Monday, June 28, 2010

Trip to Matsushima - part 1

On May 15th, hubby and I visited Matsushima, which is located in the central part of Miyagi Prefecture. About 260 small pine-covered islands are scattered in picturesque Matsushima Bay. This historic scenic spot is filled with water and greenery, and the beauty of the scenery is beyond description. The view of Matsushima changes from place to place and from season to season. Matsushima is designated as one of the three most scenic views (Nihon Sankei) of Japan, the others being Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture. Matsushima has long been a popular tourist destination and continues to charm people with its beauty since the Heian period. In 1689, Haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited Matsushima and was so overwhelmed by the marvelous views that it took words away from the poet and he was unable to adequately express it in Haiku. He recorded his reaction as follows.
Matsushima ah!
A-ah, Matsushima, ah!
Matsushima, ah!

For centuries Matsushima has been considered to be a beautiful and wonderful sight. The contrast in colors between the blue of the water, the grey or almost white of the islands, the green of the pine trees, and the blue of the sky makes Matsushima a great view. There are four well known hills overlooking the ocean and islands of Matsushima, and each hill gives a different spectacular panoramic view. These views are known as the ‘magnificent view’ from Otakamori, the ‘beautiful view’ from Tomiyama, the ‘enchanting view’ from Ogidani, and the ‘grand view’ from Tamonzan. In addition, there are famous viewing parks and hills like Saigyo Modoshi No Matsu Park, Sokanzan, and Shintomiyama in Matsushima to view the unrivalled scenic beauty of the islands. Matsushima is designated as a national special scenic beauty and a prefectural natural park.

Apart from the islands of Matsushima, there are several picturesque sea-side attractions as well as historical spots and buildings in Matsushima town which is on the coast opposite Matsushima Bay. The modern town of Matsushima has several resort hotels and souvenir shops. But the town dates back to 828 AD when Zen priests founded Zuiganji Temple overlooking the bay. In addition, there are other historical temples like Entsuin, Yotokuin, and Tenrinin. Matsushima has famous islands like Oshima, Godaido, and Fukuurajima, which are connected by red lacquered bridges to the town. It also has Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium and outstanding museums such as Date Masamune Historical Museum and Belgium Orgel Museum. The majority of these main sights of the town lie within easy walking distance from Matsushima Kaigan railway station, which is the nearest train station to Matsushima Bay.

Drive to Matsushima
Hubby and I started from our home at about 7 am. Matsushima is about 250 km away from our home and it took about 4 hours to reach there by our car. As we neared Matsushima, we started getting beautiful views along the road. We parked our car at a free parking lot near Matsushima Kaigan railway station and then walked up to the station. Hubby collected sightseeing information brochures from a tourist information center located next to the station. Around the station area there are many souvenir shops and restaurants selling local seafood delicacies like eel and oysters.
Beautiful views along the road near Matsushima

Me walking towards Matsushima Kaigan railway station

Matsushima Kaigan railway station

Area adjacent to Matsushima Kaigan railway station

Hubby reading sightseeing information brochures that he got from tourist information center

Hubby standing next to Miyagi tourist information map in front of the railway station

Matsushima Bay
From Matsushima Kaigan station, we walked for about 10 minutes and reached Matsushima Bay and the harbor area. The bay looked really amazing and was very calm that day. A lot of boats were docked at the harbor. We could see a few sightseeing cruise vessels in the bay. Many beautiful pine-covered small islands could also be seen, which seemed to float in the bay. It was a wonderful, peaceful, and perfectly balanced colorful sight. Near the harbor, there is a waterfront park named Matsushima Green Hiroba which has grassy lawn and a lot of elegant looking pine trees. Many visitors as well as locals were relaxing or having picnic in the park. We strolled in the park for some time and enjoyed the beautiful views surrounding us. We saw Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium nearby but did not enter inside.
Matsushima Bay (click on the photo for a larger view)

