Matsushima: Miyagi Prefecture’s Celebrated Island Views
Boarding for the Niōmaru course
With its more than 260 islets and breathtaking views, Miyagi Prefecture’s Matsushima Bay is counted as one of the three Scenic Views of Japan, alongside the natural bridge of Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto Prefecture and Miyajima, home of the famous Itsukushima Shrine, in Hiroshima Prefecture. From the most ancient times, poets have sung praises of its views, and the popular traveling poet Matsuo Bashō (1644–94) enthused over the beauty in his poetry travelogue Oku no hosomichi (trans. Narrow Road to the Interior).
To savor the sights for yourself, we recommend taking one of the excursion boats that weave their way around the bay. They will take you past an exquisite islet favored by Date Masamune (1567–1636), daimyō of the Sendai domain, while guides tell you the legends relating to numerous other islands while you enjoy the refreshing views from the deck.
The pier where you board the excursion boat is located near Godaidō, one of the best-known symbols of the bay. Masamune rebuilt this temple in 1604 to honor the Go Dai Myōō, the “five great kings” who serve as guardians to the Buddhist faith. The popular cruise aboard the Niōmaru boats will take you on a leisurely tour of around 50 minutes. You can buy your tickets at the boarding dock or reserve them ahead online to get a small discount.
There are eight cruises per day (seven during the winter months) from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, sailing every day of the year, weather permitting. The Niōmaru has capacity for 300 passengers, while the newer Niōmaru III can carry 400. The views are especially grand from the luxury second-floor decks.
The ship leaves Godaidō behind as it cruises past the long red bridge to Fukuurajima and makes it way to Futagojima, the “Twin Islets.” Ahead you will see Senganjima, a favorite of Date Masamune. The famous one-eyed daimyo, also known as Dokuganryū, the “One-eyed Dragon,” was so enchanted by the oddly shaped islet he offered a large sum of money as a reward to anyone who would bring it to him.
The islands are like sculptures carved out by the sea over centuries.
The cruise takes you pass other well-known islets, such as Zaimokujima, Kanejima, and Niōjima. The last in particular, sculpted by the sea into odd shapes, brings to mind a powerful Niō guardian deity puffing, perhaps, on a cigar. The ship reverses course at this point, passing by Katsurajima and Sabusawajima, administratively part of the city of Shiogama across the bay from Matsushima. You know the ship will be docking soon when you see Senganjima once again.
Matsushima Pleasure Boats
- Address: 85 Matsushima-chōnai, Matsushima-chō, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi
- Access: 7 minutes’ walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station on the JR East Senseki Line
- Tel.: 022-354-2233
- Opening hours: 9:00 am–4:00 pm (until 3:00 pm in November–March and until 4:30 pm during the Golden Week holidays in late April and early May and the summer holidays)
- Opening days: Open every day of the year (unless canceled due to weather)
- Fee: Adults ¥1,500, children ¥750 (Adults ¥2,100, children ¥1,050 for special deck access)
- Pamphlets available in English, Chinese (traditional and simplified), and Korean
- Guidance in the ship available in English (also available in Chinese and Korean for group customers)
Nearby Attraction: Fukuurajima
Another way to enjoy the sights of Matsushima Bay is from Fukuurajima, one of the few islands directly accessible from the mainland. Located off the shore to the east of the Godaidō, Fukuurajima is a small island of around six hectares that can be reached by a 252-meter vermillion bridge. The island’s trails offer spectacular viewpoints along the way. The trail all the way around the island can be walked in about an hour. The whole island is a natural preserve, with around 250 different types of plants and trees. Other attractions include a prehistoric shell mound and a pavilion dedicated to the benevolent goddess, Benzaiten.
- Address: 39-1 Matsushima Senzui, Matsushima, Miyagi
- Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station on the JR East Senseki Line
- Opening hours: 8 am–5:00 pm (until 4:30 pm during the winter)
- Opening days: Open every day of the year
- Fee: Adults ¥200, children ¥100
- Matsushima Tourism Association website: http://www.matsushima-kanko.com/en/
(Text by Shoe Press. Banner photo: Excursion boats cruise through Matsushima Bay. Courtesy Miyagi Prefectural Government.)