Monday, January 17, 2011

Tokyo 2002 Part 3

Penny and I took the Bullet Train, the Shinkansen, to Sendai on our way to Matsushima. We traveled on a third generation Shinkansen, very new and luxurious. The sensation of traveling in a Shinkansen is not like flying, or like being in a train. You feel vibration and a certain pull of gravity. Despite this, as you look out to the distant horizon your mind is tricked into believing the train is moving slowly, then suddenly, it blows into a tunnel, the ears pop and you feel the carriage body expand as the flying tube puffs up with suction force. Then just as suddenly the tunnel is cleared and the train skin deflates. Service on the train was very polite with a bit of English spoken and the train staff in white gloves, bowing on entering and leaving the car.

From Sendai we took a local train to Honshiogama where we caught the boat across the bay to Matsushima. This extraordinary boat was decorated like a giant peacock with folded wings at the stern and a huge peacock head at the bow with feathery steel fabricated projections on top. The trip across the bay is brief, just an hour or so. The locals passed the time by throwing chips and rice crackers to the seagulls who follow the boats.

We arrived in Matsushima at the Kaigon pier and made our way to the Matsusima Century Hotel a first class hotel with very moderately priced western rooms on the town side of building. The rooms facing the bay were more expensive and Tatami. That first night we walked the boardwalk, relaxed and took in the warm Pacific air.

Roundabout dinnertime we started looking for a place to eat, but were confounded by the minimal frontal presentation of Japanese restaurants. We walked by several places which might have been restaurants, but without any outward glitz or pull, except discreet sets of plastic representation food in small windows. “Is it open”, I wondered’ or “do they speak English there?” We might have gone without dinner, but a lovely woman restaurateur emerged from one of these places with English menus and beckoned us in.

We spent three enjoyable days in Matsushima; saw everything in the place that could be seen except Marine Mammal World, which by its size and antiquity looked like a workhouse for seals. The big tourist attraction in Matsushima is Zuigangi Temple. Founded in 828 AD, Zuigangi features a beautiful main hall constructed in wood in the shoin-zukuri style, where we were told in one side room after the local shogun died, 40 of his retainers threw themselves on swords. Lots of creep factor there.

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