Matsushima, one of the “three sights” of Japan, is one of the more well-known destinations north of Kanto, and the central area around Matsushima Kaigan Station has the quaint busy touristy feel common to popular resorts. While this is hardly a glowing recommendation, the natural beauty of the numerous fantastically shaped rocky islands covered in pine trees cannot be denied. Most visitors will arrive at Matsushima Kaigain, collect a half dozen pamphlets there, and do a loop or the numerous places of note. Many of these are tied to the figure of Date Masamune, a 16th century samurai and feudal lord. Regardless of one’s interest in Japanese history or lack thereof, three primary destinations are worth mention. They are all islands that can be reached via bridges: Oshima, Godaido, and Fuku-urajima.
Oshima, the farthest south, is a small island reached by a narrow path cut into the cliff face along the coast. Favored by Buddhist ascetics, the island is home to numerous devotional statues carved into the rocks, as well as several caves and a mysterious tunnel. Godaido is a small temple built on an island that can be reached via a short, but breathtaking bridge. That is to say, the bridge is made of planks with wide gaps, making the passage an exercise in courage for small children and those uncomfortable at heights. The temple itself is beautiful but not of particular note if you’ve visited other temples in Japan. Fuku-urajima is the largest of the three and is reached by a rather long red bridge to the north of the other two. The wooded island has walking paths around the edges leading to shrines and clearings that allow awe-inspiring views of the more remote islands scattered throughout the bay.
While this central area is certainly worth visiting, any visit to Matsushima that ended here would be incomplete. Oku Matsushima refers to the deeper, less traveled side of the peninsula that forms the northern edge of the bay. Take the Senseki Line to tiny Nobiru Station and you’ll find a small residential area lacking all but a lonely convenience store. A short walk to the south reveals a hidden beach and even a little fishing port from which you can buy tickets on a small sightseeing boat that regularly takes the knowledgeable tourist on a 1500 yen hour-long trip around the Sagakei area – strikingly beautiful islands of myriad shapes.
Farther to the south in Oku Matsushima, Otakamori provides a panoramic view of the bay. Beaches wedged between rock formations dot the area, providing both secluded hideaways and fertile fisheries all year round. Smaller boats can be hired for both fishing trips and more up-close experiences with the white rock islands- including trips through narrow tunnels carved out by the ocean. A youth hostel and friendly guest house are affordable lodging options near Nobiru Station that will have abundant information on how to hire boats and get around the area.