Miyagi: The best Japan has to offer | JAPAN SHOWCASE | The Japan Times


A guide to Japan's prefectures and major cities


Matsushima island
Matsushima island


Miyagi: The best Japan has to offer


Miyagi Prefecture lies north of Tokyo in the Tohoku region of Japan. Its capital city of Sendai is less than two hours from Tokyo via Japan's famous shinkansen. Matsushima, one of Japan's three most scenic views, lies only a half hour away from Sendai. Matsushima offers travelers an abundance of fresh seafood, locally grown produce, sake, shochu (distilled spirits), as well as a rich history and nature. The amazing coast and ocean make Matsushima a great getaway from Tokyo and other heavily traveled tourist destinations.

Jugetsudo tea shop
Jugetsudo tea shop

Before heading to Matsushima, one should stop by the Jugetsudo tea shop and tea room, located on the fifth floor above Tokyo's famous Kabuki Theatre in Ginza. The design was by Kengo Kuma, the architect of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium. It is a wonderful place to learn and experience the mysteries of Japanese teas and purchase some of the fine teas and tea-related products.

Tsukishima has the unique feel of a typical downtown Tokyo working class area, free from the tourist crush. Monja (a savory pancake) is the food to eat here; it is prepared at your table on a hot plate using a variety of fresh foods depending on your preferences.

Tokyo Tower, the venerable Eiffel Tower of Tokyo, is the most recognized landmark in all of Tokyo. It is the place to go to take in the views of urban Tokyo, from the modern to the historic.

Zozoji Temple, located at the base of the tower, is one of the most important temples in the history of Tokyo. It boasts many unique features within its grounds.

Kushi Agemono Shuns is a restaurant located in Toranomon Hills which serves a yakitori (fried chicken)/tempura (deep-fried vegetables and seasfood) mashup using the best of both food styles. The restaurant has an elegant, but relaxed feel, and is a great place to relax after a day of exploring Tokyo.

The Hotel Monterey in Ginza makes for a great base to visit many spots in Tokyo. The hotel is close Tokyo station, the hub for the shinkansen and many other trains. It is a comfortable place to rest, with plenty of outlets for one's ever-increasing amount of electronics.

Zunda (green bean) shake
Zunda (green bean) shake

Sendai station is a great hub for all points in Miyagi Prefecture, where one can find various stores selling a wide variety of local goods. Combined with the restaurants and spacious and clean layout, it makes a great starting point for your adventure in Miyagi. While at the station, be sure to try the local favorite, zunda, which is made from soybeans and sugar. It can be enjoyed as a shake, ice cream, or pudding with mochi (glutinous rice cake). It is quite tasty and delicious.

Matsushima Bay is considered to be one of the three best views in Japan, and certainly lives up to this claim. Taking one of the many boats out into the bay is the best way to enjoy this scenic natural wonder. The bay contains up to 260 pine-covered islands of various sizes. Being on the sea, the waves, the salt air, and seagulls that fly so close that one can just about reach out and touch them; all these elements make for a bucket list experience at one of Japan's premier locations.

Matsuo Basho's haiku sums it up perfectly:

Matsushima ah!

A-ah Matsushima ah!

Matsushima ah!

Godaido Temple's hall has stood on a tiny islet since 807 and can only be reached by crossing a bridge that has large gaps between its slats. The current structure, which dates from 1604, is still an impressive site. The temple is one of the prominent features of the bay, and is only a two-minute walk from the boat bay tour entrance.

The rotenburo, an open-air bath, at the hotel Ubudo overlooks Matsushima Bay, and makes for a great respite where one can enjoy the sweeping views of the bay. A kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) lunch in the hotel's well-appointed restaurant is the way to recharge one's batteries. Outside the hotel is a free onsen foot bath to refresh those tired puppies from walking.

Renting a kimono to wear around Matsushima from Ume Luv adds another level of enjoyment to one's experience while exploring this beautiful part of Japan. Interacting with Yumi Nakano, the owner of the shop, is such a pleasant and helpful experience. It will add a warm and memorable experience to your trip.

The history and ambience of the Zuiganji Temple must be experienced firsthand, with its beauty and artwork contained inside and outside this magnificent temple complex. This temple has served the people of Matsushima well over its storied history. Recently, it was an evacuation point during the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The Kanrantei Tea House can't be beat when it comes to enjoying matcha and assorted Japanese sweets. The views from this spot on the edge of the bay fills one with relaxation and brings on a contemplative mood.

The not-so-hard climb up Mount Otakamori rewards one with a sunset over the inland sea, which makes for a great photo op. A great way to end the day!

The Chidori ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) reopened in a safer location in 2014 after being damaged by the 3/11 tsunami. The friendly staff are kind and helpful in this clean and comfortable inn. The fresh Japanese meals served and the inn's ambience make it a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and connects one with nature.

Fishing off the Tsukihama beach
Fishing off the Tsukihama beach

The Tsukihama beach area offers more than just a lovely beach. Other activities include kayaking around the inland sea along its many coves and areas of natural beauty. One can pilot a Japanese fishing vessel and catch an abundance of fresh seafood there.

The Higashimatsushima Earthquake Memorial Museum is an important resource to learn about and understand the overall events that devastated the area during the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. An important stop on your trip, one learns about the events and is reminded of all who lost their lives that fateful day. The museum is staffed by people who were there that day, as well as those who lost loved ones.

Miyagi prefecture and the Matsushima area are great places to experience the true feel of Japan without the crush of mass tourism.

Travel for this article supported by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government