Last summer's trip to Matsushima focused on three islands. I didn't plan for things to turn out like that, but we ended up not taking the boat cruise or going to the city's most famous temple. And while I wanted to go to the outer islands, access is difficult due to the tsunami. That might be a day trip of its own.
But even just exploring three islands and the waterfront stores, I had a great time and if it wasn't so far away I could see it being a frequent destination.
It's not perfect, though. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but an abandoned television was found, along with a bunch of other trash, on Fukuura-jima. It's possible it ended up here due to the tsunami, but I also venture a guess that this particular item might have been brought here by someone trying to avoid paying the pickup fee.
Hello Kitty is here, though! As is the cow samurai character on the right. The street that runs along the waterfront is full of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists.
There are some tea shops, including one that was making fresh senbei (rice crackers). These are quite popular snacks in Japan, and are frequently bought as souvenirs to bring back to the office when traveling. They're so much better than rice cakes - nothing like them, actually - and they are frequently coated in a sauce (a soy sauce of sorts here) or have some other flavoring included.
Matsushima is a beautiful place, so it only makes sense that there are several temples here. The bay is considered one of the three best views in Japan.
I mentioned in a previous post that there is an aquarium in Matsushima. It has a dolphin show, penguin walk, and some sharks. I haven't visited but it doesn't get mentioned in guide books that I read. Admission is a steep 1700 yen, but for those with small children it might be the only "fun" thing they can do here.
I see you, sea gull. They come and go with the tour boats; tourists toss food (bread) to them as they follow the boats out into the bay and back into port.
The rocks in Matsushima are fantastic. The man-made caves built by monks for quiet contemplation and the slowly-weathered walls at the water's edge all are amazing.
Matsushima means Pine Islands and there are plenty of flowers and trees to be seen. They grow on even the smallest islets.
What can serve as a day trip for most can build to a two or three day trip pretty quickly if you spend some time exploring. In addition to the three islands that I visited, you can add the previously mentioned temple, aquarium, and boat cruise, plus time on the outer islands. Sendai and Matsushima aren't too far from Tokyo, but in the summer the temperature difference is noticeable.