Sendai, Miyagi

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See Satsumasendai, Kagoshima for the former city of Sendai, Kagoshima.

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Downtown Sendai from Sendai Castle's reconstructed guardhouse

Sendai (仙台市; -shi) is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, and the largest city in the Tohoku (northeast) region. The city has a population of 1 million and is one of Japan's 14 designated cities. The city was founded in 1600 by the daimyo Date Masamune, and is well known by its nickname, the "City of Trees" (杜の都; Mori no Miyako).



Although the Sendai area was inhabited as early as 20,000 years ago, the history of Sendai as a city begins from 1600, when the daimyo Date Masamune relocated to Sendai.

Masamune was not happy with his previous stronghold, Iwadeyama. Iwadeyama was located to the north of his territories and was also difficult to access from Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Sendai was an ideal location, placed in the center of Masamune's newly defined territories, upon a major road from Edo, and near the sea. Tokugawa Ieyasu gave Masamune permission to build a new castle in Aobayama, Sendai after the Battle of Sekigahara. Aobayama was the location of a castle used by the previous ruler of the Sendai area. At this time, Sendai was written as 千代 (literally means "a thousand generations"), because a temple with a thousand buddha statues (千体 sentai) used to be located in Aobayama. Masamune changed the kanji to 仙台 (literally means "hermit on a platform"). The kanji was taken from a Chinese poem that praised a palace created by the Emperor Wen of Han China, comparing it to a mythical palace in the Kunlun Mountains. It is said that Masamune chose this kanji so the castle would prosper as long as a mountain inhabited by an immortal hermit. Masamune ordered the construction of Sendai Castle in December 1600 and the construction of the town of Sendai in 1601. The gridlocked roads in present-day central Sendai are based upon his plans.

Sendai was incorporated as a city on April 1, 1889, as a result of the abolition of the Han system. At the time of incorporation, the city's area was 17.45 km² and its population was 86,000. However, the city grew through seven annexations that occurred from 1928 to 1988. The City became a designated city on April 1, 1989. The city's population exceeded one million in 1999.

Sendai became known as The City of Trees (杜の都 Mori no Miyako) at least before World War II. This was because the Sendai han encouraged residents to plant trees in their yards. As a result, many houses, temples, and shrines in central Sendai had household forests (屋敷林 yashikirin), which were used as resources for wood and other everyday materials. Air raids during World War II destroyed much of the greenery, and more was lost during the post-war rehabilitation and growth. Sendai is still well known as The City of Trees, but this is mainly because of massive efforts to restore greenery in the city.


Sendai is located at lat. 38°16'05" north, long. 140°52'11" west. The city's area is 788.09 km², and stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Ou Mountains, which are the east and west borders of Miyagi Prefecture. As a result, the city's geography is quite diverse. Plains are found in the east, hilly areas are found in the center, and the west of the city is mountainous. The highest point in the city is Mt. Funagata which stands 1,500 m over sea level.

The Hirose-gawa River flows 45 km through Sendai. The river is well-known as a symbol of Sendai, especially because it appears in the lyrics of Aobajō Koiuta (青葉城恋唄; literally, The Aoba Castle Love Song), a popular song sung by Sato Muneyuki. Sendai castle was built close to the river, intending to use it as a natural moat. The river frequently flooded until the 1950s, but dams and levees constructed in the 1960s and 1970s have made such floods rare. The river is now known for its exceptionally clean water and natural beauty, and was selected by Japan's Environment Agency as one of Japan's 100 Great Waters.

The mountains found in Sendai are dormant volcanoes, much older than the more famous Zao and Narugo volcanoes found in nearby municipalities. However, many hot springs can be found in the city, indicating active hydrothermal activity. The Miyagi Oki earthquake occurs offshore Sendai once every 25 to 40 years. The last Miyagi Oki earthquake occurred in 1978.


Sendai is situated in a temperate climate zone and has a moderate climate. The average year has 16.8 days with a high temperature over 30°C and only 2.2 days with a high temperature below 0°C, which is smaller compared to other major Japanese cities. The city is rarely hit by typhoons, and experiences only 6 days with more than 10 cm of snowfall in the average year. Sendai's rainy season usually begins in late June to early July, which is later than most cities in Japan.


