Sunday, December 5, 2010

JAPAN HERITAGE Matsushima: A seascape that left poet Basho at a loss for words


Legend has it that even Matsuo Basho, the celebrated 17th-century haikuist and travel writer, was at a loss for words when he first gazed at Matsushima.
The locale that so moved the man who perfected the art of haiku is about 14 kilometers from east to west, and 12 kilometers north to south. It encompasses a scenic coastline and 270 or so islets, all covered in pine trees, in Matsushima Bay, in Miyagi Prefecture.
photoAn aerial view of Matsushima Bay off Miyagi Prefecture (ASAHI SHIMBUN FILE PHOTO)
Matsushima is considered one of the country's top three coastal scenic spots, along with Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima Prefecture. Since the Edo Period (1603-1867), Matsushima has been a favorite theme of both writers and artists.
It is within easy access of Sendai, the capital of the prefecture--less than a half-hour train ride.
Matsushima's charms are not seasonally challenged. It is a destination for all seasons--cherry blossoms in spring, beautiful leaves changing colors in fall, swimming and fishing in summer and a crystal view of the bay in winter. And regardless of the time of year, history fans will find much to see, do and learn.
Of course, Matsushima is noted for its seafood, including "anago" sea eels in summer and oysters in winter. There is no reason a visitor cannot try them at various restaurants, many of which offer great views of the bay.
After lunch you might want to hop aboard a tour boat for a bay trip. The boats follow predetermined times and routes to see the best the bay has to offer at just the right times of the day.
Hot tip: The lookout point at Otakamori on Miyatojima island in eastern Matsushima is considered the best spot to watch the sun go down.
For early risers, people say the best place to view the sun making its appearance is Saigyomodoshi no Matsu Park on the coast near Matsushima-Kaigan Station.
The station also provides access to Zuiganji temple, the most famous Zen temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism in the Tohoku region. It is believed to have been built in 828 and reconstructed in 1609 by warrior lord Date Masamune (1567-1636). Its main hall, corridors and even its Zen kitchen are designated national treasures.
Nearby is the small island of Ojima, once a training center for different Buddhist sects. It all began, so they say, when the ascetic Kenbutsu took up residence in the 12th century and spent the next dozen years reciting sutras all day long. Naturally, this much effort was rewarded with great spiritual power.
For those seeking more earthly pleasures, there is aquarium Marine Pia, noted for its waddling penguins, and a music box museum, Matsushima Orgel Museum. Both are within walking distance of Matsushima-Kaigan Station.
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Take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Sendai Station and transfer to JR Senseki Line. It's a 25-minute ride to Matsushima-Kaigan Station.
From Sendai Station, the JR Tohoku Line is also available. Get off at Matsushima Station.
Sightseeing boats are available from a pier near Matsushima-Kaigan Station.
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