Being a graduate student in a foreign land can be very tiring and sometimes feel as though it’s taking away every little joy you have in life…! But despite the challenges, giving up should never be an option! Instead, you need to take the occasional chance to rest your body and mind, in order to keep your outlook fresh. Long (Vietnam), Masa (Japan) and I were looking for a place to escape from study and enjoy our social life, even if it was just for the weekend. We all thought Matsushima would be a great place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of school life in Sendai.
Matsushima has always been one of my favorite places to visit here in Tohoku. It almost feels like home, and I’ve become well acquainted with some of the friendly locals. We were so lucky to spend some quality time with them during this trip, too, as we tried to squeeze in as many sight-seeing activities as we could (without sacrificing too much of our RnR time, of course!).
The moment we set our foot in Matsushima, we felt like kids who just got out let out school for the year. Maybe it was the gorgeous view, or the fact that we knew what excitement was coming! Matsushima, by the way, is one of the most popular destinations in northern Japan. It is the home to historic temples such as Godaido, Entsuin, and of course the famous red Fukuurabashi Bridge. We had visited these locations several times beforehand, so our goal for this particular trip was a little different: discover the islands of Matsushima Bay in style. And by style, I mean, by private yacht!!
Godaido Temple – located just off the pier, across this gorgeous red bridge
Matsushima Bay boasts some 300 picturesque islands. During our yacht ride we were able to visit some of them (I can’t quite remember all of their names!) and I will never forget how beautiful they were. For me, coming from a country with thousand of islands, somehow I felt like I was home. The highlight of our boat ride was that at one point we were allowed by the captain himself to maneuver the wheel! He said we all passed with flying colors – I guess we have that as a back-up plan if we decide to say sayonara to the science and engineering life!
Anyway, the entire ride took about an hour (around the same length of journey as riding the public sight-seeing boat between Shiogama and Matsushima). Whilst we were very lucky to have made friends with the yacht owners on a previous trip to Matsushima (a huge shout-out to Saito-san! Thank you!!), if you want to have a similar experience, we recommend taking a sight-seeing cruise between Shiogama and Matsushima (or vice versa). More details about the available cruises here.
We finished the cruise a little earlier than expected, so we decided to kill some time in one of the cute local coffee shops. This particular café had a very chic façade that was giving us “Santorini feels” (not that I’ve ever been there) so it was a unanimous choice! Props to the owner for the stylish interior. The menu is not limited to coffee and sweets, but also features some tasty snacks and alcoholic beverages to cure those hunger pangs or parched throats. I am not really a coffee person, however, since we were in an adventurous mood I skipped over my usual matcha latte preference and tried the goods! I’m no expert but it wasn’t bad – certainly raised those glucose levels. The price was a little more than what I’m used to, but worth it for the ambiance alone.
Finally it was time for the major event! The aim of our escape was relaxation, and what better way to indulge and relax than at a hot spring resort overlooking the ocean? Saying goodbye to our home-cooked meals (or convenience store meals, to be more accurate!) we took ourselves off to luxurious Matsushima Hotel Ichinobo. Just a 10 minute shuttle from either Matsushima or Matsushima-Kaigan Stations (I believe there is also a longer shuttle from central Sendai Station, too! Check times and details here), Hotel Ichinobo is the ultimate in traditional Japanese hospitality.
To be honest, the outside of the hotel was a little more humble than I had expected, but it didn’t take long for any fears to be dismissed (don’t judge a book by it’s cover! I mean really!). I was in awe stepping into the hotel’s lobby! It was very spacious and adorned with eye catching glass chandeliers, although my gaze was stolen by the grand view of the ocean. We were greeted by the hotel staff with some warm tea and Japanese sweets before being guided to our room. We were incredibly grateful for this, as the hotel itself is huge and we would have surely gotten lost! When we opened the door to our beautiful Japanese-style room, we saw that we had hit the jackpot! Despite it being a busy weekend, somehow we had landed a room with a panoramic view over Matsushima Bay from which we could enjoy the change of colour as the sun went down and the sunrise over the ocean in the morning.
Tearing ourselves away from the view, we decided to explore the hotel’s gardens before the sun went down. I believe they sometimes hold weddings here. The gardens were stunning in winter, when everything was partially covered by white snow, creating a beautiful contrast.
