Perhaps Miyagi’s most well-known denizen is the daimyo that founded Sendai, Date Masamune. His likeness can be observed in many areas near the prefecture’s capital. Several years following his death in 1636, the pine tree-clad islands of the aptly named Matsushima were recorded as one of the Three Views of Japan. It’s easy to see why. The region’s history is not all positive, however. It was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Despite this, many parts of Sendai, including the airport, resumed operations mere days after the earthquake and tsunami.

 

Getting There and Around

 

As always, the most economical option for getting to Sendai is flying with Peach. From there, you can take a train to Sendai Station, which connects to many other train lines and to the bus lines. Where the buses are going is not marked very largely. I’d recommend confirming which bus number(s) you can take before you brave the sea of people that were at the platform (at least when we arrived on Thursday morning).

 

For getting to places farther afield (such as the Fox Village), you will need to take a taxi. One way from Shiroishi Station is about 20 minutes and 4000円, so transportation can quickly add up. This was one of my first trips which I budgeted, and I’m pretty glad I did so I wasn’t forced to withdraw from a conbini.

 

Where to Stay

 

Keyaki Guest House is a short and inexpensive (100円) bus ride away from Sendai Station. The owner, Nozomi, is very friendly and a lovely person. The beds are about as comfortable as most hostels’ in this price range.

 

What to Do

 

FoxesThe Zao Fox Village is quite costly to reach. If you go with just one other person, you’re looking at around 6500円, and that’s without any souvenirs. Once you arrive, you’ll be asked if you want to buy any food for the foxes or bunnies, then ushered into the caged area. There are a couple foxes on a leash which you can pet after asking a staff member, as well as many caged animals. There are rabbits, horses, goats, foxes (of course), and even crows, one of whom looks bedraggled. The other seemed to be toying with some of the other visitors and kept quiet while they were filming it, then cawed raucously once they began to retreat. Knowing the intelligence levels of crows, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional. Some of the caged foxes seemed entertained by chasing and jumping after your foot if you raised it near the fence.

 

In the free-roaming area, you can see foxes sleeping all around you. A few were up and walking around, but the majority were napping. Some will wake if you go near the feeding platform (do NOT feed them outside of this space; you will regret it)  and run to get some food. One fox had a different MO, however: it decided to stand in front of the only entrance to the platform and join Gandalf and the Black Knight in the No Passing Club. If you’re not careful, you’ll start a fight between foxes vying for the same piece of treat. In addition to the animals, there is also a small shrine to Inari, a Shinto deity.

 

While the foxes were adorable and enjoyable to interact with, I wish that the village were more focused on providing a suitable environment for them. The open area is far too small for so many animals and it’s obvious they become bored throughout most of their days. As with most zoos and animal enclosures in Asia, animal welfare is not a priority.

 

FukuurajimaOn a wholly positive note, Matsushima is now in the running for one of my favorite places in Japan. The views of the islands from Godaido and Fukuurajima are breathtaking. The small fee (200円) to cross the bridge to Fukuurajima is more than worth it. If you’re very interested in nature, you could easily spend hours here. On top of that, the greenish hue of the water coupled with the bright red of the bridge looks incredible. While walking back to the station, we also ran into a cat, which I was of course ecstatic about. Whoever it was that listed Matsushima as one of the Three Views of Japan in 1643 (commonly thought to be the scholar Hayashi Gahou) got it right. Also, I am desperately in love with the nearly wordless wonder the haiku poet Matsuo Bashou (maybe) penned: 松島や、あ~松島や、松島や。How can you not enjoy such cheekiness (regardless of whether that was the author’s intent or not)?

 

Last Minute Points

 

-Many wall scrolls with perhaps my favorite haiku ever are sold around Matsushima. If you’re as easily entertained as I am, they can brighten up any room.

-The clerk at the small shop on Godaido is generous with his compliments on foreigners’ Japanese. Speak at your own discretion (I know some could use the awkward praise and some could do without).

-There is a cat island a little over an hour away from Sendai. I didn’t get the chance to go, but if you do, keep in mind that there is only at most one ferry back to the mainland each day.

-The Michinoku Lakeside National Government Park also sounds beautiful. You’ll need a taxi to get there, though it seems well worth the fare. I wish I’d had enough time to go.

 

MatsushimaMiyagi is worth a trip for Matsushima alone. Then you, too, can be one step closer to completing the Three Sites of Japan!

 

Brittany Teodorski