Japan City Guides: Matsushima
- population 18,000.
- 25km from Sendai.
- over 260 pine-topped islands ring the picturesque bay.
- one of Japan's Three Great Sights (Nihon Sankei).
- visited by wandering haiku-master Basho.
- easy half or full-day trip from Sendai.
- name translates as "pine islands".
- colorful August Obon lantern festival.
- famous for its delicious oysters.
Things to see and do in Matsushima
Besides taking in the wonderful vistas of Matsushima Bay visitors to Matsushima near Sendai in the Tohoku region, can enjoy sightseeing cruises on the sea, sample the area's famed oysters and visit the historic Zen temple of Zuiganji. Matsushima is a half-day or full-day trip from Sendai or visitors may prefer to base themselves here and journey in to Sendai.
The Matsushima Coastline is known for its pine-tree-dotted islands
Views of the Matsushima Coastline and its many tiny islands in the bay
Matsushima Bay is dotted with around 260 small, pine-covered islands and is considered one of Japan's three big scenic views - all on the sea, the others being Miyajima Island in Hiroshima and Amanohashidate in Kyoto prefecture.
There are sightseeing cruises on the bay lasting about an hour run by Marubun Matsushima Kisen (Tel: 022 365 3611) and a regular ferry service between Matsushima and Shiogama (50 minutes) operated by Matsushima Bay Cruise (Tel: 022 366 5111).
Ojima Island to the south of the bay was used by Zen monks during their ascetic training. There are Buddhist rock carvings and meditation caves. Fukuurajima is a larger island to the north reached by a 250m-long vermilion bridge and has a pleasant garden for strolling.
Zuiganji Temple dates originally from the Heian Period though the present buildings were constructed by Matsuname Date in 1606. The main hall contains precious painted screens and ornate carvings. The approach to the temple is through an avenue of imposing cedar trees with meditation caves and Buddhist statues on your right.
Entsuin Temple Matsushima, Miyagi
Godaido Hall is a small temple pavilion situated on a small islet just off the coast reached by a vermilion bridge. The interior of the temple is opened to the public just once every 33 years. The last time was in 2006. The temple was constructed on the orders of Matsuname Date in early 1600s.
Zuiganji & Entsuin are two of the must-see Buddhist temples in Matsushima
A short stroll from Zuiganji Temple is Entsuin (Tel: 022 345 0213) a mausoleum for Date Mitsumune, the grandson of Date Masamune. Mitsumune died in Edo Castle, aged 19, feared poisoned by the tokugawa regime. The grounds also contain a rose garden, a Japanese rock garden and statues of seven retainers who committed suicide when their lord Mitsumune died. The Sankeidan mausoleum contains European-style motifs of crosses and roses influenced by the journey of Hasekura Tsunenaga's embassy to the Americas and Europe at the request of Masamune from 1613-1620.
The Kanrantei pavilion is a tea house originally given as a gift to the Date clan by feudal warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and brought from Kyoto and reassembled in its present location. Macha green tea is served and there is a small museum, the Matsushima Hakubutsukan (Tel: 022 353 3355), in the grounds.
Other museums in Matsushima include the Michinoku Date Masamune Museum (Tel: 022 354 4131) another museum dedicated to Sendai's greatest historical figure, this time using wax dolls to recreate his life and times, the Matsushima Orgel Museum (Tel: 022 353 3600 ) exhibits 134 music boxes purchased from the National Museum of Belgium including the world's largest concert organ (7m by 9m) and the Kyohei Fujita Museum of Glass (Tel: 022 353 3322).
Matsushima Bay, north of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture
Matsushima's major festivals are the Matsushima Oyster Festival in February held at the Matsushima Beach Central Plaza and the Toro Nagashi Hanabi Taikai during the Obon period in the middle of August. There are fireworks and lighted lanterns floated out in the ocean.
Nightlife & Eating Out
Matsushima pretty much shuts down after dark when the last tourist buses have departed. There are a few fine seafood restaurants to sample if you are staying overnight.
Flight connections from Sendai Airport to Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Beijing, Seoul and other Asian destinations. Sendai Airport (Tel: 022 382 0080) is 18km south of Sendai city center and connected by bus (40 minutes) and train (17 minutes by express). There is also a direct bus from the airport to Matsushima-kaigan Station which takes about 1 hour.
The nearest station to Matsushima Bay is Matsushima-kaigan Station on the JR Senseki Line. Express trains take 24 minutes from Sendai. There is a tourist information office (Tel: 022 354 2263) just outside the station. JR Matsushima Station which is over a kilometer from the bay area can be reached in the same time by local train on the Tohoku Main Line from Sendai. Sendai is connected to Tokyo by the Tohoku Shinkansen with the journey taking just under two hours.
There are daily bus services to Matsushima from Sendai and sightseeing buses which include a tour of Sendai Castle. Matsushima is on National Highway 45.
There is a regular ferry service between Matsushima and the fishing port of Shiogama (50 minutes) operated by Matsushima Bay Cruise (Tel: 022 366 5111).
Edo Period wood-block print of Matsushima and a matsushima seagull