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Day trips from Sendai: Enjoying oysters, sea breeze, and serenity in Matsushima

Day trips from Sendai: Enjoying oysters, sea breeze, and serenity in Matsushima

During one of my trips to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit Sendai City (仙台市 Sendai-shi) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken) in the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tohoku-chihō). Wanting to make full use of this chance, I decided to do a day trip to Matsushima Bay (松島湾 Matsushima-wan) as I have only ever read great things about it!

 

Nestled along the picturesque coastline of northeastern Japan, Matsushima Bay emerges as a captivating gem that seamlessly marries natural beauty with cultural significance. Renowned for its ethereal landscapes, Matsushima is often heralded as one of the Three Views of Japan. Beyond its scenic splendour, Matsushima also holds historical treasures, with ancient temples and poetic reflections of Japanese artistry peppering its shoreline. 

 

From Sendai, to Matsushima

A helpful timetable found at Matsushima-Kaigan Station for planning which train to take when returning to Sendai Station. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Despite waking up a little later than expected, I managed to hop on the Senseki Line (仙石線 Senseki-sen) from JR Sendai Station (仙台駅 Sendai-eki). The name of the line “Senseki” actually comes from the combination of the first kanji of Sendai and Ishinomaki (石巻), which are the two cities that the Senseki Line connects.

 

After a 40-minute train ride, I arrived at Matsushima-Kaigan Station (松島海岸駅 Matsushima-Kaigan-eki), the station closest to most of Matsushima’s points of interest. As it was close to lunchtime, the first thing on my agenda was grabbing something to eat. Having done prior research, I had my eyes set on visiting the Matsushima Fish Market (松島さかな市場 Matsushima Sakana Ichiba). While on my way, the roads were also dotted with plenty of other eateries featuring Matsushima’s famous local cuisine: fresh oysters (牡蠣 kaki). 

 

Matsushima Fish Market

Matsushima Fish Market. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Matsushima Fish Market offers a vibrant seafood experience just a 10-minute walk from the station. As it was the weekend, the market was bustling with stalls showcasing fresh catches, from delectable sashimi to grilled delicacies. When it comes to Matsushima's seafood, I couldn’t overlook the renowned oysters. Miyagi Prefecture, ranking second only to Hiroshima, excels in both production volume and sales. Lucky for me, I visited in November, which fell in the prime oyster season (late October to mid-March).

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

The market comprises three distinct sections: the outdoor area, and two indoor levels. The outdoor space highlights the renowned Oyster House (焼きがきハウス Yaki Gaki Hausu), celebrated for its fresh oysters, grilled seafood, and an enticing all-you-can-eat (食べ放題) grilled oyster option, level 1 mainly served sushi and sashimi, while level 2 served ramen. To streamline my orders, I swiftly placed requests and explored other stalls. Opting for fried oysters and an oyster burger in the outdoor section, I also indulged in a Seafood Donburi (海鮮丼 Kaisen-don) and a set of maguro (マグロ tuna) sushi from the level 1 section. Despite the wait for my orders, it was all worth it when everything was very fresh, and juicy–they were devoured in no time. 

 

Matsushima Fish Market (松島さかな市場)
Address: Fugendo-4-10 Matsushima, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Nearest station: Matsushima-Kaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Access: 10-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 9am–4pm (Weekdays), 8am–4pm (Weekends)
Ordering hours for eateries:

Weekdays: 9am–3pm (sushi and donburi), 10am–3pm (Oyster House and Level 2)
Weekends:8am–3pm (sushi and donburi), 9am–3pm (Oyster House and Level 2)

TEL: +81 22-353-2318

 

Godaido Temple

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having a belly filled with food, it was an opportune time for a nice stroll to Godaido Temple (五大堂). Located just 7 minutes away, this temple hall is often considered a symbol of Matsushima. It is perched on a small island connected to the mainland via a vermilion-lacquered Sukashi Bridge (透かし橋 Sukashi-bashi). When crossing the bridge, you can peer through the openings on the bridge floor, offering a glimpse of the water below. Deliberately designed, these gaps serve as a prelude, encouraging visitors to steady themselves before entering the temple to offer their prayers. Unfortunately during our visit, they were renovating the bridge, and the gaps had been covered. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

After offering a little prayer to the temple hall, I sat down on the benches and enjoyed the spectacular view of the floating islands of Matsushima Bay. For those planning to visit Matsushima, there is also the option to go on a relaxing bay cruise around Matsushima Bay and also a one-way route ferrying sightseers to and fro the neighbouring port town of Shiogama. There are also other routes that take passengers further out into the lesser-known corners of Oku-Matsushima to see the Sagakei Gorge. Standard cruises depart hourly and take approximately 50 minutes, and tickets can be purchased just prior to departure.

