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I recall arriving in Matsushima last summer and reading the article my buddy Karen, a second year ALT, had written about the town I had just moved into. I found it to be quite sarcastic and a somewhat scathing description of the town and I began to worry that this one of the nihon sankei (three great sights of Japan) wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But then, I had already read the Lonely Planet description of tacky peacock boats with speakers blaring Japanese commentary, so I wasnt necessarily expecting Paradise on Earth.


Now, 10 months later, having experienced Matsushima through all four seasons, I can honestly say that I have come to adore this little town. There is so much natural beauty to be discovered and it only takes a little bit of wandering. And it is certainly worth visiting in each of the four seasons (might I mention that typhoon season is particularly enjoyable?!?!).


In the summer, on August 15th, during the Toro Nagashi Festival, hundreds of colored lanterns are floated out into the already spectacular view of Matsushima Bay. In the fall, the changing leaves and cool crisp air make it a great place to spend an autumn afternoon. On a snowy day in winter, a walk among the snow-covered pine tree islands can be a very serene and peaceful experience (and it may be the only time you can enjoy it with no one else around).


It's great to be able to see Matsushima at different times of the day - especially sunrise and sunset. I've been lucky enough to witness several incredible sunrises, and it is definitely worth seeing the islands, bridges and Godaido lit up after dark.


My recommendations:




Take a walk across the long red bridge to the big island and stroll around. Before you cross the bridge, don't miss my favorite English sign in Matsushima: No get over a forward fence please. The island is a botanical garden and the beautiful scent of flowers in the spring is almost overpowering. It's also a great place for a picnic, so bring your wine and cheese!




Lonely Planet says it's one of Tohoku's finest Zen temples and Id have to agree (not that I'm an expert or anything). The small road leading to the temple, lined with pine trees, is worth a visit in and of itself. To the left of the temple, there is also a small rock garden leading to a spectacular shine dedicated to Date Masamune's grandson.




Ok, ok, I admit it I did it, and I loved every minute of it. So there! Perhaps a cold winter day is not the best time to do this, but it's a great way to see some of the 260




It's a pretty cheap place to have some green tea while enjoying a great view of the bay.




This is what's on all the postcards. It is reached by crossing 3 small red bridges. The interior is opened only once every 33 years, and with my luck it happened the day before I arrived, so chances are it won't happen during your stint in Japan!




Check out the tacky souvenirs and pick up some fish paste omelettes.




There are several machines available and I think this is requisite to making a tour of Matsushima complete!


As far as food in Matsushima, there are plenty of places with plastic food displays along the waterfront, offering a great variety of antennae, suckers and tentacles to choose from. I haven't yet tried the grilled octopus-on-a-stick, but you know what? I can live with that.


The best Ive found so far is a small soba shop that serves up heaping piles of soba noodles at a good price. They go great with a bottle of beer! Coming out of Matsushima Kaigan station, turn right and go through the tunnel. The soba shop is on the right, across from Gusto (a fine family restaurant recommended highly by Kokubu-sensei, one of my JTEs). For dessert, the 7-11 has a nice little selection of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.


To get to Matsushima, take the Senseki line to Matsushima Kaigan Station and the Bay will be right in front of you. Alternately, take the Tohoku Line to Matsushima Station, walk straight to the main highway, then turn right and follow the road around and down to the Bay (about 10-15 minutes walking).


I hope I haven't built Matsushima up too much, only to lead to disappointment, but I really do think it's a great place to visit.


by Michelle Meyer



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