Similar to most large cities in Japan, Sendai was bombed during World War 2. It can be easy to miss the deep history and fascinating stories of the city without a local guide or tourism pamphlets to point it out. However, venture a bit further from Sendai Station and you'll be able to see some fine examples of historic architecture, such as the four-century-old Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, an 1874 Western style wooden military barracks converted to a museum, and "Shoukeikaku" (鍾景閣), a former Date Clan residence turned reception venue. One of the easiest neighborhoods to see older buildings, particularly "kura" warehouses or storehouses, is the neighborhood of Kawaramachi.
Literally meaning "River Town", the neighborhood of Kawaramachi has so many remaining historic buildings due to its "Goldilocks" location. Kawaramachi hugs the Hirose River at the edge of city founder Date Masamune's (1567-1636) former castle town, right across the historic (and some say haunted) Hirose Bridge. The essential Oshu Kaido highway connecting south to Edo (Tokyo) and north all the way to Aomori Prefecture ran right through the neighborhood. Thus, the area has a deep history of merchants and welcoming travelers. At the same time, Kawaramachi is just outside of the city center, so it escaped both the wartime air raid and rapid urban development. I recommend starting your warehouse walk at Kawaramachi Subway Station, just a 5-minute ride from Sendai Station and zigzag your way south in the following order, finally crossing Hirose Bridge to finish at Nagamachi-Itchome Subway Station.
Ishibashiya (石橋屋), Sendai Traditional Sweets Shop
This charming shop which opened in 1885 is actually in the adjacent neighborhood of Funacho, right along a canal historically used by indigo dyers. Step inside and be transported back to the Edo period with the traditional atmosphere layout featuring a raised seller's platform and Kyoto-style noren windows. Ishibashiya makes and sells 16 types of traditional Sendai sweets called "Sendai Dagashi", which pair particularly well with tea. The cherry blossom tree in front of the store blooms around mid-April, but unfortunately my recently visit was about 1 week too early!
From Ishibashiya, follow the canal downstream one block then turn right. You'll soon arrive at probably the most impressive building on this list:
Former Hariso Ryokan (旧針惣旅館)
This gorgeous structure is a former ryokan built in the early Meiji period and operating until the late 1980s. It is said many famous people stayed here over the years. Now it seems to be a private residence. The front gate is usually open, so you'll be able to sneak a peak at the lovely garden as well.
Kobayashi Shop (小林商店)
This warehouse was originally used by the Kobayashi family for brewing miso. The head of the family also opened the now defunct Akiu Electric Railway in the Meiji era. The red sign gives a hint to what the shop sells now: "くすり" (kusuri), medicine.
Former Maruki Shop (旧丸木商店)
Just walk another minute in the same direction and you'll find the oldest surviving warehouse in the city! The former Maruki Shoten was constructed in 1781. It has been a drug wholesaler since the Edo period. The traditional open shutter style windows made this warehouse standout, but so does the easy-to-miss demon roof decoration! View in above photo slideshow.
Former Sennando Pharmacy (旧仙南堂薬局)
From the intersection at the former Maruki Shop, go straight one block south then turn East (left) at 77 Bank to arrive at Kawaramachi Shopping Street. Small cafes and mostly mom-and-pop shops are ideal to explore at a leisurely pace. At the end of the street on the left is the Former Sennando Pharmacy. Judging by the other two pharmacies you have passed already, medicine must have been good business at the time. The building was built in 1912 during the Taisho period. It has a traditional roof and beautiful wooden sign. Now the building is used as a modern company office.
Taisho Banana House (大正バナナ屋敷)
The "best-named" warehouse of the bunch can be found between Kawaramachi Shopping Street and Hirose Bridge. While it is located on a main street, it is obscured by a tree, so actually easy to miss. The "Former Yamaguchi Shop" was a fruit shop originally operated by the Yamaguchi family. However, it's popular nickname comes from the fact it was built in 1921 during the Taisho period and sold bananas (luxury items at the time) which it ripened in its half-basement storage room. The warehouse can be rented out for private events, such as gallery showings.
From here, it is about a 6-minute walk to Nagamachi-Itchome Subway Station. Or continue your walk through the Nagamachi neighborhood. The Octopus Temple is a fun option.
*Two points to keep in mind when walking Kawaramachi:
1. Streets are narrow, so be careful when walking--especially when taking photos!
2. Most warehouses that operate as businesses are closed Sundays, so visit a different time if you want to see the interiors or interact with staff.
Still haven't got enough architecture and history on your Sendai trip? Then try visiting this downtown university campus filled with cultural properties!
From Sendai Station, it is a 5-minute subway ride or 30 minute walk to Kawaramachi Station.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region. Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles introducing the travel and culture of the region. Justin's wealth of experience and knowledge comes from studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and promoting sake overseas for the government of Fukushima. Now Justin helps with inbound tourism and regional promotion while also enjoying his role as a volunteer tour guide in Sendai, the gyutan capital of the world.