The jumble of wooded islands dotting Matsushima Bay, a short train ride northeast of Sendai, is officially designated one of Japan’s top three scenic areas, along with Miyajima and Amanohashidate. Roughly 12km by 14km, the bay contains over 260 islands of every conceivable shape and size, many supposedly taking on familiar shapes such as tortoises, whales, or even human profiles, and each with scraggy fringes of contorted pine trees protruding out of the white rock faces. In between, the shallower parts of the bay have been used for farming oysters for around three hundred years.
Bashō, travelling through in 1689, commented that “much praise had already been lavished upon the wonders of the islands of Matsushima”, but many visitors today find the bay slightly disappointing. Nevertheless, a boat trip among the islands makes an enjoyable outing, though it’s best to avoid weekends and holidays when hordes of sightseers descend on the area. Matsushima town has a couple of less-frequented picturesque spots, and a venerable temple, Zuigan-ji, with an impressive collection of art treasures. Most people visit Matsushima on a day-trip from Sendai, but there are some reasonable accommodation options in the area that are worth considering if you’re heading on up the coast to Kinkazan.