Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sendai Sights and Matsushima Musings

One of the benefits of sports road trips is going to places that you might not otherwise visit. The sporting event is what gets you there, but once the game is over, there's always much more to see and do. So I'll try to add some posts on the cities I visit on my trips. This past weekend I saw two games in Sendai on Saturday, but spent Sunday touring nearby towns.

Sendai Sights

With the two games on Saturday, including a soccer game that went into extra time, there wasn't much time to do any sightseeing. So this section is rather sparse.

AER Observatory

The AER building is located next to Sendai station. On the 31st floor there is a free observation deck that allows views to the east and west. To the north there is a small window as you step out of the elevators, and if you want the southern view, you have to eat at the restaurant there.

The views are quite nice from the top, although we were there on a rainy morning. You can see Kleenex Stadium if you look carefully, but it's not clear enough for a good picture. Definitely worth a few minutes to check this out, it's open from 10:30 to 8:00 and they have some star maps posted there, which leads me to think that there are some good views of the night sky on a clear night.

Looking east at the Shinkansen tracks

Marinel Burger

There is a large shopping arcade called Clis Road right across the street from the station. For those who don't know what an arcade is, it's not a place with lots of video games but a covered, outdoor shopping mall along a street. Clis Road covers 4 blocks and has plenty of shops and restaurants.

One of the more interesting eateries is known as Marinel Burger. It just opened last month and it's burgers are made of satsuma-age, which is a fried fish cake. There's only a few choices of toppings (such as miso and onions), but it's much healthier than your regular hamburger and quite good as well. Many people walking by were intrigued by the new store, but few ventured in. With only 4 cramped seats, you won't be there long, but it's worth trying out in between your meals of cow tongue (Sendai's specialty).

One More Time

Thanks to my friend J.T., who used to live in Sendai, we had a lead on a cool bar outside the downtown core. Called One More Time, it's an American style bar with a menu priced in US dollars. Sounds good until you realize that the exchange rate used there is 120yen/$ (the real rate is around 90 right now) so a $7 cocktail is 840 yen instead of a much more pleasing 630 yen. Suzuki-san is the friendly owner and was happy to talk to us about our trip. If you are in Sendai, drop by; it's a lively crowd and a good place to chill after some sightseeing.

But make sure to let them know you aren't there to support another team - since we were visiting from Tokyo, some of the people there thought we were Kawasaki supporters and were giving us the evil eye. Now I do cheer for Kawasaki, but more as a reason to increase my interest in the J League, and I wasn't the least bit upset that they had lost earlier. So once we told them that we were just sports fans, they warmed up and cheered us. It was a good way to end a tiring day.

Matsushima Musings

On Sunday, we took a short train ride to Matsuhima-Kaigan station. Matsushima is a large group of islands that is considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. Matsu means pine, while shima means island; and most of these islands do have pine trees covering them, so it's aptly named.

Anime train at Matsushima Kaigan station

Matsushima is also home to Zuiganji, a very famous Zen Buddhist temple. When we visited, it was under renovations, so we decided to go next door to visit Entsuin, a smaller temple that is the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, who died at the age of 19 back in 1645. It is suggested that he was poisoned as he was considered a threat to the ruling shogunate of the time, as he died while visiting Edo castle, which was the center of power in those days.


As you walk away from Zuiganji down a tree-lined path, you will approach the seaside. From here you have views of the harbor and some islands, as well as Godaido Hall, a small temple located on an islet. You have to walk over a bridge that requires some concentration as there are only two slats that you can walk along. It's said that the builders of the temple made the bridge more difficult in order to ensure that visitors were appropriately respectful, a state of mind that can be achieved by concentrating as you approach over a difficult bridge.
Godaido Hall

Just down from Godaido is Fukuurajima bridge, which takes you to Fukuura Island. It costs 200 yen to traverse this bridge, and we had a boat to catch, so we passed and headed back to the pier.

Fukuura Bridge

The highlight of Matsushima is the boat cruise through the islands. There are two options: one is a round trip that returns you to Matsushima; the other is a one-way trip to nearby Shiogama. We chose the latter and enjoyed a relaxing 50-minute ride. As you pass by each island, a narrative explaining the history of the island or the reason behind its name is played over the speakers. English translations are given when you buy your ticket, which is only 1,400 yen. Definitely worth the price as there are some very interesting tiny islands, including Senganjima, which has a solitary pine tree on it.

Shiogama Sushi

The boat drops you off at Shiogama, a small town that calls itself the "Sushi Capital of Japan". With the most sushi restaurants per sq km in the nation, it is no idle boast and you should try some sushi if you visit here. By the time our late lunch was over, it was growing dark, so we wandered the streets for a bit. There are some nice small stores that you might encounter, and a few sights such as Shiogama Jinja, but it was too late to do much more, so we walked across town to Shiogama station, which is only 20 minutes from Sendai.

While on the way, I spotted a condom machine on the street here in Shiogama. I've actually never seen one of these in all my time in Japan. What was funniest was the slogan above the condoms: "Happy Family Life" - I guess when you have the most densely populated area in Tohoku, keeping families small keeps them happy!



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