Oku-Matsushima, A Hidden Gem… If you could hide something that big.
At the station, I got on the train to Nobiru. When I got there, I talked to the lady in the shop at the station, and rented the bicycle (there’s only one, and it was available!) for 300 yen for 4 hours. I was warned– the shop closes at 5 (of course), so I had to get the bike back by then.
I got my bike at 3 p.m., so I had to hustle, just like in Togakushi. I’ll admit it. I like working to a tight deadline, because it focuses me.
It’s 5 km to Otakamori, which is a really big hill/tiny mountain. According to Lonely Planet, it’s the best way to see the islands that make up Matsushima. So I got on the bike.
The ride was easy on my legs and my eyes. The terrain was mostly flat, with small, gentle hills, but nothing too taxing. There was lots of pretty scenery I didn’t have time to photograph, but it’s worth the trip. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get there, because at the 2.5 km to go point, the signs don’t say much more until you get there. (It reminds me of New Jersey in that regard.) But it’s pretty much a straight shot.
When I found the mountain, I saw that there were 2 trails. I just picked one with a parking lot nearby to park my bike and leave. (First I grabbed some water because I was already hurting. Vending machines really are everywhere!)
If the view from the parking lot is this good, then the Magnificent View must really be magnificent!
Now we climb a big stairway:
I stopped for a few photos at the top of the stairs:
This is the road I came in on:
I started climbing again. It hurt after a long bike ride.
Then I see the first sign– 700m to the top.
The part of me that didn’t die in Togakushi… dies. It’s not a fun climb at all. It’s steep, uneven, and painful after a 5 km bike ride. My thighs officially hate me now. More climbing. More pain.
I pass through an area full of dragonflies. Neat. Then I pass an area full of bluebottle flies. Not so neat. I hate those. I think they could sense that I was exhausted, so they buzzed me constantly.
400 meters to the summit!
Catching glimpses of the view:
And more glimpses:
I liked this sign as I got near the top. It’s telling you to put out your cigarettes completely! So do it!
After about 20 minutes, I made it to the top.
The Best Matsushima Experience Money Can’t Buy (The Magnificent View)
It’s another one of those OHMYGOD moments. The views were stunning. Just incredible. The sun was about to set in about 30 minutes, so the light was dramatic and golden, and just wonderful. There were five of us at the summit, and we were all sort of grinning to ourselves, because we were having the best Matsushima experience you can have.
And it was free.
No boats, no tour groups, no megaphones, no broken English explanations of rocks, no seagulls, no cheesy souvenirs. Just a couple of benches, an info map thing, and a little covered area to sit.
Oh, and some of the most incredible scenery ever.
In Japan, this spot gives what’s called the “Magnificent View” of Matsushima. Indeed.
I felt smart again. I was feeling dumb earlier in the day when I first got to Matsushima. Now I felt like I was smart again. Whew.
That road is the road I rode my rental bike on:
More of the non-Matsushima side:
Back to the Matsushima side again, with a wide-angle adapter:
This guide stone shows the names and locations of islands and landmarks:
Pull out a bit and you see it on the summit:
Some close ups of the bay:
Close up of the town:
Now the hard part: getting back. If I thought uphill was bad, downhill was worse, because it was a controlled crash down the hill. I was trying to keep momentum up without falling, and everything was uneven. Not fun. But I was still glowing from the view and the pictures.
I took a few photos from the top of the stairs, since it was sunset. Or almost sunset:
Sunset from the top of the stairs. The conical buildings are a museum of ancient artifacts:
Last shot as I left on my bike:
Then the bike ride back. Ouch. 5 km of more pain. I made it back in time, though, with about 20 minutes to spare.
I got on the train (it was a local. Dang.), and sat there for a minute. Then I saw a limited express come in… and I thought it said “Sendai” on it. So I jumped on board… and promptly went the wrong way. D’oh. 2 stops later, I wound up in Rikuzen-Ono Station. It was the tiniest train station I’ve seen. Ever. The scenery was pretty, though, so I didn’t feel too bad about the screw-up.
I took some photos with my Motorola Razr V3X, so they’re not all that hot:
Rikuzen Ono Station:
Dusk on the platform:
I waited another 15-20 minutes, enjoyed the scenery, and caught a limited express back to Sendai. (This time I double-checked.)
Then dinner. More raiding of various department stores. The department stores here totally rock. You can find just about anything there. I got some yakitori with negi… it’s grilled chicken and spring onions on a stick in a sweet soy-based sauce, then I grabbed some more tonkatsu chunks (breaded deep fried pork.) For dessert, I stood in line 30 minutes for taiyaki.
Taiyaki is a grilled pastry (sort of like waffles) with paste inside in the shape of a carp. I mentioned it a few posts ago. It was very hot, and very good. They had red bean paste and cream, so I got one of each. I think I like the cream better, but if they had chocolate, I’d never leave.
Probably because I wouldn’t fit on the airplane anymore.
Then I headed back here to the hotel to collapse.
I think I walked about 5-6 km again today, with about 10 km of cycling mixed in. No wonder I’m so hungry all the time.
The Lonely Planet guide isn’t 100%, but it got this right. Definitely go to Oku-Matsushima and climb that blasted hill. It’s another one of those, “Oh yeah, this is why I travel,” moments.
Tomorrow is my last Shinkansen ride– to Tokyo for 6 days of sight-seeing and rabid purchasing.
Then I can come back to the U.S. and experience reverse culture shock.
Note from 8/2011: The 3/11 tsunami caused a lot of damage to the Tohoku region, and it pretty much wiped out Nobiru, a lot of the buildings and the road I rode to Otakamori, and the little station I wound up in accidentally, Rikuzen-Ono, which was near Higashi Matsushima. The tsunami even got one of the local trains as it was moving up the coast.
Miyatojima, the island that Otakamori is located on, was cut off from the mainland by the tsunami, but I haven’t heard any updates recently.
Matsushima itself didn’t get much in the way of damage, because it was shielded by its bay, but parts of Sendai (especially near the coast) got heavily damaged. Choumei-Ana in the last post was destroyed.
Before venturing to the area, you should definitely call ahead to make sure that the roads are clear, and that you won’t be a burden.
Otherwise, it’s a great place, full of great people who could really use your help and your tourist dollars. (And maybe while you’re there, you could volunteer a little, too!)
This is yet another reminder that every place I visit, I should treat as though I might not ever get the chance to see it again. If the events of 9/11 and 3/11 didn’t highlight this lesson for me, the recent London riots have underlined it for me.