Matsushima is one of the “Three most scenic spots of Japan”, along with Miyajima (Hiroshima prefecture) and Amanohashidate (Kyoto prefecture) and the first bay of Japan to be accepted into the “Most beautiful bays in the world”. The landscape of 260 pine-covered islands is beautiful no matter the season. This means you’ll be able to feel the romance, elegance and spirituality at every corner, anytime.
While winter may be colder and quite, it has it’s own advantages. It’s less crowded, you receive discounted tickets and you can enjoy fresh oysters. Therefore, let’s see what you can do during a day trip in Matsushima.
The most touristic thing you may want to do in Matsushima is to take a boat trip to see the islands closer. There are several companies offering boat trips, with people offering you a tour once you exit the train station. If nobody approaches you directly, there are several offices near the bay from where you can buy a ticket. As I visited Matsushima during winter season, the tickets were discounted from 1500¥ to 1000¥ for a 50 minutes boat trip. Totally worth in, but even better with a clear sky. During the trip they provide information in Japanese and English, so it’s easier to understand what you see.
Oshima is one of the most sacred sites of Matsushima as it features small caves and Buddhist memorial monuments across the island. Priest Kenbutsu Shonin practiced Buddhist here for twelve years a millennium ago, and the legend says that the emperor sent him a gift of 1000 pine trees. And basically that’s how Matsushima has been created.
The island itself is very small and you need about 20 minutes to go to every corner and enjoy the scenery. There are no major touristic attractions to catch your eyes, but you’ll be able to see a small temple, several statues and caves. The best part of it is the view towards the bay – so you can just sit and relax while enjoying the scenery.
The Godaido temple is a symbol of Matsushima. It was founded in 807 and reconstructed by Date Masamune in 1604. To access it you need to cross two short bridges with spaces between the planks. If you trip, you are not ready to reach the temple legend says! The small temple I wouldn’t say it’s impressive at all, but the view from there is gorgeous. Not to mention that it’s free to access.
This island is home to more than 300 species of flowers, plants and trees. It is a prefectural park and a natural garden. It is also the only island near the bay where you have to pay 200¥ to access, even if it’s really worth in. To get there you have to walk a long bridge (about 200m), which provides great opportunities for sightseeing as you’re in the middle of the bay, almost like floating on the water.
On the island itself there is nothing major to see, but to admire the surrounding islands, as you have many view points across. There is also a nice café you can stop by on the island. Or, another one at the entrance of the bridge (Cafe Bayland). You should allocate about 1-1.5h to enjoy the place.
This temple is one of the most famous Rinzai Buddhist Zen temple in Northern Japan. It is a national treasure and important cultural property. It has been founded in 828AD by the priest Jikaku Daishi, who spread the Buddhism in Northern Japan. The temple we see today was rebuild by the samurai ruler Date Masamune as a family temple in 1609. He spared no expense in its construction, bringing the finest wood from Wakayama to be carved by 130 master craftsmen.
To get inside you have to pay a fee of 700¥ (and 300¥ more for a goshuin if you’d like one). This provides you access to the temple itself and also to a small museum. The museum has no English translation so you only need about 15 minutes to just take a look around. On the other hand, the temple has some English descriptions for the main exponents. Personally, I found it far more interesting than the museum. Allocate a half an hour up to 40 minutes for both.
This small temple houses the mausoleum for the samurai rule Date Masamune’s grandson who died at the age of 19. It has been build by Date Tadamune, the second feudal lord of the Sendai clan, who was grieving the death of his son Mitsumune (as a results of poisoning based on some rumors). The mausoleum (Sankeiden) has been designated as an important national cultural property. Some of the wall paintings illustrate a rose and narcissius and hidden Christian symbols such as the cross drawn slantwise.
The temple features a moss garden, a rock garden and a rose garden (atypical for the Japanese temples as these flowers aren’t related to Buddhism). The entrance fee is 300¥ and if you’d like a goshuin you have to pay an additional 300¥.
This temple is holding the mausoleum of Princess Iroha, the daughter of Data Matsumune. It has been painted with pure Japanese lacquer, but unfortunately is not always open to have a look inside.
Food & Drinks
If you’re looking for a place with a view, go to Starbucks. It is very convenient especially for late afternoons – evenings when the local places are closed, as this drive-through is operating from 8am-10pm.
If you’re visiting Matsushima in the winter you must try the local fresh oysters. You can find them prepared in several ways, but I personally tried the fried ones and a delicious oysters spicy soup (at the terrace near Godaido’s temple entrance).
If you come to Matsushima just for one day, the attractions above are enough to fill your agenda. If you come for a weekend, there are a few more places which you can see. There are several view points providing beautiful views over the bay like Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu park (which has a nice café too), Sokazan and Shin Tomiyama. If you’d like to learn more about the place, there are several museums to chose from like Date Masamune historical museum, Matsushima retro gallery, the museum Matshushima and the Kyohei Fujita museum of glass. And last but least, the Kanrantei tea house overlooking the bay, where you can enjoy a matcha tea and traditional sweets.
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and one day you’ll visit Matsushima by yourself. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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