As of 2003, the city has an estimated population of 1,020,676 and a density of 1,302.65 persons per km². The city's total area is 788.09 km². Most people in the city live in urban areas close to train and subway stations. The 2000 National Census revealed that 88.5% of the city's population (892,252 people) live in an 129.69 km² area, which is 16.6% of the city's total area. The population density in this area is 6,879.9 persons per km², which is more than 5 times higher than the city's population density at that time, 1,286.6 persons per km². Approximately 10,000 people in Sendai are non-Japanese citizens.

Sendai has 440,759 households as of 2004. The average household has approximately 2.33 members. The average houshold is becoming smaller every year, because single-member households are increasing. Sendai has many people in their early 50s and in their 20s and early 30s compared to other age groups. This is a result of the first and second baby boom in Japan, and the presence of many young students that study in Sendai. The average age in Sendai is 38.4, which makes the city one of the youngest major cities in Japan.


Sendai has 5 wards ("ku") since it became a designated city in 1989. The city consciously avoided names that included directions (e.g., north 北, center 中央) when it chose names for the new wards.


Sendai's political system is similar to other cities in Japan, because the Local Autonomy Law makes all municipalities uniform in terms of organization and power. However, Sendai is a designated city, so it has the same jurisdiction as a prefectures in some areas.

Sendai's local government is essentially a mayor-council government with a strong mayor system. The mayor is elected from a citywide election. Sendai City Assembly members are elected from 5 elective districts, which correspond to the city's 5 wards. The number of assembly members allocated to each ward is based upon population. As of May 2005, the city has 60 assembly members; 17 from Aoba Ward, 11 from Miyagino, 8 from Wakabayashi, 13 from Taihaku, and 11 from Izumi. The City Assembly elects a Assembly Chairperson and Vice Chairperson. Sendai has two vice mayors, which are not elected by the populace.

Sendai is known to be a relatively liberal area, which tends to favor the Democratic Party in national elections.


Sendai is the center of the Tohoku region's economy, and is the base of the region's logistics and transportation. The city's economy heavily relies upon retail and services - the two industries provide approximately two thirds of the employment and close to half of the establishments.

Sendai is frequently called a branch office economy, because very few major companies are headquartered in the city. Various authorities are cooperating to alleviate this problem, primarily by encouraging high-tech ventures from Tohoku University, which is well-known for its science and engineering departments. Several high-profile projects, such as the Sendai-Finland Wellbeing Center, have emerged from these attempts, but tangible results in the city's economy and employment are yet to be seen.


JR Sendai Station is the center of transportation in the city. The station is served by 8 JR lines and is a major station for the Tohoku and Akita Shinkansen lines. An underground passage connects the station to the Subway Sendai Station.

Sendai has a North-South subway line, one of the most expensive in Japan with a basic fare starting at 200 yen. The city is starting the construction of an East-West line, scheduled for completion in 2014. The East-West line has been criticized for being excessively costly, based upon extremely optimistic estimates, and hostile to the natural environment. Proponents maintain that the new subway line is necessary to prevent urban sprawl, will decrease the city's environmental load by encouraging use of public transportation, and is based upon adequate estimates. The Sendai Shimin Ombudsman has filed a suit against the Mayor of Sendai to prevent construction fees from becoming approved. The suit is pending at the Sendai district courts.

The city is served by Sendai Airport, which has international flights to several countries, and Sendai Port. Contrary to the name, Sendai International Airport is actually in neighboring Natori City, south of the city. Authorities in Sendai and Natori are planning to construct a railway that connects Sendai station and the airport.

The Sendai is surrounded by a network of highways. The Tohoku Expressway runs north-south through western Sendai, and is interconnected to other highways, such as the Sendai Nanbu Road, Sendai Tobu Road, Sanriku Expressway (Sendai-Matsushima Road), and Sendai Hokubu Road.



The most famous festival in Sendai is the Sendai Tanabata Festival, which attracts more than 2 million visitors every year and is the largest Tanabata Festival in Japan. The festival is relatively quiet compared to other traditional Japanese festivals, because its main attractions are the intricate Tanabata decorations. The Aoba Matsuri Festival follows more typical Japanese festival traditions, with a mikoshi, floats, a samurai parade, and traditional dancing. Local people burn their New Year decorations and pray for health in the new year during the Dontosai Festival, the oldest festival in Miyagi Prefecture.

