Here’s another post from before I had a reliable connection…

On the 11th, I went on a trip to Matsushima (松島). I met a group of other international students near the UH Sanjo and then we left for the Tohoku Fukushi-dai Mae train station (東北福祉大前駅). Unfortunately, we missed the train to Sendai Station because we had to wait for someone. As a result, we had to take the bus downtown. From Sendai Station, we took the Senseki line (仙石線) to the Hon-Shiogama station (本塩釜駅).

In Shiogama, we checked out Shiogama Jinja (鹽竈神社), the local shrine. I don’t know what it is with Japanese shrines and very long, steep staircases. Perhaps it has something to do with ascending to the level of the gods or something. Shiogama Jinja has one of the tallest stairways leading up to it that I have seen so far at a Japanese shrine.

Apparently Shiogama Jinja is a popular spot for weddings. There was a traditional wedding ceremony going on, but we couldn’t get a good look because it was going on inside one of the buildings. I really should have gotten a picture of all the shoes lined up, on the stairs, though. Oh well.

We also saw quite a few young kids there dressed up in traditional kimono (着物). We happened to drop by on the day of the Shichigosan festival (七五三, literally 7-5-3), a day when parents bring their kids to shrines all over Japan when they’re 3, 5, or 7 years old (3 or 5 for guys, 3 or 7 for girls). The date used to be set at the 15th of November, but apparently it has gotten quite a bit more relaxed in recent years. Since it gets quite cold in the northern part of Japan (Hokkaido and the Tohoku region), it has become quite common for families to celebrate earlier.

Also, we saw a hilarious nousatsu (納札, votive card) that said 「Hip Hopが上手くなりますように」 (Hip Hop ga jouzu ku narimasu you ni), which translate as “I wish to get good at hip-hop.” After having a good laugh over that, we took the slightly longer yet less steep way down from the shrine and back to the station. There, we bought the tickets for the boat ride and then set out for the marina.

There were several rather ornate boats moored at the marina. The first one had a very cool gold dragon on the front and the second appeared to be some sort of very colorful bird that looked a bit like a chicken or rooster. (Edit: The first boat is a dragon and it’s called the 龍鳳丸 (ryuu hou maru), literally ‘dragon phoenix ship.’ The second boat is a phoenix and it’s called the 鳳凰丸 (houou maru), literally ‘phoenix ship.’) The third boat was some sort of sailing restaurant, but it had a hilarious picture painted on the side – a skull with a chef’s hat and a crossed fork and knife with the phrase “Are you hungry?” written underneath it. Clever, but I think a skull with a crossed fork and knife might just make me eye my food suspiciously before taking a bite.

The boat ride was quite nice. The boat started of at the marina by Shiogama and then headed out into the bay and through the islands of Matsushima. The name 松島 (matsushima) is a combination of two kanji, 松 and 島. The kanji 島, pronounced shima, means ‘island’ while the kanji 松, pronounced matsu, means ‘pine tree.’ The name describes the islands quite nicely because all of the small islands have pine trees growing on top of them. It’s really quite a sight.

On the way, we ran into a group of seagulls. Apparently this is a common occurrence since they’ve prepared for it by stocking up on shrimp flavored rice crackers. I don’t think they taste much like shrimp, but not surprisingly the seagulls don’t mind one bit.

After disembarking from the boat, we hiked up to a little park that was supposed to have a nice view of Matsushima. Well, I suppose it technically did, but there were a few too many trees in the way to get a good picture of the islands. There was a pretty great little pagoda, though, so we got a nice group shot.

Then we hiked all the way back down the mountain to the city and stopped by an ancient village that was carved into the rock a very, very long time ago. At this point it was getting a bit late so the light wasn’t great, but I still managed to get a few reasonable shots without a tripod.

After that, we made two more small trips to two of the larger islands near the shore, connected by bridges. The first island we stopped at had small temple on it. It was a pretty nice location. By the time we got to the larger island, though, it was pretty much night and since there aren’t any lights on the island, we had a bit of a difficult time navigating the pathways in essentially total darkness.

After quite a bit of stumbling around in the dark, we made it back across the bridge and over to the train station. This time, we took the train to Sendai and then transferred to the Senzan line (仙山線) to Tohoku Fukushi-dai Mae station by the international house. So ends one very long, eventful day….