIS was not something I wanted to deal with at the end of a long walk when I was so off-guard.

While Erik joyously hopped up all the steps, I managed to make it up to the shrine after several minutes of serious struggles and multiple short breaks to catch my breath. But, at least there was a reward waiting for us.

The shrine buildings were absolutely gorgeous. Dozens of cherry blossom trees of various kinds bloomed all over the shrine area. The breathtaking view of the downtown area, the seaport, and small islands in the ocean beyond the beautifully designed Japanese garden was worth the final struggle.

There was a cafe by the Japanese garden where visitors were seated to enjoy tea and Japanese sweets. We would have stayed there if we had a bit more time. But we wanted to check in at the hotel early today to prepare for the complicated navigation of the island’s hiking tomorrow.

The physically demanding ascend to the Shiogama shrine, and the following walk down a side path was actually the MCT route, one of the very rare occasions the MCT route actually runs “through” historic sites or tourist attractions.
The MCT route often takes us near the tourist attractions, but never actually goes to them. It seems the MCT leaves it up to each hiker if we make a stop and take a short detour to visit touristy places or keep following only the route line without sightseeing.

The side path down from the Shiogama Shrine soon joined the car road we had walked down before we walked up the long flight of stairs. Hikers could easily skip visiting the shrine by walking straight on the car road, especially when they are running out of energy or time. But let me repeat again: the beautiful Shiogama shrine and the view from there are really worth the sweat.

By 4 p.m., we arrived at the hotel for the night.
After checking in and leaving our backpacks in our room, we went out again to the ferry port, Marin Gate Shiogama マリンゲート塩釜, to study inside the building and how to buy ferry tickets.

Tomorrow, we would hike through three islands in the Pacific Ocean and then go to the fourth and biggest island. The last one is only one short bridge apart from the mainland, so I didn’t notice it was indeed an island until I looked at the map book closely.

We found out that ferry tickets can be quickly purchased with ticketing machines anytime before boarding the ferry. No reservation is needed.

For the one-way ticket to Katsurashima, push the top right button

On the way back, we dropped by a small shopping mall located between the ferry port and our hotel and had dinner at Saizeriya. There was a convenience store and a drugstore near our hotel, too, so we became well-prepared for tomorrow.

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

It was a very enjoyable hike today, and I could walk so comfortably all the time. My feet didn’t ache.

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

Day 6

StartSendai portFinish Marin Gate Shiogama
Distance 13.8kmTime 5h 18m
Elevation Gain/Loss141m/139mHighest/Lowest Altitude   57m / 2m


Grand Palace Shiogama グランドパレス塩釜

Official Website
MCT References


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