Various contemporary festivals also take place in Sendai, such as the Johzenji Streetjazz Festival, the Michinoku Yosakoi Festival, and the Sendai Pageant of Starlights. The Johzenji Streetjazz Festival is one of the largest amateur music festivals in Japan, with more than 500 groups participating in recent years. It began as a jazz festival in 1991, but soon began to accept applications from all genres. The festival is called a "Streetjazz" festival to indicate this fact. The Michinoku Yosakoi festival is a dance festival, derived from the Yosakoi Festival that takes place in Kochi. Trees in downtown Sendai are decorated with lights during the Sendai Pageant of Starlights. The event provided the idea for the Festival of Lights annually held in Riverside, Sendai's sister city. The festival has been criticized from environmentalists for its liberal use of electricity and the damage it causes to trees.


Although the Lotte Orions briefly used Sendai as a temporary franchise from 1973 to 1977, the city was largely ignored by professional sports until 1994. In this year, the Tohoku Electric Power soccer team was changed into a club team, Brummel Sendai, with the goal of eventually promoting the team into the J League. The team achieved this goal when the J. League expanded in 1999 with the creation of a second division. The name of the team was simultaneously changed to Vegalta Sendai. Although the team has not been performing well in recent years, it is known for being exceptionally well supported by its fans.

In 2005, the number of professional sports teams based in Sendai suddenly increased to three. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles was introduced as a new Pacific League baseball franchise after widely publicized turmoil involving the merger of the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix Blue Wave developed into the first strike in Japanese professional baseball. Additionally, the Basketball Japan League, which will begin games in November 2005, will include the Sendai 89ers among its first six teams. The 89ers are still relatively unknown, even to natives of Sendai.

Annual sporting events include the Sendai Cup, an international soccer tournament for U-18 teams, and the Sendai International Half Marathon. Various sporting venues can be found in Sendai, such as Sendai Stadium, Fullcast Stadium Miyagi, Sendai City Gymnasium, Izumigatake Ski Resort, Izumi Kogen Spring Valley Ski Resort, Sendai Highland, and Shellcom Sendai. The city is also known as the origin of figure skating in Japan. Tohoku Fukushi University and Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School are well known for strong sports programs.


The Sendai City Museum displays various artifacts related to the Date family and the history of Sendai. Date Masamune's famous suit of armor and artifacts related to Hasekura Tsunenaga's visit to Rome are sometimes on display. The Miyagi Museum of Art is Sendai's largest art museum. The Tohoku University Museum of Natural History is the city's primary science museum, while the Sendai Children's Space Museum and the Sendai Science Museum mainly target children. Sendai is also home to various museums that deal with more specific topics, such as the Sendai Literature Museum, the Serizawa Keisuke Art Museum, and the Sendai Streetcar Museum.

Historical Sites

Sendai is home to various historical sites related to the Date family. The ruins of Sendai Castle are located close to downtown in Mt. Aoba, which also gives a panoramic view of the city. The Zuihoden Mausoleum is the grave of Date Masamune, and also is home to artifacts related to the Date Family. It is located on a hill called Kyogamine, which is the traditional resting place for members of the Date family. The Ōsaki Hachiman Shrine, built in 1607 by Date Masamune, is designated as a national treasure.

Newer historical sites include the former home of Doi Bansui, a famous lyricist, and a monument at Sendai City Museum that commemorates the Chinese writer Lu Xun. Another statue of Lu Xun can be found in the Tohoku University Katahira Campus, where Lu Xun studied medical science. Older historical sites include the Tōmizuka Tomb, a historical tomb that dates back to the late 4th century or early 5th century, and the Tomizawa Site Museum, which is built directly above a 20,000-year-old stone age excavation site.

Natural Sites

Western Sendai is home to many sites of natural beauty, much of them found around Akiu and Sakunami, which are both hot spring resorts. Sites around the Akiu area include the Akiu Otaki Falls, sometimes counted as one of Japan's three great waterfalls, and the Rairai Gorge, known for its autumn colors. The Futakuchi Gorge contains several waterfalls that have been designated as natural monuments and the Banji Cliffs, an example of columnar basalt.

