The city was founded in 1600 by the daimyō Date Masamune, and is nicknamed the City of Trees ; there are about 60 zelkova trees on Jōzenji Street and Aoba Street.
In the summer, the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the largest Tanabata festival in Japan, is held. In winter, the trees are decorated with thousands of lights for the Pageant of Starlight, lasting through most of December.
On March 11, 2011, coastal areas of the city suffered catastrophic damage from a magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake, which triggered a destructive tsunami.
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 daimyō Date Masamune relocated to Sendai. Masamune was not happy with his previous stronghold, Iwadeyama, which was located in the northern portion of his territories and was difficult to access from Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Sendai was an ideal location, being in the centre 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 after the Battle of Sekigahara. The previous ruler of the Sendai area had used a castle located on Aobayama. At this time Sendai was written as 千代 ("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 仙臺, which later became 仙台 (literally: "hermit/wizard" plus "platform/plateau" or more figuratively, "hermit on a platform/high ground"). The kanji came from a Chinese poem that praised a palace created by the Emperor Wen of Han China (reigned 180–157 BCE), comparing it to a mythical palace in the Kunlun Mountains. Tradition says that Masamune chose this kanji so that 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 surrounding castle town in 1601. The grid plan roads in present-day central Sendai are based upon his plans.
The first railway line between Sendai and Tokyo, now the Tōhoku Main Line, opened in 1887, bringing the area within a day's travel from Tokyo for the first time in history. Tohoku Imperial University, the region's first university, was founded in Sendai in 1907 and became the first Japanese university to admit female students in 1913.
Sendai was incorporated as a city on 1 April 1889, with the post-Meiji restoration creation of the modern municipalities system following the abolition of the han system. At the time of incorporation the city's area was 17.45 square kilometres (6.74 sq mi) and its population was 86,000. The city grew, however, through seven annexations that occurred between 1928 and 1988. The city became a designated city on 1 April 1989; the city's population exceeded one million in 1999.
Sendai was considered to be one of Japan's greenest cities, mostly because of its great numbers of trees and plants. Sendai became known as The City of Trees before the Meiji Restoration, the feudal Sendai Domain encouraged residents to plant trees in their gardens. 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.
In 1925, the Senseki Line to Sendai Station became the first underground railway segment in Japan, preceding the opening of the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line (Asia's first subway line) by two years.
The 2nd Infantry Division was known as the "Sendai Division" as it was based in Sendai, and recruited locally. During the Second World War it was involved in many different campaigns, but one of the most important was the Battle of Guadalcanal. During the bombing of Sendai during World War II by the United States on 10 July 1945, much of the historic center of the city was burned, with 2,755 inhabitants killed and 11,933 houses destroyed in the city.
Following World War II, the city was rebuilt, and Sendai became a vital transportation and logistics hub for the Tōhoku region with the construction of major arteries such as the Tōhoku Expressway and Tōhoku Shinkansen.
Sendai has been subject to several major earthquakes in recent history, including the 1978 Miyagi earthquake, which was a catalyst for the development of Japan's current earthquake resistance standards, and the 2005 Miyagi earthquake. Most recently, the coastal area of Sendai, including Sendai Airport, was severely damaged in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The tsunami reportedly reached as far as Wakabayashi Ward Office, 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) from the coastline. Hundreds were killed, and countless more were injured and/or made homeless. Sendai's port was heavily damaged and temporarily closed, but reopened on 16 April 2011.
Sendai is located at lat. 38°16'05" north, long. 140°52'11" east. The city's area is 788.09 km², and stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Ōu Mountains, which are the east and west borders of Miyagi Prefecture. As a result, the city's geography is quite diverse. Eastern Sendai is a plains area, the center of the city is hilly, and western areas are mountainous. The highest point in the city is Mount Funagata which stands 1,500 metres (4,921 feet) above sea level.
