Matsushima, noted for its scenic variety, is one of the 'Three Most Scenic Views of Japan' along with Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Itsukushima Shrine of Hiroshima. The most popular way to experience the place is on a sightseeing cruise. However, with the rich abundant nature and age old emblem of spiritual culture rooted in every soil, Matsushima presents a halcyon package. If you have some extra time, a walk along the bay, while dipping in wonderful nature and the history of the islands, are recommended.
Something about those pine clad islands held me that despite my short stay in Sendai, I took a trip to Matsushima right on the morning of my first day. By the time I made a trip, the spring break was almost over. So upon arriving at the bay, I noticed that in front of the station there were local families with small kids. Many Japanese parents were being dragged urgently towards the pier.
I grabbed a sightseeing map from a low rise tourist information center where maps and pamphlets were available in up to five different languages. I wasn’t very hungry but felt like eating seafood so I searched the map and made my way towards the pier. While there was plenty of food on the street only some had a view of the ocean, so I ended up eating a bowl of oyster rice (kaki meshi), the savory sweet steamed rice cooked with naturally sweet and fresh oyster. Through the restaurant window, the still waters of the sea was shimmering silently in the midday sun.
Within a short walk from the pier, Godaido Temple is beautifully situated on its own islet, connected to the mainland by a small set of wooden bridge. Unlike other bridges in Matsushima, here the gaps between the boards have been intentionally left between the boards, rather spaciously, so the tourists are bound to slow down before entering the sacred site. Despite its fame and historical importance, the temple is rather small; apart from an old main hall and a small shrine, there is nothing else. However, the intricate wooden exterior of the hall is splendid. The view is stunning and it’s free.
Since there was nothing else to do at the temple except relaxing, I headed to Fukuurajima, the large island connected to the mainland by a long beautiful red wooden bridge. The view from the bridge was fantastic with a flock of seagulls darting across the sea ditching for tiny fish and greeting visitors as they approached the area. Those black tailed birds were super friendly and even a sudden motion wouldn’t scare them away. I was advised not to feed them as they just outlawed that unsustainable practice. Well, no one tells the gulls.
Positioned near the end of the bridge was an extra-large rustic sightseeing wood map showing major attractions including a Shinto shrine, where I encountered some tourists. They were enjoying their meal under the shade of the cedar trees that had been around for hundreds of years. Nearby the shrine, there were two beautiful and incredibly clean restrooms, too. Occasionally, songs of insects broke the silence and the seabirds flew by. Despite the cold coastal breeze, I was having a great time. Consider making a visit to the island if you visit Matsushima; getting even more up and close, walking on the island is far better than watching it from the cruise.
Near the end of the trip I made a brief visit to Zuiganji Temple, one of the main attractions. I was a little disappointed that the main building was still under renovation but I didn’t change my mind. Even though some part of the place was under restoration, it still provided an ultimate tranquility. The temple features many small caves that were used for meditation in the past, now contain statues and ashes of the deceased. Although it was not exactly cold inside the temple but the moist coldness of the caves made the temple obviously colder than the outside. I think the religious place would make a great weather asylum during summer.
I did have a plan to catch a glimpse of sunset there. However after almost 5 hours of non-stop walking, I was racked with leg cramps and my stomach started rumbling. In search for a dining spot, I headed to the shrimp ramen shop next to the station just to find out it was closed after 5 p.m. and so were the other shops nearby. There was no Seven Eleven style mini-mart, no izakaya, just a handful of small restaurants. So I took another 15 minute stroll towards the pier and finally found a place, a dimly-lit humble mom and pop restaurant which cradled no more than 20 guests. They offered both take-out and dine-in service. In front of the premises, there was a grill station where some scallops, squids, oysters were roasted above a charcoal frame. I tucked into a grilled squid set meal. The grilled seafood had the delicate, briny, slightly sweet taste that went perfectly well with the smoky char. Accompanied with the dish were miso soup, salad, pickled vegetable and a slice of succulent orange. The dinner disappeared as if by magic. It was a perfect end to the trip.
Useful Information: Zuiganji Temple is currently under renovation until March 2018. During this time, the temple grounds remains open, however the main building will be closed until March 2016.