 

Godaido (五大堂)
Address: Chonai-111 Matsushima, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Nearest station: Matsushima-Kaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Access: 10-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 8:30am–4:30pm
TEL: +81 22-354-2023

 

Tea time snack at Yukitakeya

A matcha ice cream and grilled senbei—the perfect combination of sweet and salty! (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Just across the street from Godaido, I had a short break at Yukitakeya (雪竹屋). This souvenir shop boasts a diverse range of local products but what caught my attention was the delicious smell of the freshly made senbei (煎餅 rice crackers) which were grilled by hand at the front of the shop. They also offered other flavours of senbei such as sesame and sugar in the shop and for non-senbei fans, they offered vanilla and matcha ice cream as well. The freshly grilled senbei was piping hot and was the perfect snack to share for two. 

 

Yukitakeya (松島雪竹屋)
Address: Chonai-109 Matsushima, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Nearest station: Matsushima-Kaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Access: 8-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 10am–5:30pm (Closed on Tuesday)
TEL: +81 22-354-2612

 

Zuiganji Temple

The unsuspecting entrance to Zuiganji Temple. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

With my day drawing to a close soon, the last stop in my itinerary is the Zuiganji Temple (瑞巌寺). Nestled amidst the shop houses is the entrance to the serene landscapes of the temple grounds. Zuiganji Temple stands as a timeless testament to Japan's rich cultural heritage and is one of the Tohoku Region's most famous and prominent Zen temples. Dating back to the 9th century, this historic Zen Buddhist temple exudes tranquillity and architectural elegance. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

The pathway leading to the main hall stretches straight, bordered by cedar trees. However, due to the 2011 tsunami, many of them were unfortunately damaged by the salt water and had to be felled. Many of the fallen trees were then turned into decorative elements throughout the temple ground. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Included in the admission fee is access to the temple’s main hall, Kuri (the Zen kitchen) and temple museum which showcases treasures such as Date Masamune’s armour, the first feudal lord of Sendai and the person who rebuilt Zuiganji Temple as his family temple on Matsushima. I stepped into the temple’s main hall and followed the designated route which displayed various rooms beautifully decorated with paintings on sliding doors and ancient artefacts. It was a fascinating and enlightening experience to learn about the history of temple grounds and it felt as though I had stepped back in time. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having walked through the facility, the sun was already beginning to set. I collected my goshuin (御朱印 seal stamp) from the counter near the entrance and walked the alternate path that detoured off to the right of the entrance. There were a number of caves that were used in the past for meditation and today contain statues. The serene walk was brightly lit by the setting sun and the vibrant hues of the autumn leaves. While I didn’t have time to check out the night-time illuminations that take place every autumn, visiting the temple at dusk was the perfect end to my day trip. 

 

Zuiganji Temple (瑞巌寺)
Address: Chonai-91 Matsushima, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi 981-0213
Nearest station: Matsushima-Kaigan Station (松島海岸駅)
Access: 10-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 8:30am–3:30pm (January, December) 8:30am–4pm (February, November), 8:30am–4:30pm (March, October), 8:30am–5pm (April to September)
Admission fee: ¥700 (Adults), ¥400 (Child)
TEL: +81 22-354-2023

 

See you next time, Matsushima!

One last snack (a Zunda shake!) before hopping on the train back to Sendai Station. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Matsushima was truly a great place for anyone looking to plan a day trip from Sendai City. With its main sightseeing area easily accessible via a short walk from the station, it was easy to discover many of Matsushima’s treasures. If you’re visiting Sendai City or Miyagi Prefecture, be sure to include this historic place in your itinerary!

 

Header image credit: Julia Yee

 

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