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Why You Should Make Matsushima Happen

I honestly can’t remember when I decided I wanted to visit Matsushima. It was after the onset of the pandemic, to be sure; I got there almost as fast as I could, after arriving in Kyoto to study Japanese in early 2021.

I also don’t remember why I wanted to go so badly. While Matsushima is obviously one of Japan’s “three great views,” I’ve never felt too hung up on such designations when planning my own trips to Japan. I suppose this will have to remain a mystery.

Regardless, I’ve now made several trips to Japan’s pine islands, so I am more than qualified to answer the question that led you here: Is Matsushima Bay worth it?

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Why Matsushima Bay is Famous

Before I address the central topic of this post (“is Matsushima worth visiting?”), I should ask an even more existential question: Why is Matsushima famous, in the first place? The short answer is that it’s been designated as one of Japan’s “three famous views,” alongside Amanohashidate in Kyoto prefecture, and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.

The long answer is that the scene—pine covered-islands dotting a beautiful bay and leading all the way out to the horizon—has been depicted in countless pieces of art going back centuries, long before its modern Instagram fame. While you may or may not decide to hire a Charter jet to take you here at a moment’s notice, I wouldn’t be shocked if you quickly add Matsushima to your bucket list after reading this post.


What to Do at Matsushima Bay

Walk amid the islands

Local authorities have built pedestrian bridges that connect the mainland of the Matsushima seashore to the closest-in islands, which include Oshima and Fukuura. This allows you to get up-close and personal with its magnificent pines, and see their impressive scale and beauty first-hand.

(Or cruise through them)

Another experience that makes Matsushima Bay worth visiting? Visit one of the boat ticket offices near the station, and book a cruise that takes you through the islands. These depart at least once per hour, often at times that are synchronized with the arrival and departure times of trains.

Take it all in from above

My personal favorite way to see Matsushima is from above, specifically at the Saigyo Modoshi-no-matsu viewpoint. This is about 20 minutes on foot up the hill behind Matsushima-kaigan Station, though you can get a cab here for around ¥1,500 if anyone in your group has mobility issues.

Dine on fresh oysters

Is Matsushima Bay worth visiting? Not surprisingly, if you love seafood, the answer is a much clearer “yes.” While oysters caught right out in the bay are the most popular offering (I personally love them grilled, known as yaki gaki in Japanese), you can also enjoy more sweeping options such as kaisendon sashimi rice bowls.

Stay for sunset—or come early for sunrise

Matsushima sits to the east of the mainland, so while you can’t watch sunset “behind” the islands, the afternoon light does paint it in a very flattering way. Conversely, you can also come for sunrise if it’s clear, although this can occur very early at some times of year—before 5 AM in the summer months!


How to Get to Matsushima Bay

Matsushima is relatively easy to access from everywhere in Japan, though it might not be quick, depending upon where you start from. The most straightforward place to begin your trip is the city of Sendai, from which Matsushima’s nearest station (Matsushima-kaigan Station—don’t ride all the way to Matsushima Station!) is around 30 minutes away on the JR Senseki Line.

Don’t plan to be in Sendai? This doesn’t mean that Matsushima isn’t worth visiting—you can ride the Shinkansen here from Morioka, Fukushima or even Tokyo, if you’re very motivated. Another way to sweeten the deal if you’re still on the fence? Stop en route at Hon-Shiogama Station and visit the underrated, centuries-old Shiogama Shrine.


Other FAQ About Visiting Matsushima Bay

Is Matsushima worth visiting?

Matsushima is absolutely worth visiting, whether you specifically want to tick one of Japan’s “three famous views” off your bucket list, or have just seen pictures of it and found yourself impressed. In order to maximize your enjoyment of Matsushima, I recommend seeing it from a viewpoint (such as Saigyo Modoshi-no-matsu), rather than simply at island or water level.

What is Matsushima famous for?

Matsushima is famous for being one of Japan’s “three famous views,” with Kyoto prefecture’s Amanohashidate and Hiroshima’s Itsukushima Shrine being the other two. It’s been memorialized in countless pieces of classical Japanese art—and, more recently, all over social media.

Where is the best place to see Matsushima Bay?

In my opinion, the best place to see Matsushima Bay is the Saigyo Modoshi-no-matsu viewpoint. This is especially true if you come during cherry blossom season, which occurs here in mid-April. No matter what time of year you come, early risers will be treated to one of Japan’s best sunrises here, so make sure not to miss that!


The Bottom Line

Is Matsushima Bay worth it? Certainly, if you’re going to be in Sendai (or anywhere in southern Tohoku) anyway, it can’t hurt to make an afternoon trip to Matsushima, or to visit in the morning for sunrise if you don’t mind waking up so early. The scene you find is undeniably beautiful, whether you see it at ground level on foot or by boat, or from overhead at viewpoints like Saigyo Modoshi-no-matsu. With this being said, I’m not sure you should go far out of your way to visit Matsushima—well, unless you’re like I was years ago, and just feel supernaturally drawn to it. In that case, you may want to hire me to plan your trip.


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