The Hirose River (広瀬川, Hirose-gawa) flows 45 kilometres (28 miles) through Sendai. The river is well known as a symbol of Sendai, especially because it appears in the lyrics of Aoba-jō Koi-uta (青葉城恋唄; literally, The Aoba Castle Love Song), a popular song sung by Muneyuki Satō. Sendai Castle was built close to the river to use the river 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.
Most mountains in Sendai are dormant volcanoes, much older than the more famous Mount Zaō and Naruko volcanoes in nearby municipalities. However, many hot springs can be found in the city, indicating hydrothermal activity. The Miyagi Oki earthquake occurs offshore Sendai once every 25 to 40 years. The 7.2 magnitude 2005 Miyagi earthquake, which occurred on August 16, 2005 had an epicenter close to the Miyagi Oki earthquake area. However, the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion concluded that it was not the Miyagi Oki earthquake, saying "...the recent event is not thought to be this earthquake. This is because the magnitude of the earthquake was small, and the source area, which was estimated from the aftershock distribution and seismic waves, did not cover the whole expected source region. Although, the recent event ruptured a part of the focal region of the expected earthquake." In 2011, the 9.0 magnitude 2011 Tōhoku earthquake occurred offshore Sendai, resulting in a devastating tsunami.
Sendai has a humid subtropical (Köppen Cfa), climate, with neither the very hot summers of Tokyo nor the snowbound winters of Sapporo, but retains significant seasonal differences. Winters are cool and relatively dry, with January temperatures averaging 1.5 °C (34.7 °F). Summers are very warm and much of the year's precipitation is delivered at this time, with an August average of 24.1 °C (75.4 °F). The city is rarely hit by typhoons, and experiences only 6 days with more than 10 centimetres (4 in) of rainfall on average. Sendai's rainy season usually begins in late June to early July, which is later than in most cities in Japan. During this season, cold winds from the Okhotsk air mass, called "Yamase", blow in and depress daytime highs.
Extremes range from −11.7 to +37.2 °C (11 to 99 °F).
In 2005, the city had an estimated population of 1,028,214 and a population density of 1,304.10 persons per km². The city's total area was 788.09 km². Most people in the city at this time lived 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) lived in a 129.69 km² area, which is 16.6% of the city's total area. The population density in this area was 6,879.9 persons per km², more than 5 times higher than the city's average population density at that time, 1,286.6 persons per km². Approximately 10,000 people in Sendai were non-Japanese citizens.
Sendai had 444,514 households in 2005. The average household had approximately 2.31 members. The average household was becoming smaller every year, because single-member households were increasing. At this time Sendai had more people in their early 50s and in their 20s and early 30s than in other age groups. This is a result of the first and second baby booms in Japan, and university students. The average age in Sendai is 38.4, which makes the city one of the youngest major cities in Japan.
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 prefectures in some areas.
Sendai's local government is essentially a mayor-council government. 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 an Assembly Chairperson and Vice Chairperson. Sendai has two vice mayors, who are not elected by the populace.
Sendai has five wards ("ku"), which were created when 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 is the center of the Tōhoku region's economy, and is the base of the region's logistics and transportation. The GDP in Greater Sendai, Sendai Metropolitan Employment Area (1.6 million people), is US$61.7 billion in 2010. 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.
In Sendai city there are a lot of different types of industries that make up the economy. The largest group is Wholesale and Retail with 28.7% of all business establishments. Followed up by the food service business/accommodation industry with 12.5%. The construction industry is third with 9.1% while fourth place is held by the entertainment industry with 8%.
In 2016 the estimated gross production for Sendai is US$45.4 million. Annual item sales in the area add up to around US$73.5 million, while the manufactured goods amount adding up to around US$10 billion.
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.
Tohoku Electric Power, a major regional supplier of electric power, has its headquarters in Sendai.
