The town faces Matsushima Bay, famous for some 260 tiny islands (島 - shima) covered in pines (松 - matsu) — hence the name -- and ranked as one of Japan's Three Great Views.
In 1689, Haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited Matsushima on the trip recorded in Narrow Road to the Deep North. A well-known poem often attributed to Basho claims to record his reaction, signifying that nothing more could be said:
Today's Matsushima is perhaps a little less inspiring, but still a worthwhile day trip or relaxing overnight destination if in the region.
The town did not suffer significant damage due to the Great East Japan Earthquake; the tsunami damage was minimal and was mostly repaired by May of 2011. The scenery, temples, shrines, sightseeing boats and museums are still open and still worth the trip.
The Senseki train from Sendai was fully restored to Matsushima-kaigan station in 2011 and restored through to Ishinomaki in May 2015.
The town is only a short distance from prefectural capital Sendai.
Most visitors arrive on the JR Senseki Line (仙石線) connecting Sendai (40 minutes by local train) and Ishinomaki. Trains bound for Ishinomaki or Takagimachi will pass through Matsushima-Kaigan Station. Trains bound for Tagajo or a Shiogama Station will stop short of Matsushima-Kaigan and you will need to change trains. The most convenient station is Matsushima-Kaigan (松島海岸). The Matsushima station on the JR Tohoku Line is a 15-20 minute walk from the waterfront.
From Tokyo, the Shinkansen bullet train runs to Sendai for connection to the Senseki Line. The total one-way fare is ¥10,900 using the fastest, all-reserved shinkansen service, and the journey to Matsushima-Kaigan lasts around 2 3/4 hours. There is no charge if you use the Japan Rail Pass.
Another popular choice is to take the JR Senseki line train to Hon-Shiogama (don't mistake it with JR Tohoku Line train to Shiogama station), connect to a sightseeing boat to Matsushima (50 minutes; 1500 yen, viewing some of the famous islands along the way), then return to Sendai by train.
Matsushima's seaside attractions are within walking distance of the train station and ferry pier, but the best views are from hilltops not so easy to reach on foot. The easiest to get to is Shin Tomiyama, a panoramic overlook nestled on a back-road between Matsushima station and Zuiganji Temple. The most spectacular views are from Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, a ¥660 cab ride up from Matsushima-Kaigan station or 20 minute walk. It is covered with cherry blossoms in the spring. A new cafe opened in October 2015, Cafe le Roman, which serves excellent French-inspired food and snacks. Other overlooks are Sōkanzan, a promontory that juts out into the bay, and ŌOgitani, a hill across the coastal highway from Sokanzan. Both are 25-30 minute walks from Matsushima-Kaigan Station or a 10 minute bicycle ride (rental cycles available at Aihara Shoten next to Matsushima-Kaigan station.)
- Zuigan-ji Temple (瑞巌寺), . 8AM-3:30PM (later in summer). Matsushima's top Zen temple with over a thousand years of history, holding impressive national treasures. The Hondo (main building) reopened in April 2016 after a once in a century restoration process, revealing impressive pressed cold walls, elaborate carvings and charcoal-painted walls. Artifacts that were in the museum have been returned to their proper places within the temple building itself. Tickets are sold from vending machines outside and include museum admission. Construction on inner gates is expected to continue until 2018. The approach with its moss-covered Kannon statues is atmospheric. Repairs on the main temple roof started in 2009 and are projected to last 5 or more years. ¥700. edit
- Kanran-tei Pavilion (観覧亭). Originally built in Kyoto by famed Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, this was eventually moved to Matsushima by Date Tadamune in 1645 and is the largest Momoyama-style tea house in Japan. An excellent place to stop for a cup of tea (entry ¥200, traditional Japanese matcha and sweets extra) and a view of the Matsushima coastline. edit
- Fukuura Island (福浦島; Fukuura-jima). Connected to the mainland by a long bridge, Fukuurajima Island is crisscrossed in all directions by paths small and large, paved and muddy, well-trod and overgrown. A circuit of the island won't take more than an hour and there are some beautiful spots to be seen. An interesting anecdote, there is a local superstition that you will meet the love of your life crossing the bridge (出会い橋) edit
- Ōtakamori (大高森). One of The 4 Famous Places to view Matsushima Bay (四大観）and a good place to catch the sunset over the islands. The start of the 1-km trail to the top is across from the Oku-Matsushima Kanko Hotel on Miyato Island in Oku-Matsushima. edit
- Date Shojin Kaiseki Ryori Ungai, 67 Chonai, Matsushima-aza, ☎ +81 22 353 2626. Traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine next to Entsuin Temple. edit
- Palace Matsushima (パレス松洲), Hama38, Takagi, Matsushima-machi, ☎ +81-22-354-2106, . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 11:00. Small public accommodation nestled on the shores of Matsushima. edit
- You can continue eastward from here towards Kinkazan.
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