I woke up a little bit later than I wanted but I headed down to the JR station to get my pass stamped.
My destination today would be one of the three great views of Japan, Matsushima Bay.
I took a ride on the Hayabusa 11 train and noticed that it only took 90mins to get to Sendai. The train only made 1 stop between Tokyo and Sendai at Omiya. Some serious distance in little amount of time considering Sendai is 360km north of Toyko.
Journey to Matsushima-Kaigan
After getting to Sendai I stuffed my big backpack in one of the convenient 300 yen lockers and hurried along to get my train on the Senseki line to Matsushima-Kaigan station. Unfortunately the train I took kinda stopped at some small station called Higashi-Shiogama.
Turns out there's only approx 1 train per hour to Matsushima-Kaigan during the time I went. I waited around for 20mins for the connecting train. Crossing through some of the tunnels I could start to see the bay and some of the islands. The train line itself is quite close to the coast line and made for a nice scenic ride.
Getting off at Matsushima-Kaigan station, the main port and sights are just 500m away. The first stop I went to was a shop called Matsushima Kouren selling sweetened Rice Crackers. I was attracted to this shop due to their touting of a 700 year old recipe. Reciting this fact to Ippy, she reminds me that it must mean it tastes boring. She was unfortunately correct, after I tried some of the samples in store. Even the “very sweet” version was quite bland and uninspiring. Like the sucker I am, I still bought 1 for 118 yen. It was quite delicate and the shopkeeper gave it to me in a plastic bag. I couldn't put it in my backpack because then it would break into a thousand pieces.
Moving on, I decided to have lunch at this point as it was already about 12pm by this stage due to the lack of trains earlier. Matsushima Bay is known for its oysters and there are many many oyster farms out in the bay. So for lunch I had Oyster and Tofu in a Tomato soup. It cost about 600 yen for the set with rice, but alas only had 2 oysters in the soup. I suppose it was good enough. The oysters were great though.
Behind the place I ate at, there was the 1000+ year old Godaido temple overlooking the bay.
Walking further along the foreshore there's the Fukuurabashi, a 250m long bridge connecting the mainland with the island of Fukuurajima. Before crossing the bridge I helped myself to a rather average green tea soft serve from the visitors centre.
At about this point the weather was starting to get worse. The sun disappeared and it was now getting colder and darker with clouds. I decided I best hurry across the bridge and do a quick circuit of the island.
Crossing the bridge was where it got ridiculously windy so I had to put on my gloves. As I was putting on my gloves a big burst of wind blew the bloody rice cracker bag out of my hand into the water. Just my luck. The island itself offered some great views of the islands in Matsushima Bay. But I had to hurry as it was not only cold but now raining.
Matsushima Bay boat tour
I made my way back to the foreshore debating whether I should climb the hill to see the bay or try and take the sightseeing boat. I opted for the boat. I was to be taking the last sightseeing boat of the day, the 3pm departure.
The boat cost about 1,500 yen for a 50min tour provided in Japanese and English which was convenient.
Journey to Yamagata
As sunset was now here, I decided against climbing the hill and going for the once per hour train back to Sendai from Matsushima-Kaigan. Climbing the hill would've been in darkness as winter here in Japan seems to bring darkness rather quick at around 4:30pm.
I picked up my backpack from the locker which was locked using my IC card (which is a great feature instead of a PIN). My next accommodation was in Yamagata city so I had to take a local train across the mountains.
The train ride over the mountains was starting to make me nervous as the deeper I got the more and more snow seemed to be surrounding us. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect Yamagata to look like at this time of year. Arriving in Yamagata station it was snowing quite moderately.
The accommodation I was staying at was about 1.6km away from the station and I didn't exactly want to walk in the super cold snowing conditions with my backpack. The bus service available also didn't drop me anywhere near my accommodation either. So I had to opt for a taxi. Japanese taxis are kinda ridiculously expensive so I was apprehensive about getting one.
Anyway, I hopped in the taxi and directed the driver to where I needed to go. He was sprouting a lot of stuff in Japanese, whilst I kept repeating “Wakarimasen” (I don't understand). I got the basic gist of what he was saying which was “Why don't you know how to speak Japanese, you should learn more Japanese”. So essentially he started teaching me some Japanese phrases like Hajimemashite, and I'd reply with Yoroshikuonegaishimasu. It was entertaining I suppose, but we arrived soon enough. The fare for 1.6km was 790 yen. Just getting in the taxi is already an automatic 700yen.
I dropped my bags off at the accommodation and ventured off to the nearest convenience store as I didn't have enough cash on me to pay for my stay. Later I ended up trekking the 1.6km back into town anyway… to look for some dinner. I was struggling to find a place and it was freezing cold and my phone had no internet. So I looked around the station precinct. I was in the mood for ramen basically. The ramen I ended up getting wasn't anything special but satisfying enough.
Something I remember from this dinner was the waitress who served it to me used her bare hands to deliver the ramen bowl. When I touched the bowl, my fingers were basically searing I was in disbelief. I tried touching and holding many times but damn that bowl was hot. Lots of mental stamina to carry that ramen bowl 10m from kitchen to my bench. After dinner I walked back yet again in the cold snowing night back to accommodation. Part of me wished that I should've had dinner before going to my accommodation.
It wasn't until later I discoverd my accommodation offered free bicycle hire. Urgh. More time wasted in the cold.
I settled in for the night at the Mintaro Guesthouse. Chatting with the owner who was an avid hiker, he said he got the name from one of the hiking huts in New Zealand. The rooms of this place are named after New Zealand placenames.