The Sakunami area is also known for its natural beauty, with cherry blossoms in the spring, and beautiful colors in the autumn. The nearby Homei Shijuhachi Taki Falls is the name of various waterfalls found in the higher reaches of the Hirosegawa River. The origins of the name "Homei" (鳳鳴; literally, Chinese phoenix cry) is said to be because ancient people said the sound of the waterfalls were similar to the legendary bird's call.

Many places close to downtown Sendai are full of nature. The Tatsunokuchi Gorge offers a breathtaking view, petrified wood can be found next to the nearby Otamaya-bashi bridge, and many locals enjoy cherry blossoms at Nishi park and Tsutsujigaoka park. The Hirose-gawa River and the Gamo Tideland are both home to diverse wildlife. Sendai City Hall has created a list of 100 places in the city with beautiful greenery and nature (in Japanese) [1] (

Specialties and Crafts

Sendai is the origin of several foods, including gyutan (牛タン, cow tongue, usually grilled), hiyashi chuka (cold chinese noodles), and robatayaki (Japanese-style barbecue). However, robatayaki was later introduced to Kushiro, which developed and popularized the dish. As a result, many people believe Kushiro is the origin of Robatayaki. Zundamochi (ずんだ餅, mochi balls with sweet, bright green edamame paste), and sasakamaboko (笹かまぼこ, kamaboko shaped like bamboo leaves) are also considered to be Sendai specialties. Sendai is also known for good sashimi, sushi, and sake. This is because Sendai is near to several major fishing ports, such as Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, and Shiogama, and the fact that Miyagi Prefecture is a major producer of rice. Although Sendai is often said to be the origin of conveyor belt sushi, it was actually created in Osaka. However, the first conveyor belt sushi store in eastern Japan opened in Sendai.

Many crafts from Sendai were originally created under the influence of the Date family during the Edo period. Examples are Sendai Hira, a hand woven silk fabric, Tsutsumiyaki pottery, and Yanagiu Washi paper. However, some crafts, such as umoregi zaiku (crafts created from fossil wood) were developed by low-ranking Samurai who needed side jobs to survive. Kokeshi dolls were popularized by hot spring resorts that sold them as gifts. Some relatively recent developments include Sendai Tsuishu lacquerware and Tamamushinuri lacquerware, both which were developed after the Meiji Restoration.

Other Sites of Interest

Sendai Mediatheque is a multipurpose facility that houses the city library, galleries, and film studio facilities open for use by the general public. The building was designed by Toyo Ito and is known for its innovative architecture. The AER Building, the Miyagi Prefectural Office, and the SS30 Building are all relatively high buildings in downtown Sendai that offer panoramic views. The Sendai Daikannnon is an approximately 100 meter high buddha statue. The statue was built during Japan's bubble economy by a now defunct company and is disliked by many locals, partially because it looks rather out of place in the middle of a residential district, and partially because most people see the statue as a symbol of greed, not faith.


Sendai is sometime called an "Academic City" (学都; gakuto) because the city has many universities compared to its population. Tohoku University is the center of the city's higher education. The university is one of the seven Japanese imperial universities and was ranked as the best Asian multi-disciplinary university in a 1999 Asiaweek survey.

Domestic Sister Cities

International Sister and Friendship cities

Sendai has a long history of international sister city relationships. Its affiliation with Riverside on March 9, 1957 is the second oldest sister city relationship between Japanese and American cities, second only to Nagasaki and Saint Paul. Relationships with Changchun and Dallas are called friendship cities, but do not differ from sister city relationships.


  • Sendai City Information Planning Section (Ed.). (2004). Sendai Movement 2004. Sendai City.
  • Sendai City City Planning Section (Ed.). (2003). Sendai City Planning 2002. Sendai City City Planning Section.
  • Sendai City Economic Affairs Bureau (Ed.). (2005). Sendai - An Attractive City for Business. Sendai City Economic Affairs Bureau.
  • Sendai City (Ed.). (2002). Guide to Travel to and from Sendai - "How to Get There". Sendai City.
  • Sendai City Policy Planning Section (Ed.). (2005). Data Sendai. Sendai City.
  • Sendai City Policy Planning Section (Ed.). (2005). Impression Sendai. Sendai City.

External links

Template:Miyagide:Sendai eo:Sendai ja:仙台市 pt:Sendai sv:Sendai zh:仙台市


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