Matsushima: pine-covered islands

May 23, 2012



Daruma omikuji

I’d spent last spring reading news reports and watching footage of 東日本大震災 (“the big earthquake disaster of Eastern Japan”), especially of the tsunami that traveled six miles inland in areas near the city of Sendai.  Curious to see what had happened in the last 14 months since the earthquake, I boarded a Shinkansen for the relatively short ride up to the Tōhoku region, 東北, “east north”.  My friend Dan-chan, our guide on the Fuji-san climb, recommended visiting Matsushima, 松島, the pine-covered islands near Sendai.

Tōhoku: the same “Tō” as in Tōkyo, 東京; the same “hoku”/north as in 北京, or Beijing, “Northern Capital”.  Sense a trend?  Alighting at Sendai, I took a local train to Matsushima Bay, an archipelago of islands dotted with pine trees, and one of the Three Views of Japan.

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I walked from the train station to the islands, finding blossoming trees and orderly waterways; no evidence of the tsunami here.

In Japanese, you can write either left-to-right, or right-to-left; this was the first time I’d seen the latter: a sign advertising udon and soba noodles.

Suica’s Penguin lives this far north!

Pine pollen collected in the gutters.

My first glimpse of the islands over a dock.

The forecast was for rain, but I seemed to be in luck.  Grey skies were preferable to hiding under an umbrella.

A map of Fukuurajima, 福浦島, “good fortune inlet island”.  Accessible by a 252-meter-long bridge damaged by the tsunami, I happily paid my 200円 or so and walked across to see the trees and other islands.

Densely wooded was my first impression.  Late spring had arrived.

Covered with pine trees and exposing their granite cliffs, the islands reminded me a bit of Tomales Bay, or what my hometown bay would look like with islands and less lichen.

Omikuji were available for sale; these ones were Daruma-shaped.

Which path to take?  This one looks nice.

As in Niigata, wisteria clung to the trees.

This island had it all: views, temples, trees, flowers…

.. and a rope leading down a steep stone slope to a beach.

I watched fishermen collecting mollusks.

The sun began to emerge.

Who had lived in this cave?  Somewhere it had been suggested that hermits had inhabited this island at one point.

福 indeed!  The sun came out as I explored the rest of the woods.


What a delight to grow up somewhere like Matsushima, being able to sail in these waters and visit every island.

A rustling came out of the bamboo undergrowth, startling me.  I jumped as a long, green snake slithered off the trail.

Less abrupt were the blossoming irises.


Each tiny island, no matter how small, has a name and a meaning.

Ongoing repairs to the bridge to fix tsunami damage.

Tree root staircase.

I found a magnolia tree, perhaps 16 meters tall.

At the edge of this meadow was a raised stage.

Time to find lunch.  Do I want to pick a fish?

Wisteria in the sun over water.

Off to a small neighboring island via another red bridge.

This shrine survived the tsunami with only one stone pillar washing away.

Omiyage time.  Not entirely clear as to what was going on here.

Local specialties, hyper cute.

Beef tongue is an important delicacy here.

A statue of Date-san, a historical leader of Sendai.

Shinkansen gifts.

Bear crabs (like something out of Dr. Who?) and Date-san stickers.

Who was this Date-san figure?  I’d have to ask Dan-chan…

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