Matsushima

Matshushima, a short train ride from Sendai on the northern Pacific coast, is considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. (The other two are Miyajima Island off the coast of Hiroshima and Amanohashidate north of Kyoto.) Matsushima Bay contains over 250 small rock islands shaped by the ceaseless slapping of waves and pine trees misshapen by the winds. (Matsu means pine and shima means island.) Many say that Matsushima reminds them of a large, life-size bonsai garden. The best way to see these islands is by sightseeing boat, which will provide you with up-close views. Along the shores of the bay, you can visit Godai-do on a small island connected to the mainland by two arched vermillion bridges. This small, picturesque temple built by Date Masamune, the local feudal lord, in 1609 is known for its sea views and the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar carved into the eaves. Visit Kanran-tei pavilion, a genteel tea house presented to Date Masamune from Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century to appreciate the view of the bay while enjoying green, powdered tea and Japanese sweets. Or visit Zuigan-ji, Matsushima’s main temple. Established in the ninth century, it is perhaps northern Japan’s best Zen temple. The current temple’s main hall with its elaborate painted screens and wood carvings in the Momoyama style was built as a family temple by Date Masamune in 1609. Along the tall, cypress covered entrance are small rock caves, filled with stone Buddha statues carved by hand by monks from the temple to prove their faith.