One of Matsushima's many pine islands
Matsushima (松島; ) is a small town in Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan.
The town faces Matsushima Bay, famous for some 260 tiny islands (shima) covered in pines (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 (incorrectly) attributed to Basho claims to record his reaction, signifying that nothing more could be said:
- Matsushima ah, Matsushima!
- Ah, Matsushima, ah!
- Matsushima, ah!
Today's Matsushima is perhaps a little less inspiring, but still a worthwhile day trip if in the region.
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) and Ishinomaki. The most convenient station is Matsushima-Kaigan (松島海岸); the Matsushima station on the JR Tohoku Main Line is located a fair distance away from the seashore.
From Tokyo, Shinkansen trains run to Sendai for connection to the Senseki Line. The total one-way fare is ¥10900 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 train to Hon-Shiogama, connect to a sightseeing boat to Matsushima (viewing some of the famous islands along the way), then return by train.
Matsushima's attractions are within walking distance of the train station and ferry pier.
- Zuigan-ji Temple (瑞巌寺). . Matsushima's top Zen temple with over a thousand years of history, but not a top choice for relaxation: tickets (¥700) are sold from vending machines and guides shouting into megaphones herd tour groups through the temple, which has been turning into a museum with everything of interest partitioned off and/or packaged in glass cases. The approach with its moss-covered Kannon statues is atmospheric though. Open 8 AM to 3:30 PM (or later) daily.
- 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 ¥200 cup of tea (traditional Japanese sweets included) and a view of the Matsushima coastline.
- Fukuura-jima Island (福浦島). Connected to the mainland by a long bridge, the 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 very sparsely beautiful spots to be seen.
- Matsushima Tower. A rusting eyesore dating from the 1960s, worrisomely propped up by two extra diagonal pillars. Avoid.
- Ōtakamori (大高森). One of The 4 Famous Places to view Matsushima Bay and a good place to catch the sunset over the island. The start of the 1-km trail to the top is some 3 kilometers from the Pila Youth Hostel in Oku-Matsushima.
- Date Shojin Kaiseki Ryori Ungai, 67 Chonai, Matsushima-aza. Tel:+81 22 353 2626 - traditional vegetarian cuisine.
- Pila Matsushima/Oku-Matsushima YH (パイラ松島･奥松島ＹＨ). Tel. 0225-88-2220, . Good youth hostel inconveniently located a few stops out from Matsushima-Kaigan on the Senseki Line and a 15-minute trek down from JR Nobiru (野蒜) station to boot. On the plus side, this is a great way to see the less tourist Oku-Matsushima region of the archipelago. Offers bicycles for rent for about 600¥ per day, with which you can explore the coasts around Oku-Matsushima.
- You can continue eastward from here towards Kinkazan.