The scenic view of Matsushima Bay

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View on the bay of Matsushima

Matsushima means “pine island” and there are more than 260 of pine-covered islands that dot the Matsushima Bay. It is one of Japan’s “three most famous landscapes” (along with Miyajima and Amanohashidate). A visit is particularly worthwhile in autumn. We have travelled to Miyajima Bay to see the sights and experience the unique coastal landscape!

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Garden of Entsuin in Matsushima

 “Sugoi! – Gorgeous!” marvels one of the elderly Japanese tourists: “That’s like the Buddhas of Bamiyan!” It’s quite a stretched comparison. The grottoes behind Entsuin Temple in Matsushima do contain stone Buddha statues, but they are neither very big nor have they been destroyed by Taliban fanatics. Buddhist monks used to meditate in these caves a few hundred years ago when Matsushima was one of the strongholds of the powerful Date family.

The tsunami of 2011


In fact, Matsushima wasn’t even particularly hard-hit by the main calamity that befell the area in recent years. The Tsunami of 11 March 2011 wrecked the whole coastline all around Matsushima and Sendai and killed nearly 20,000 people (including missing persons). It was held off! Luckily, the many tiny islands that make the bay of Matsushima so famous were in the way. Therefore, it was only the outlying islands that were hit by the main wave. The rail tracks running north along the coast disappeared completely in the wave (along with some trains).

However, the bay itself with its picturesque pine-studded islets was only covered by a wave of perhaps three meters. The temples and gardens were spared, the streets have long since been repaired. Now, the only reminders are a Tsunami emergency sign and the distinct lack of zebra crossings, which somehow have not been restored in the course of repair works.

On a pleasant autumn day they would be useful. After all, the town’s sights are divided between the sea shore with its islands and boat cruises, and several temples slightly inland. The main coastal road passes right between the two and there are always crowds of tourists hoping for colourful autumn leaves.

The views from the coast or from the pleasure boat are like an old ink painting. Even on a rainy day, the half-hour cruise is worthwhile. Perhaps it is even better, since the shades of dark islands and grey clouds blend well.

Autumn colours at Matsushima Bay


On Ogitani Hill, an elevated viewpoint to watch the bay, I meet a local woman picking lowers. She is from a village nearby, she explains. She has come today as a scout for some relatives who wanted to know whether the Autumn Leaf Line has already advanced as far as Matsushima. Otherwise they would not find it worthwhile to make a weekend trip. Not yet, she will tell them, but they can always go further north or higher up into the mountains. Thanks to the geographical layout of the country, you can follow the autumn colours for months. Or else, you can take in different stages of autumn atmosphere at any given time between October and December.

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