Sendai’s economic growth rate has stabilized since the 2011 Japan earthquake. The growth rate was only 0.4% in 2011 after the quake created economic turmoil in coastal areas. The year after, in 2012 the rate spiked to 10.4% after reconstruction efforts. It has since fallen to a closer trend to what is expected of 3.7% in 2013.
Tourism in 2016 has attracted an estimated 2.229 million visitors to Sendai.
Sendai is sometimes called an "Academic City" (学都, gakuto) because the city has many universities relative to its population.
Universities located within Sendai include:
Schools in the city include Tohoku International School.
JR East's Sendai Station is the main transport hub for the city. The station is served by seven JR lines and is a major station on the Tōhoku and Akita Shinkansen lines. An underground passage connects the station to the Sendai Subway. The subway has two lines— Namboku ("north-south") and Tōzai ("east-west").
The city is served by Sendai Airport (located in neighboring Natori), which has international flights to several countries, and Sendai Port. A rail link to Sendai began service on March 18, 2007.
The Tōhoku Expressway runs north-south through western Sendai, and is connected to other highways, such as the Sendai-Nambu Road, Sendai-Tobu Road, Sanriku Expressway (Sendai-Matsushima Road), and Sendai Hokubu Road.
The most well-known streets in Sendai, Jozenji-Dori (定禅寺通り) and Aoba-Dori (青葉通り), are both lined with Japanese zelkovas. These are symbols of "The City of Trees". Jozenji-Dori has a promenade and a few sculptures. It is a place of relaxation. Many events and festivals, such as the Sendai Pageant of Starlight and the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival, take place on Jozenji-Dori and in Kōtōdai Park (匂当台公園). Aoba-Dori is the main business road in Sendai. Other major roads in the city include Hirose-Dori (ginkgo) and Higashi-Nibancho-Dori.
The most famous festival in Sendai is Tanabata, which attracts more than 2 million visitors every year and is the largest Tanabata Festival in Japan. It is relatively quiet compared to other traditional Japanese festivals, because its main attractions are 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 Jōzenji Streetjazz Festival, the Michinoku Yosakoi Festival, and the Sendai Pageant of Starlight. The Jōzenji Streetjazz Festival is one of the largest amateur music festivals in Japan. It began as a jazz festival in 1991, but soon began to accept applications from all genres. The Michinoku Yosakoi festival is a dance festival, derived from the Yosakoi Festival that takes place in Kōchi. 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. In 2005, the streets were lit up with one million miniature bulbs.
Sendai is the origin of several foods, including gyūtan (beef tongue, usually grilled), hiyashi chūka (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 several major fishing ports, such as Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, and Shiogama, and the fact that Miyagi Prefecture is a major producer of rice. There are many ramen restaurants in Sendai, and the area is known for a particular spicy miso ramen. Also, Sendai station offers the most types of ekiben of any station in Japan. In autumn, many people organise Imonikai, a sort of picnic by the river which involves making a potato stew called Imoni.
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 of which were developed after the Meiji Restoration.
Sendai was also known for its production of Tansu, clothing drawers made from wood with elaborate ironwork.
Sendai is home to historical sites related to the Date clan. The ruins of Sendai Castle are close to downtown on Aobayama, which also gives a panoramic view of the city. The Zuihōden is the tomb of Date Masamune and is home to artifacts related to the Date family. It is on a hill called Kyogamine, which is the traditional resting place for Date family members. In Aoba-ku, the Ōsaki Hachiman-gū shaden, built in 1607 by Date Masamune, is designated a National Treasure. Mutsu Kokubun-ji Yakushidō is the provincial temple of Mutsu Province.
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 tomb that dates back to the late 4th century or early 5th century, and the Tomizawa Preserved Forest site, where the excavated remains of a Stone Age human settlement (Upper Palaeolithic – roughly 20,000 years ago) have been protected by a large museum structure, built in 1996. The nearby Site of Tagajō was an important early fort and administrative centre.
