I read that Matsushima Bay (Miyagi Prefecture) was one of the three most scenic places in Japan and couldn’t resist adding it to our itinerary, especially as we were travelling in spring. Having grown a fondness for the smaller, less visited places in Japan, we found Matsushima ideal for a 3 night stay – no crowds but just enough people around to make it feel friendly.
Famous for its bay, the area contains over 260 islands, said to have partly protected the small town, during the 2011 tsunami.
We initially intended arriving at Sakura time, but were too late. We were richly compensated by the myriad of other sights on offer and filled every minute of our three nights there.
Matsushima is a fairly easy place to get to. We caught the Shinkansen Hayabusa from Tokyo Station to Sendai, then the JR Senseki local line to Matsushima Kaigan, a small but central station in Matsushima.
Matsushima Kaigan Station has a handy tourist information window outside the station where a little English is spoken and town maps in English are available. Almost all the sights of the town are walkable from the station.
We caught the hotel’s shuttle bus up the hill to our accommodation and to our delight, the view of the bay was impressive. I was glad I’d booked a room facing the ocean because we spent hours admiring the view. We saw the first of three spectacular red bridges, leading out to the Nature Gardens of Fukuurajima.
On our first morning we walked to the Oshima, an island once occupied by a the great Buddhist priest Kenbutsu Shonin. It is accessed by a stunning red bridge, one of at least 3 in the town.
There’s an abundance of Buddhist stone memorial tablets and relief sculptures on the rock faces of Oshima.
The third red bridge leads to Godaido, a small temple located on yet another small island. The inside of the temple is only open to the public once every 33 years. There’s a lovely view from the island and the temple is particularly attractive.
Our favourite temple was Zuiganji Temple. It’s considered one of the most famous temples in the area. The entrance is a stunning long path lined with cedar trees.
Inside Zuiganji Temple there were some particularly beautiful paintings. The Temple alone is a worthwhile reason for visiting the area.
Niojima Island seen from the boat trip we took from Shiogama. Shiogama is an easy 20 minute train trip west of Matsushima. From here we caught the hour long scenic boat trip back to Matsushima.
Although we missed the Sakura season, there was so much more to see in this beautiful area.
On our return, we left from the main Matsushima station. We became quite nervous when our service was 15 minutes late – unusual in Japan – but we now know they’re human. At Sendai we had less than 7 minutes to transfer to our Shinkansen service to Tokyo in a station we were unfamiliar with. Had it not been for the helpful Japanese lady we encountered at Sendai station, we’d have missed not only our connection to Tokyo, but our ongoing service soon after to the Mt Fuji region.
*Matsushima’s Official Tourism Website
All images by Lyndall Green. All rights reserved.
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