Written by Patricia MacLeod-Kishi
Visit Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture's Fun Port City
Ishinomaki, a city with an interesting history and a famous retro manga museum, is making a dynamic recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.
The definitive event that marks the memories of anyone who has ever heard of Ishinomaki is, of course, the great earthquake and tsunami disaster that took place five and a half years ago.
Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture is located on the Kitakami River about 50 km north of Sendai. Naturally, because it is a fishing port, sushi and fish are specialties, as well as sasa kamaboko (fish paste shaped like a bamboo leaf – delicious as is, or grilled).
Ishinomaki is fun to visit because there are colorful human-sized manga figures on the sidewalks and Kamen Rider themes turn up anywhere and everywhere, on trains, buses, vending machines and all sorts of packaging.
Ishinomaki Community and Info Center (ICIC) - Supporting Post-earthquake Recovery
Although it is a fishing and trading port with a commercial and historical presence dating back to the feudal period under the dramatic Date Masamune (1567-1636, he of the eye patch and crescent moon), the city was not well known, even in Japan, before the terrifying earthquake and tsunami that occurred at 14:46 on March 11, 2011. The sudden catastrophic losses and devastation put the city front and center in the unfolding horror.
That day, the lives of everyone living along a 400 km stretch of the Japanese coastline were completely uprooted. The city of Ishinomaki lay closest to the earthquake’s undersea epicenter (Magnitude 9) and suffered the highest number of deaths as the tsunami flooded over the city center.
For more details on the tsunami and the ongoing reconstruction process, the Ishinomaki Community and Info Center (ICIC) is most helpful. It welcomes visitors and can provide a wealth of information and background on the city, in Japanese and English. The Director, Richard Halberstadt, from the U.K. and a long-term resident, is able to guide drop-in visitors to the center or respond to interviews from foreign-based media in English.
As a random example, I found out that the 1964 Olympic Cauldron is being kept in Ishinomaki, probably one of many efforts to keep people’s hearts up. There are publications, displays of photos and statistics, and video reportage to help visitors understand the trauma from which the city is continuing to recover.
Right across the bridge from the ICIC is the Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum displaying the works of manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori. It looks like a space ship and is called Mangattan because the manga museum is positioned on a narrow island that could possibly remind you of the shape of Manhattan! It’s fun for people of all ages and actually the design of the museum reminds one a little of the Guggenheim in NYC because the access between display areas is a helical ramp.
Ishinomori (1938-1998), born in nearby Tome City, was prolific. Apparently he holds the Guinness World record for the highest number of comics published. Cyborg 009, Go Ranger, and Robocon are some of his best known works. Apart from the museum, characters from his works are scattered along the “Manga Road,” the lockers at the station are decorated with his manga images and in general the manga theme dominates.
San Juan Bautista - The Ship That Crossed the Pacific 400 Years Ago
The Mangattan Museum and ICIC are easy to reach without a car, but if you would like to see the replica of the ship San Juan Bautista, you should know that it is docked about 8 km from the station on the other side of the river.
One of Date Masamune’s remarkable accomplishments was his organization of the building of the San Juan Bautista, a galleon that made two crossings of the Pacific to Acapulco. In 1614, it carried an embassy of about 180 people on the first part of a journey to Mexico, Spain, and on to Rome for an audience with Pope Paul V. Led by Hasekura Tsunenaga, the goal of this trip was to establish a trading relationship with Mexico for which permission from Spain was needed. Unfortunately, efforts towards trade with Mexico came to nothing because, by the time Hasekura returned three years later, Japan had hardened its isolationist "sakoku" policy. Communication with other countries was an offense punishable by death and Christianity had been banned.
Ferry rides to Islands Near Ishinomaki
Off the coast from Ishinomaki are two islands to visit. One is the “power spot” of Kinkasan (Golden Flower Mountain), reachable by ferry from Onagawa at 11:00 am on Sundays (35-minutes, 3,100 yen round trip, returning at 13:30 pm). On Saturdays there is a lunch and guided tour package at 4,600 yen (leaving Onagawa at 11:00 am, returning at 15:00 pm). Otherwise, it is possible to reach the island by chartering a rather pricey motor boat from Ayukawa (20-minutes, about 15,000 yen).
The island is largely left to nature. Deer and monkeys roam and, except for the ryokan minibus, there are no cars. There are hiking trails and lovely views of the Oshika-hanto coast and ocean to enjoy. In Heian times, gold was mined here so the Koganeyama Shrine, originally built in the 8th century, is dedicated to the gods of wealth, Ebisu and Daikoku. It is said that if you visit the shrine three years in a row you are sure to become rich! This is one of the three holiest places in Tohoku along with the Dewa Sanzan and Osorezan. The island peak is about 4 km, or a two-hour hike from the shrine.
Overnight accommodation is available in Japanese style tatami rooms at the Koganeyama Jinja Sanshuden (1 night + 2 meals 9,000 yen, reservations: phone 225-45-2301, e-mail email@example.com). (Bring your own towels and toothbrush.)
For unreserved cat lovers, the other island is Tashirojima, or “Cat Island.” (take a taxi (1000 yen) from Ishinomaki station to Ajishima Ferry Terminal, then 45-minute ferry to Nitoda 1260 yen one-way). Dogs are not allowed on Tashirojima, where the cat population far outnumbers the declining human population. The path to the Cat Shrine (Neko Jinja) is easy to follow and there is ample time to satisfy your cat curiosity in time to catch the ferry back. (Note: If you take the last ferry, there is no way to leave the island and you will have to spend the night with cats for company!) There are few amenities – only one store, and you have to carry your garbage away with you.
Ishinomaki, with comic elements as leavening, is definitely a place to visit. Part of the appeal of Kinkasan is that access is not very convenient, and that makes it perfect for a trip to a less-traveled spot!.