Me standing at the harbor

Me standing at the harbor

Hubby at Matsushima Bay

Matsushima Bay

Matsushima Green Hiroba Park

Beautiful pines trees and grassy lawn at the park

Me standing in front of Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium

Boat cruise
We wished to view the wonderful vistas of Matsushima Bay and the pine-covered small islands up close. Some of the islands can only be seen by boat, and so we decided to take a cruise round the bay. We took a sightseeing cruise vessel that departed from Matsushima Pier and is operated by a company named Matsushima Bay Cruise. The company offers four types of cruise courses for sightseeing. We bought tickets for the longest cruise route called ‘Zentou Yuran Oku-Matsushima Sagakei Course’ which is a roundtrip cruise between Oku-Matsushima and Sagakei. The cruise vessel starts at Matsushima, goes up to Sagakei (gorge), and then returns back to Matsushima. This was a perfect course for us as we wished to continue sightseeing in Matsushima after the boat cruise. The tickets are available at a building named Matsushima Kaigan Rest House located just next to the pier. The tickets cost 2500 Yen per person and the cruise lasts for about 100 minutes. After purchasing the cruise tickets, we had lunch and then hubby took some rest at Matsushima Kaigan Rest House as he was a bit tired due to car driving.
Area in front of Matsushima Pier

Area in front of Matsushima Pier

Sightseeing cruise vessels docked at the pier

Hubby standing in front of Matsushima Kaigan Rest House

Hubby relaxing after lunch at Matsushima Kaigan Rest House

The sightseeing cruise vessel started from Matsushima Pier at 12.15 pm. As soon as the cruise vessel started, we saw that a horde of seagulls started following our vessel and the tourists fed crackers to the seagulls. The birds flew very close within arm’s reach and sometimes fought viciously with each other over the pieces of crackers. A few sightseeing ferries were returning back to Matsushima Pier and we saw that each ferry had its own horde of seagulls. Seeing all the excitement around us, we also bought a packet of shrimp flavored crackers from a shop in the cruise vessel and hubby started feeding the seagulls. The birds seemed to be experts at eating the crackers while flying and very few crackers fell into the water. Hubby was really very happy feeding the seagulls. He ate a few crackers himself as they were very tasty. Later I also fed the birds but I was a bit scared as they flew very close to me. All the crackers were gone after about 20 minutes or so. Watching the antics of the seagulls was really very interesting and we took a few photos of them. I compiled a video of the pier and surrounding area, our boarding of the cruise vessel, and seagull feeding.
Matsushima Pier

Waiting to enter the cruise vessel

Many seagulls on the pier

Many seagulls following our cruise vessel

Seagulls following our vessel

Seagulls following our vessel

Seagulls following our vessel

Seagulls very close to me

Hordes of seagulls following another sightseeing vessel

A compiled a video of the pier and surrounding area, our boarding of the cruise vessel, and seagull feeding

Hubby relaxing after seagull feeding

Next, we enjoyed viewing the islands all around us in Matsushima Bay. We enjoyed the changing scenery of big and small islands one after another. The bay is roughly about 12 km by 14 km in area, and contains over 260 small pine-covered islands of every imaginable shape and size. The islands are sculpted by winds and waves into fanciful figures of tortoises, whales, and various other animal profiles with ragged deformed pine trees. The perfect balance between the contrasts of colors created by the green pine trees and the beauty of small white islands floating on the large blue sea was remarkable. We appreciated the splendor of the landscape passing by and took many photos of the beautiful islands in the bay. The cruise vessel went up to Sagakei gorge and then returned back to Matsushima Pier. The cruise was really enjoyable and memorable.

Spectacular views of pine-covered small and big islands in Matsushima Bay

Hubby enjoying a landscape view

Me enjoying the boat cruise

The boat cruise was for 100 minutes and the vessel returned to Matsushima Pier at about 2 pm. Later we visited Godaido Temple and also experienced the splendid views of Matsushima Bay from Saigyo Modoshi No Matsu Park. I will write about these two in the next post.