松島

Matsushima, meaning "pine islands," is a town in Miyagi prefecture in northern Japan. The town is most famous for the eponymous islands - more than 260 jagged pieces of rock topped by scraggly, twisted little pine trees sprinkled all over Matsushima Bay, upon which the town borders. The islands are considered one of canonical "Three Best Views" of Japan, along with Miyajima island and the Amanohashidate sandbar. The islands are the subject of a famous poem attributed to the haiku master Basho, who was said to have been so struck by the sight, that he made the most inarticulate verse of his career:

Matsushima!
Ah Matsushima!
Matsushima!
This poem is really amusing in Japanese, because it forms a perfect 5-7-5 haiku. Basho actually did visit Matsushima in 1687, during his famous journey on "the narrow road to the deep north," and was in fact impressed by the view, but there is no evidence that he actually composed this apocryphal poem.

Today Matsushima is a sleepy town of some 16,000 people with little to nothing of note other than its famous views of the bay, but remains one of Japan's biggest tourist attractions. The bay truly is a magnificent view on a clear day, and it is also fun to explore the islands by boat. Boasting some of the most bizzare rock formations imaginable, thanks to years of erosion by shifting tides, they are definitely worth the closer look that people on the come-photo-leave package tour miss out on.

To get to Matsushima, take the JR Tohoku Line from Tokyo to Matsushima station and then take a taxi to the bay, or take the JR Senseki Line from Sendai, and get off at Matsushima-Kaigan station, which is right on the water.

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