Our drive from Shizukuishi to Matsushima was mostly on Expressways so very straight forward and easy to navigate. We found our accommodation easily, which was set on a small promitory looking over the islands of Matsushiima bay, so extremly picturesque. The Matsushima Sakan Shoan was beautifully set up and everything was pristine and the rooms were ideal but without private onsen baths.
Talk about a “room with a view” this one was extra special and we celebrated our good fortune by cracking open the Sake we were given by our Travel Agent Ken, watching our first sunset over the water.
As usual we were obliged to wear our Yakata robes for dinner, stting in the lounge and when going to the Onsen. The atmophere was very relaxed but with a positive understated grandness about it all and our traditional Japanese room with Futon beds (three layers for us) was exceptional.
The Onsen baths were fabulous both in-doors and out and we had them to ourselves most days around 2pm at changeover time.
The aspect to the south east gave us great sunrises as well as sunsets and it was really nice to be by the waterside again.
Our first adventure was into the main town centre and the famous Godai-do-Temple island with its traditional red bridges and rustic timber temple
These Buddhist temples were incredibly ornate but unlike the bright red Shinto Shrines they keep colour to a minimum, and only on the inside.
The Bay where the town is located has a regular tourist ferry service around the Pine islands that Matsushima is famous for, so it was a case of take your pick…as they all do the same thing
The Godai-do Temple style has been replicated in other buildings around town but the main temple complex is located in a park behind the main shopping strip and features 5 main sights centred around the Unesco listed Duigan-ji Temple. It is very plain on the outside but the inside is unlike anything we have seen with stunning screens and silk paintings in abundance
The pebble garden arrangements were beautiful and the shrine was exceptional
Next to the main complex was the simple and beautiful Entuuin Temple, with its private gardens and serene atmosphere. We spent a lot of time here in quiet contemplation as it just had something special happening around it.
There was also the Denshin-an Temple, the Zuiganji museum, The Sansei-do Temple, the smaller Tenpin-in Temple and the Hiyoshi Santo-jinja Shrine in the parklike region.
After all that walking it was time for a refreshing tea at the Kanrantei Museun Tea House where we enjoyed some green tea and lovely little sweet delicacies to go with it, looking out over the bay.
Matsushima is also well know for its Fukuurabashi Bridge, a pedestrial only link to the small island that bares its name. We enjoyed exploring the island and all its nooks and crannies, with cameo views of the islands in the bay at every turn and of course the obligitory temple to see and cafe for refreshments
We took a ferry ride to cruise around the island which was very over-rated but still very interesting and then drove up to the lookout at Saigyo Modoshi-no-Matsu Park above the town to get the panoramic view of the bay. From that angle you could see why the tsunami from 2011 was deflected and had its energy dissipated as it made its way through the myriad of small and large islands so that its impact on Matsushima was nothing like what happened 20km down the coast at Sendai
We enjoyed afternoon Coffee and cake at a great Italian restaurant “le Roman” in the park with awesome views and then drove around the region to get as much sight-seeing in as we could.
At every Onsen we stay at there is some stand out food presentation and at the Sohan it was no exception
Next stop was the town of Tendo with its mini mountain in the middle of town and plenty of autumn colours in abundance which is located right next to Yamagata City
On the way we stopped off to vistit the Risshakuji Yamadera Temple complex which comprises two lower temples at the town level and then a series of smaller temples and gates up the side of a mountain that takes 1,000 steps to get there.
Yamadera Mizuko and Kompon Chu-do temples introduce the vibe of the complex and then the climb begins winding its way up perfectly executed stone staircases and pathways.
Before we knew it we were at 400 steps and then 800 and along the way experienced so many WOW moments with Shrines and memorial poles, caves and sheer cliffs. It was a truly amazing experience and especially so as it was shaded and a perfect 20 degress all the way.
The Niomon gate welcomes you to the upper temple complex which was located in a cleft between two hills so it enabled construction of the buildings and allowed connecting pathways very easily.
There were small structures perched on rock crags and of course fabulous vistas across the valleys and mountains.
The famous Kezo-in Temple with its little red shrine sits on one such crag and is one of the most picturesque images of the region.
We had lunch in a funny little resturant on the river and finally got to eat after we kept getting passed over as they feed the locals first…strange but true!
We spent a day in the main town of Yamagata wandering around looking for coffee and saw some interesting new buildings and visited the old castle ruins and the old English hospital from the late 1800’s
We had heard that the Yamagata General Sports park has the best displays of Autumn leaves in the region so we dropped in and stayed for hours as it was amazing.
The garden design and the colour combinations were exceptional and so glad that we took so much of it in. The Maples were in their phase of going from green to red so plenty of pink in the mix and the Ginkgo trees were also on their way from green to yellow so the combos were stunning.
We discovered out of the way Temples virtually on the edge of fields in tiny towns and explored the streets around the hotel in Tendo as well as the delights of Tendo Park.