Matsushima is a small town located in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan. The town is renowned for its beautiful natural scenery – over 260 small islands scattered around Matsushima Bay. The islands feature pine trees/forests, hence the name Matsushima (Pine Islands).
Matsushima’s history dates back to the 8th century. This is when it was first settled by the Emishi people, an indigenous group of people from the Tohoku region of Japan. The town flourished in the late 16th century under the powerful warlord Date Masamune. During the Edo period, it became an important cultural and economic centre.
What to do in Matsushima
The most popular attraction is the Matsushima Bay Cruise. Visitors can take a boat tour around the bay and see the beautiful islands up close. The tour usually lasts around an hour and offers stunning views of the pine-covered islands. You can also see the traditional Japanese architecture of the town.
You have probably seen images of the Fukuurabashi Bridge. It is a wooden bridge that connects the town of Matsushima to Fukuura island. Its distinctive curved shape, resembling a rainbow, and its vibrant orange colour paint a beautiful land-/seascape.
The bridge connects the town of Matsushima to Fukuura island, which used to be a centre of salt production and was very important at the time.
The bridge is a pedestrian-only bridge. There is now a small fee (approximately ￥200 at time of writing) for its maintenance. It is a great spot to take a leisurely walk and enjoy the beautiful views of the Kitakami River and the town of Matsushima. If you go in the height of summer, it is also a great place to escape from the heat.
Another popular attraction is the Zuigan-ji Temple, which is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. The temple was founded in the late 12th century and is known for its beautiful gardens, including a Zen rock garden and a koi pond.
The main hall of the temple, the “Daihōjō”, is decorated with intricate carvings and gold leaf. It is a National Treasure of Japan and one of the most important examples of temple architecture from the Kamakura period.
The temple also has a number of other buildings, including the “Kuri” (priest’s quarters), the “Sōmon” (main gate), and the “Sanmon” (temple gate). The temple also has a number of statues and artefacts, including a statue of the temple’s founder, Date Masamune.
Unfortunately, photos inside the temple are not allowed. However on an island just into the Bay sits the Godaido, a small temple hall, offering beautiful views of the harbour:
There are also other temples and islands that you can get to from the town via bridges:
The town also has a number of museums and art galleries, including the Matsushima Museum of Art. Here you can see works by famous Japanese artists such as Taikan Yokoyama and Shiko Munakata. The museum also has a collection of traditional Japanese art, including pottery, lacquerware, and textiles.
Food from Matsushima
Matsushima is also a great place to try traditional Japanese food. The town is famous for its seafood, particularly oysters, which come from the bay and feature in local restaurants. Visitors can also try other local specialities such as Matsushima-style tempura, made with oysters and other seafood.
One popular dish is “Kaki fry” which is a dish made of deep-fried oysters. Another dish is “Kaki no kakiage” which is a tempura-like dish made with oysters and vegetables.
Food in Matsushima is not only oysters. Its “Matsushima-ni”, a type of fish stew made with fish and vegetables, is also very popular. It is a hearty and comforting dish that is perfect for a cold winter day.
Another well-known dish is “Matsushima-yaki” which is a type of grilled fish. The fish is typically marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce before being grilled. As a result, it has a delicious and unique flavour.
Matsushima is also home to a number of traditional Japanese sweets and confectionery. Examples include “Matsushima-yaki”, a type of sweet cake made with rice flour, and “Matsushima-kaki-no-mi”, a dried oyster shaped like a persimmon.
In addition to its natural beauty and cultural heritage, another of Matsushima’s draws is hot springs or onsens. Visitors can relax in the warm waters of the onsens and enjoy the beautiful views of the bay. There are several onsens in the town, including the Matsushima Kaichu Onsen, which is located on an island in the bay.
Overall, Matsushima is a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in Japan’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. With its beautiful islands, traditional temples, art galleries and museums, delicious seafood, and relaxing hot springs, it offers something for everyone.
How to get to Matsushima
Matsushima is easily reached by car and takes between 4 to 5 hours from Tokyo. There are several places to park your car within easy walking distance of the attractions here. The price will depend on how long you stay and where you park.
However, public transport is often a faster option in Japan. If you are travelling from Tokyo, take the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen to Sendai and then take the local JR Tohoku Line from Sendai to Matsushima. The JR portion of the line will cost ￥420 for a one-way ticket and takes 24 minutes. You can use an IC card at the station’s ticket gates or purchase a paper ticket from one of the machines.
Within Matsushima, it is very easy to get everywhere by walking.
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