The term monzenmachi literally means “gate-front-town,” referring to settlements that sprung up around important shrines or temples. The Monzenmachi area of Shiogama sits at the foot of Shiogama Jinja Shrine and Shiwahiko Jinja Shrine, and still retains many reminders of its heyday.
Walking around the area, visitors will come across businesses that have been serving customers for centuries. Urakasumi Brewery, has been producing sake since 1724, the soy sauce and miso producer Ota Yohachiro Shoten has been in business since 1845, and Tanrokuen, which started life in 1720 as a marine supplier, has now evolved into a tea and sweets shop.
As an important port for the former Sendai domain, the streets of the Monzenmachi area were once lined with restaurants, shops, and ryokan inns catering to visitors. One remaining example is the carefully preserved Ebiya Ryokan, just across the road from Okama Jinja Shrine. Although the inn had been welcoming visitors since the Edo period (1603-1867), the current structure is more recent, having been constructed around 140 years ago during the Meiji period (1868-1912) after a fire destroyed the original. The upstairs is only open to the public on weekends, but the downstairs café regularly serves drinks and sweets.
Monzenmachi continues to evolve, as new businesses join beloved shops with centuries of history. Along the flagged pavement, small sweets shops, cafés, sake and kamaboko (cured surimi) stores welcome visitors, tempting passers by with some of the flavours of Shiogama.
Some of the spots foodies should absolutely stop by are:
- Urakasumi Brewery: housed in a large, white-walled building, the entrance is framed with part of a temple gate. Urakasumi makes elegant, light sake, of which they produce around 40 different varieties. A tasting set of three sake varieties is available for 300 yen (for visitors 20 years old and above) in a small gallery attached to the brewery.
- Yabe-en Tea Store: located closer to the station, this 80-year old business is like a tea wonderland. Be sure to buy one of the little bottles of "instant tea." The flavors are so fresh, and the decor of the shop so detailed and charming that it will win over even inveterate coffee lovers.
- Cleauventerre: this little chocolate shop, just a short walk from Okama Jinja, is most famous for its moshio chocolates, flavoured with a touch of handmade salt created by heating seawater and filtering it through seaweed. Incredibly decadent, without being overly sweet, you will want to sit down to savour these little bites of joy.
- Fruits Laboratory Gelateria: easily recognizable by its bright yellow door, this cute gelato shop is run by a family of fruit sellers (whose shop is just a minute or two away). The seasonal flavours burst on the tongue, and the true flavour of the fruit comes through with each spoonful.