There's never been a better time to visit Japan. Plan your trip today!

A Perfectly Nice Town

I wasn’t a big anime fan in my childhood. “Pokemon” happened after I was too old for it, and my life prior to that was too…well, white to have been exposed to Japanese animation.

I mention this because as I sat inside Ishinomaki’s Ishinomori Manga Museum watching a short film created by its namesake artist, I did wonder whether a more seasoned enthusiast of the art form might’ve been familiar with his work. I was transfixed mostly on how he depicted his home city in the cartoon.

is Ishinomaki worth visiting during your Sanriku trip? Yes, though as strange as I feel saying it now, I’m not sure if it would’ve come together had I not seen it through the eyes of Shotaro Ishinomori.

Need help planning your trip to Japan? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

Why I Went to Ishinomaki—and Why I Went Back

The first time I “visited” Ishinomaki was not much of a visit at all. Rather than planning out an Ishinomaki itinerary, I simply stopped here en route to Cat Island. Back then, the port area was still quite devastated from the tsunami; it had an almost apocalyptic feel. Something about the experience planted a seed in me, however—I knew there was something to be discovered here.

I’d slotted a couple of nights here at the end of my recent Sanriku road trip, but it wasn’t until I got here that I realized what great foresight I’d had. At one of the various tsunami museums I visited, a placard explained how Ishinomaki had been a “perfectly nice town” before the wave. Although I’m not blind to what they wished to convey by stating that, I actually feel that it still describes the city perfectly. 

My Favorite Things to Do in Ishinomaki

Visit Ishinomori Manga Museum


Although I wasn’t as equipped to enjoy it as a bonafide fan of anime or manga might’ve been, I definitely still enjoyed the Ishinomori Manga Museum. The structure itself is a defining part of the Ishinomaki cityscape, to say nothing of how extensive and detail-oriented the collection inside is. Plus, as I mentioned in the intro, the film I watched here literally set the tone of my Ishinomaki trip.

Scale Hiroriyama


Another unforgettable part of my Ishinomaki trip? Following my instincts and climbing up to the stone torii that towers above the flat parts of the city. While I wish I could’ve seen the view from Hiroriyama before 2011 (and that I’d come up to see the cherry blossoms here when I visited in April 2014), it’s still extremely beautiful today.

Lean into tsunami tourism


Among the sadder places to visit in and around Ishinomaki are Okawa Elementary School, about an hour down the Kitakami River and Kadonowaki Elementary School, in town just opposite Miyagi Tsunami Memorial Museum, right beneath Hiroriyama. They’re a study in contrasts: Teachers at the former ignored advice from authorities and almost all their students died; those at the latter listened and lived to tell.

Take a day trip to cat island


Almost every Ishinomaki travel blog you find online is actually centered around visiting Tashirojima. While I find this place disappointing from a feline perspective—there just aren’t really that many cats here—I do enjoy the pristine natural environment. This was especially true the second time I visited, in June 2024, when gorgeous hollyhocks were blooming all over the island.

Or the Oshika Peninsula


I can’t lie: I would’ve enjoyed the Oshika Peninsula a lot more had its star attraction—the Oshika Whale Land museum—not been closed when I attempted to visit it within posted opening hours. Still, if you have a rental car and a few hours to kill while in Ishinomaki here, coming here (if only as a tack off to the San Juan Bautista ship) could be a worthwhile endeavor.

Where to Stay in Ishinomaki

Ishinomaki is not a popular overnight destination, to put it bluntly. Most people who do visit the city do so on a day trip from Sendai, and even if this case it’s often a procedural stop en route to Tashirojima. Unfortunately, the hotel situation here very much reflects this—while I like Ishinomaki, and may even come to love it one day, accommodation leaves a lot to be desired.

When I was browsing Ishinomaki hotels ahead of my own trip, I had two main options. One was the Hotel Route Inn, a branch of one of Japan’s most recognized hotel chains. The other way Tama Hotel, a quirky boutique property that looked lovely, but hosted too many felines for someone as allergic as I am. I also considered staying at Hotel Taikanso down the coast in Matsushima, but ultimately decided against it.


Other FAQ About Visiting Ishinomaki

What is Ishinomaki known for?

Ishinomaki is known, at least among foreigners, for being a gateway to the Tashirojima Cat Island. Japanese people associate Ishinomaki with manga and, more tragically, with the 2011 tsunami that badly impacted the city.

How many people died in Ishinomaki?

It’s estimated that a whopping 6,000 out of the overall 20,000 tsunami victims died in Ishinomaki. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Ishinomaki was one of the worst, if not the worst city affected by the wave, which radically altered its cityscape in addition to the brutal loss of life it inflicted.

How do I get to Ishinomaki?

The easiest way to reach Ishinomaki, for most travelers, is to ride the JR Senseki Line from Sendai. This train also stops in Shiogama and Matsushima, which means that you can really make a day of it, whether or not you stay the night in Ishinomaki.

The Bottom Line

Is Ishinomaki worth visiting? Yes, particularly if you can dig below the surface a bit. While I’m sad I never got to visit this city before the tsunami hit, it ended up being one of my highlights during my road trip along the Sanriku Coast. Although most travelers only stop here momentarily on their way to Cat Island, I’d suggest exploring more intently, even if you aren’t able to stay overnight—even if you can simply climb up Hiroriyama and take in the view! Want personalized help getting far off Japan’s beaten path? Hire me to plan your custom Japan itinerary!


Subscribe to email updates!


Words, images and design ©2018-2024 Robert Schrader, All rights reserved. Read Privacy Policy or view sitemap.