The gardens at Entsuin temple are beautiful in every season, but the most magical time to come is autumn, when the changing leaves are illuminated against the night sky by lights of slowly shifting color.
This event within the gardens is part of a bigger event: Matsushima Fall Light Up which also includes evening lights at the lovely Kanrantei tea house, a free foot bath, and a small food truck park set up in the festival grounds. In addition, special evening boat tours to see the leaves changing on the outlying islands.
Since the food truck portion of the event is open for most of the day, starting your evening off with some light food before your walk through the festivities can be a good choice. The food trucks are limited in number and selection, offering mostly food that you might see at most festivals. That said, the german sausage was worth the money and the few minutes we waited for the solo cook to prepare the food. The naan dog especially was so delicious that it disappeared before it could be photographed properly.
The lights start up around dusk (5PM) but Entsuin does not open to guests until 5:30PM. A great way to spend this additional time is by walking through the Zuiganji temple caves, the entrance to which stands just across the street from food trucks.
Additionally, the walk trhough the caves brings you right to a wonderful little street where you can find souvenirs, a restaurant, weird ice cream, and Entsuin.
The line starts around 5PM, but you will have to buy tickets elsewhere. The Entsuin employees are happy to explain where, a kiosk set up just down the street and to the left, in the same tiny venue as the free foot bath, crepes, and nikuman.
The happy white oval-faces are merely editing for privacy. The people do genuinely seem helpful and happy, though.
At 5:30PM, the staff starts letting in small groups, allowing everyone to have a relaxing time walking through the natural beauty inside without the pressure of a large crowd waiting just behind them. Selfie sticks, tripods, and a number of other photography assistant options are banned from the temple, so there is no fear of being accidentally whacked in the head by the errant stick of someone trying to get the best selfie.
The paths through the garden can be confusing, which is why signs and staff members stand waiting to help guide patrons along the preferred path.
This path leads all the way back to the mausoleum building built for the grandson of Date Masamune, also lit especially for the evening.
Beyond that, the path leads past a line of beautifully lit caves
From here, the path leads back around toward the front, taking you past a live musician and a rose garden before the brief, beautiful stop at the reflective pond.
The problem is that this means everyone is trying to get the best shot they can. The staff can help take photographs, but also have a job to do, so don't be surprised if they do not wait for the people behind you to get out of the shot.
The night we went, there was a strong and very cold wind, so bundle up as need be. Inside the gardens, however, all seemed settled. Cool, but with the wind cut by the trees and walls, it was easy to find peace.
After you've walked through the garden, give yourself a break at the free foot bath in the same location as the ticket booth, just down the street and to the left of the Entsuin entrance.
Come and enjoy the autumn colors in Matsushima, even at night!
Matsushima's Fall Light Up event runs until November 23rd. More information, including participating locations, prices and hours, is available in English at this website. Don't miss out on a great evening of autumn colors at Entsuin temple.