One of the most popular day trips from Sendai is to the small, coastal town of Matsushima. It's about a 30 minute train ride out of Sendai and quite inexpensive to visit. The main reason for its popularity is because it's considered one of the "Nihon Sankei", or the "Three Most Scenic Places in Japan." Matsushima Bay is full of hundreds of tiny islands, whose trees and rocky bases have been twisted into interesting shapes by the wind and waves.
There are a number of very old temples in Matsushima as well, including Zuiganji which dates back to the time of Date Masamune (the 16th cent.) It has since been rebuilt of course, and since it's been under repairs the past year or so, I've yet to see it myself. But there are a lot of beautiful statues in niches along a cliff wall outside the temple and other smaller temples that can be visited.
One such temple offers a truly gorgeous traditional garden, with evening "light-up" events throughout the year. I was lucky to catch one of these in October when the Japanese maples were bright red. I highly recommend it if you get the chance!
Matsushima also has a fun lantern festival during the Obon season (August). Obon is a bit like a Buddhist version of Halloween or Day of the Dead; it's about honoring ancestors who have passed away. At night, the Obon dancers, in black kimono and lit up by candles, were fittingly creepy as they made a procession through the forest outside Zuiganji. Among the trees were musicians playing traditional flutes, as well as some of the "basket-head" monks who play recorder-like instruments. Definitely one of the most memorable festivals I've seen!
Whenever I visit Matsushima, I always take the time to visit one of its largest islands, accessible by a long red toll bridge. (The toll is only about $1.) The island offers fantastic views of the bay and lots of little meandering paths around the island. You can also find little niches carved into the stone cliffs, where Buddhist monks used to go for meditation. There are lots of quiet beaches as well, which are great for picnics (but watch out for bugs and jelly fish!)
Obviously another attraction in Matsushima is the seafood. I usually get sashimi (sliced raw fish, usually served on a bowl of rice with pickles and miso soup) or one of the seasonal seafood set meals. In the summer you can get hotate, or scallop sets, as well as grilled ika, squid, or various shellfish.
|Fresh tuna sashimi! With pickles, miso, and vegetable/seafood sides. Yum!|
|Watch out for the seagulls! They are cracker bandits.|
You can see the rest of my Matsushima photos here.