We arrived in Matsushima on a very grey day with poor visibility, which was a shame as it is designated one of Japan’s top three scenic areas, along with Miyajima and Amanohasidate neither of which we had managed to visit. The town itself is very commercialised and has a very busy main road running next to the sea which is not very appealing. Our plan had been to take a boat trip into the bay to see the 260 islands of every conceivable shape and size, some said to resemble tortoises, whales or human profiles. the islands are credited with forming a natural barrier that spared Matsushima from the worst of the effects of the terrible tsunami in 2011. However, there was no point as the visibility was so bad, so we contents ourselves with a walk across the 252 m red footbridge over the oyster beds to walk around the island of Fukui-Jima. We did a bit of litter picking on the beach and had an expensive coffe and were surprised to find a little bit of Holland in the form of a mass of colourful tulips, as the only other colour had been the red camelia flowers.
Having tried to find an authentic oyster shack near the boats, which was shut – only rubber gloves on display drying, we had a very disappointing late lunch of oysters and other clam type seafood. Anything served in white polyesterene is unlikely to taste good. But thankfully at least the enormous oysters did not later seek their revenge on our stomachs!
We explored further along the coastline on the new footpath, past reminders of how high the tsunami had reached to Oijima, a tiny island where centuries ago the soft volcanic rock was hollowed into over a hundred little caves which still hold weatherbeaten statues and carved votary tablets. We had the place to ourselves and it felt very peaceful, with lovely views of the boats and some of the nearer islands had started to appear from the mist.
The highlight of the day was our visit to the Zuigan-Ji temple. It is set well back from the main road, in fact other visitors showed us the point on the long drive which was as far as the tsunami reached, thus sparing the temple from major damage. On the right handside are more burial caves hollowed into the rocks. The temple has been rebuilt many times before it was restored to today’s splendour. It is a long plain building from the outside, but inside are magnificent golden panels and gilded screens depicting peacocks, flowers, pines and hawks. Sadly you are not allowed to photograph these treasures, only the little garden the temple looks on to. They were ordered by Date Masamune, a fearsome warrior who ruled nearby Sendai from 1603 till 1636. He was known as the one eyed dragon as he lost an eye in childhooddue to smallpox. His Date clan ruled the city for 270 years. He employed the best craftsmen and highest quality materials. The restored treasures look magnificent and the museum has some interesting finds and a video showing the recent painstaking renewal of the temple roof. Again we saw schoolchildren roaming the grounds with their teacher trailing behind.
The weather improved as we walked back to our hotel, giving us an idea of how beautiful Matsushima should look and we ended the day with G &Ts and great food at an American themed restaurant Harry’s Junction. So what started as a dull day ended pretty well.