Sendai City Museum displays artifacts related to the Date family and the history of Sendai. Date Masamune's famous suit of armour and artifacts related to Hasekura Tsunenaga's visit to Rome (National Treasures of Japan) are sometimes on display.
The Miyagi Museum of Art is Sendai's largest art museum. A total of 24 sculptures have been installed in public locations in Sendai through its 'City of Sculptures' project.
The Tomizawa site museum in the southern part of the city preserves a fossilized forest where the remains of human habitation from 20,000 years ago can be seen.
The Sendai City War Reconstruction Memorial Hall is dedicated to remembering the air raid of July 1945 in which most of Sendai was destroyed.
Western Sendai is home to many sites of natural beauty, many of them found around Akiu and Sakunami, which are hot spring resorts. Sites around the Akiu area include the Akiu Great Falls, sometimes counted as one of Japan's three great waterfalls, and the Rairai Gorge, known for its autumn colours. The Futakuchi Gorge contains 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 environment, with cherry blossoms in the spring, and autumnal colours. The nearby Hōmei Shijuhachi Taki Falls is the name of waterfalls found in the higher reaches of the Hirose River. The origin of the name "Hōmei" (鳳鳴, "Chinese phoenix cry") is said to come from ancient local inhabitants' claim that the sound of the waterfalls was similar to the legendary bird's call.
The Tatsunokuchi Gorge offers a view of a petrified wood next to the Otamaya-bashi bridge. Nishi Park and Tsutsujigaoka Park are appreciated for their cherry blossom in the spring. The Hirose River and the Gamo tideland are home to diverse wildlife.
Matsushima, which is one of the Three Views of Japan, is near Sendai, in Matsushima.
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 Daikannon is an approximately 100-meter high Kannon statue. The statue was built during Japan's bubble economy by a now defunct company.
Sendai also contains a Peace Pagoda, built by Nipponzan-Myōhōji-Daisanga in 1974.
The Catholic Church has been associated with Sendai since 1613, the year in which Date Masamune, daimyō of Sendai, built a galleon to send an embassy to the Pope in Rome headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga. Although the embassy was successful in its aim of establishing relations with the Holy See, Masamune's plans were frustrated by the suppression of Christianity in Japan. The diocese of Sendai (previously the diocese of Hakodate) was established in 1891, only two years after the promulgation of a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion in Japan, in 1889. The Bishop of Sendai currently oversees the four northern prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and Aomori, serving 11,152 Catholics in 56 parishes. Mototerakoji, the Cathedral of the diocese, is located a few blocks north of Sendai Station.
Although the Lotte Orions briefly used Sendai as a temporary home for the franchise from 1973 to 1977, the city was largely ignored by professional sports until 1994. In that year, the Tohoku Electric Power football team was changed into a club team, Brummel Sendai, with the goal of eventually being promoted 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. Currently the city also host semi-professional outfit Sony Sendai F.C..
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 Nippon Professional Baseball. Additionally, the Japan Basketball League, which began its inaugural season in November 2005, included the Sendai 89ers among its first six teams.
Annual sporting events include the Sendai Cup, an international football tournament for U-18 teams, and the Sendai International Half Marathon. In 2006 of the Sendai International half marathon, Mizuki Noguchi, who won the women's marathon Gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, took part in and won the race in a surprising course record.
Various sporting venues can be found in Sendai, such as Miyagi Stadium (venue of 2002 FIFA World Cup), Sendai Stadium, Miyagi Baseball Stadium, Sendai City Gymnasium and Sendai Hi-Land Raceway. The city is also known as the origin of figure skating in Japan, and both 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa and 2014 Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu trained in Sendai during their childhood. Tohoku Fukushi University and Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School are well known for their strong sports programs, the latter for baseball.
In 2006, Sendai hosted some games of the Basketball World Championship 2006. Before that, the city had some experience at hosting international basketball events such as the 1994 and 2004 editions of the Asian Basketball Championship for Women.