Photo by Roger Smith
Photo by Roger Smith
Writer / Editor
February 1, 2019
Matsushima is famous for its many small islands, but few know that you can set foot on some of them! The Urato Islands lie where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean. Five islands (of which four are inhabited) are connected to Shiogama by a city ferry which operates daily. The islands are beloved for their slower pace of life, many walking trails, and scenic views. From spring to summer many types of flowers bloom: the yellow nanohana (canola) blossoms are especially brilliant on Hojima, while Nonoshima is home to a tsubaki (camellia) tunnel and lavender fields. Katsurashima has a popular public beach open for swimming during a brief calm period each July. Sabusawa is the largest of the Urato Islands, and features historical sites including unusual Shibarare Jizo (Rope-Tied Jizo) statues.
The islands have basic restrooms and ferry waiting areas but no real restaurants or stores, so bringing a picnic lunch is recommended. Parts of the islands were damaged by the 2011 tsunami and reconstruction is ongoing. There are several mid-range pension-style inns for those interested in staying the night (reservations required). The islands are small close-knit communities, so politely greet the locals you meet and be respectful of private property.
Getting there: a city-run ferry which makes a loop of the Urato Islands departs from the Marine Gate Shiogama ferry terminal. Purchase a one-way ticket to the island of your choice (from 500 yen) at the vending machine on the first floor, then head outside to the dock and board at Gate 1. Return tickets can be purchased on board the ferry. There is paid parking available at Marine Gate.
Ferry Timetable (Japanese)
Ferry Timetable (English)
The islands are physically close to Sendai but feel a world away. I have spent many afternoons wandering the forested trails of Nonoshima and Katsurashima, admiring views which change dramatically with the weather. During the hottest days of summer, the sea breeze on the islands feels wonderfully refreshing. Especially if you have a hectic travel schedule, taking a day to enjoy these islands might just be what you need to relax and fall in love with Matsushima.