As the temperature dropped we were drawn to the main event – the open-air onsen (hot springs)! Like many of the high-end hotels I have visited in Japan, the hotel was complete with all the amenities of a first-class onsen, from skin care to hair products. There were three baths in total; one open-air bath looking out to the ocean and two inside looking over a small garden (don’t worry, all concealed so no one will be peeking at you from outside!).
The feature that really sets this hotel apart from any other is the amazing view! I spent a really long time in the continuously flowing water, just taking it all in. It is not just your body that gets to relax here, but your eyes get to enjoy the wonderful view! It really was a feast for the eyes. I would have tried to capture the moment with my camera but, alas, (and for obvious reasons) photography is not allowed without special permission (sneaking a pic is not worth being kicked out! Please be courteous and respectful to others in the onsen). Aside from the fantastic view, I was also in love with their shampoo bar! They had a huge variety of hair products to choose from to suit every hair type. It is no surprise that Japanese people have such fabulous skin thanks to the health benefits of onsen and of course their diet and beauty products! After finally finishing my first onsen session of the night, it was off to find the guys who were already waiting for me, stomachs growling!
The banquet hall, like the lobby, was also huge – big enough to host around 500 people. The dishes featured both eastern and western fusion flavours. I enjoyed the fact that the ‘western’ style food still maintained a Japanese twist. Dinner time starts at 6pm and finishes at around 9pm – probably enough time to enjoy everything! Everything looked so good that I even tried the unfamiliar dishes for the sake of being adventurous! My favourites were still the fresh sushi and sashimi. It doesn’t need to be cooked with any added flavours or spices, the freshness of the sea speaks for itself! After sinking my teeth into the macarons and chocolate truffles I immediately regretted filling up with other carbohydrates! Rule 101 of the buffet – survey everything first before you decide to dig in! hehe.
Apparently the golden rule of staying at an onsen hotel is to bathe three times – before and after dinner, as well as first thing the next morning. Before I headed for my second bout of onsen goodness I decided to check-out the other RnR facilities of the hotel. The ‘Niwaga Spa’ is a floor relaxation floor exclusive to female guests (Sorry boys!)! Along with the usual aromatherapy and twinkly music that tells you this is a space to relax, there is also a sauna and a ‘Ganbanyoku’ or hot-rock sauna. There is no need to bring anything with you – it is all there for you. You get changed into salon wear and enjoy all the facilities in the area. After just 5 minutes inside the ‘Ganbanyoku’ I already felt like I’d sweated out at least 10% of my dinner! I enjoyed this room the most. All you need to do is lie down on the hot rock and feel the heat seeping into your body. There is also a mini-bar of refreshments and water bottles so you can re-hydrate at anytime you want (not to mention the mini ice-cream bar, yes please!). There are also two indoor baths in this area two, which I tried out. It was difficult to appreciate the whole ambiance of the room at night, but there was a mini-garden to gaze at as well as amenities for hair and body (though no shampoo bar here, sadly!).
Heading back to our room to find the boys tucked-up in their futons, ready for sleep, we tried to recap our huge day filled with fun activities! While the luxuries of the hotel were certainly nice, no amount of money can pay for happiness like that found spending quality time with friends…
…well, at least that’s what I thought until I found myself being woken up by long at 5am!!!
It was a struggle to drag myself away from the fluffy futon, but so worth it to experience a glorious sunrise and another delicious meal for breakfast. Relaxing in the hot spring as the sun rises over the ocean-view was certainly a highlight of our stay! If only we could wake up like this every day!!
Before heading back to Sendai (and back to reality!) we got to visit the lovely glass gallery inside the hotel. There are many beautiful displays and products to be found here, with exclusive discounts offered to hotel guests. It is nice to find some tangible memento of your amazing stay in Matsushima.
My three take-aways from our RnR stay-cation in Matsushima
Sometimes you need to splurge on things that will make you happy; working hard deserves rewards!!
It’s always a bonus to travel with friends! You get to share a little bit of yourself with them and vice versa.
Finally, always remember to not only capture blissful memories in photos but in your heart as well!
HOTEL ICHINOBO MATSUSHIMA