Matsushima Bay Cruise and Zuiganji Temple Visit (松島)

Posted on July 22, 2013 by Max in Japan, Tohoku


For my first time visiting Matsushima, named one of Japan’s Top Three Views, I took the Matsushima Bay Cruise, and visited the famous Zuiganji Temple.

Date: 2009-09-26 Saturday
Place: Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture (松島, 宮城県)
Duration: 1 day

Matsushima is a small town just 30 minutes (express train) outside of Sendai City. It is famous for beautiful views of the Matsushima Bay, where a cluster of small islands and uniquely-shaped islets reside. Matsushima is known for having one of the most scenic views in Japan (the other two being Miyajima near Hiroshima, and Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto). The Matsushima Bay was hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but did not suffer major damage.

Matsushima Bay Cruise

Anyways, I had just arrived at Sendai City a few days prior, and decided to spend my first Saturday traveling outside of Sendai.
I asked a few local people (at where I stayed) and found out the best way to visit Matsushima and its Bay is by taking the sight-seeing cruise. So I took the train from Sendai to Hon-Shiogama (本塩釜), just south of Matsushima, where a cruise to Matsushima town departs every hour from the harbor. It is also possible to take ferries from Matsushima, but I decided to take the one from Hon-Shiogama because it is (supposedly) less crowded.

The cruise ride was only about an hour, but it was fun and relaxing. For one, many seagulls will fly along the cruise for a long time and seek for snacks from passengers. And the islets are very unique, indeed. But they seemed quite similar to me, so I only captured a few on camera. The were also explanations for the islets from the cruise’s intercom, but it was in Japanese and I understood none of it…

Matsushima Town

Arriving at Matsushima’s shore, it’s apparent how small the touristy areas are. The dock was very small, and there is basically just one main street next to the water, with a few small shops and restaurants, and not much else. It was oyster season, and I sat down in one of the restaurants to try some raw oysters. It was very fresh and chewy, but the taste of it was not for me and I preferred the oven baked oysters. After the meal, I followed a path to an observatory on top of a small hill (10 min walk?). The observatory was a small tower that was only about 3 stories high, but it had a traditional Japanese look. It was an old building and was not very spacious inside, and the stairs were very steep and narrow. These suggest that it must have been built a long time ago by some lord or master, but now remodeled for tourists. Surely enough, the view at the top was magnificent, and one had a 360 view of the town.

Godaido Temple and Zuiganji Temple

There are a few other popular attractions in Matsushima. One is the Godaido (五大堂), a small temple on an islet right next to the pier. Its unique location made it a popular landmark for tourists.

The most famous attraction, however, is the Zuiganji temple (瑞巌寺) not too far from the pier, off the main road. Sitting at the end of a path surrounded by trees, it is a national treasure that was built in the year 828, and known for its gorgeous painted sliding doors. Well, or so they say. The main hall of the temple had just closed for renovation that month, and will last until 2018. The entire building was concealed in scaffolds. But! The kitchen (next to the main hall) was still opened for the public. So of course I took a look inside (700 yen). The building was surprisingly bigger than I thought, and I could not tell where they actually cooked. I think there were some small rooms where they prepared the food. Surprisingly, the kitchen looked much like a traditional Japanese temple: dark wooden floors (shoes not allowed), dim inside, white wall (although that is not always the case in other temples).

I looked around a bit more after leaving the kitchen. There was another thing that looked like a shrine (but probably isn’t) but it was pretty. There were also caves next to the entrance path, where people used to meditate. Now it’s just full of statues and it was, frankly, a bit eerie since it was getting dark. Anyways, after strolling around a bit more (and eating a delicious egg-shaped muffin-like sweets), I headed toward the Matsushima Kaigan (松島海岸) JR train station and took the next train back to Sendai.



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