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Yummy Rice Flour Bread!
A little early for your train at HonShiogama Station? No worries! Just exit toward the shrine and cross the street. There you'll find Roti Enak, a local store that specializes in rice flour bread. The selection is cute, sweet, fun and delicious. They have the same kind of selection fo bread you find at most bread shops plus some personalized details as well as a small selection of sandwiches around lunch. You can even get a full (small) loaf of bread! The croissants are so delicious, even my terribly picky toddler will devour a couple if given the chance.
When you buy from Roti Enak, you know you're getting some fluffy, delicious bread and supporting a small local business at the same time. The shop itself is right next to a Daruma drug store, so if you need to pick up a beverage for a better price than the vending machines, pop next door before heading back to the station or indeed wherever the day's adventure takes you.
In the Area
I've never been a fan of fish, but when my fish-loving brother came into town, I knew we had to look for a good sushi place to go. We're right on the coast in Shiogama, and there are half a dozen up-scale sushi places near the station. As it turns out, according to a walking map and tourism website, my little seaside town "boasts the most sushi restaurants per square kilometer in Japan!" (read more here: http://kankoubussan.shiogama.miyagi.jp/english/markets/index.html)By chance, we wound up at this one and it was one of the best decisions of that whole trip.The food is amazing! I had a plate of maguro tuna (specialty of Shiogama) nigiri and my brother had the variety platter, all made fresh right in front of us by a jovial, conversational chef who really made the meal worthwhile.This isn't your 100 yen per plate sushi-train, and the prices reflect this, but so does the quality. I had never before enjoyed a piece of fish the way I did these sushi nigiri. It was amazing!My brother had sampled sushi in Tokyo as well during his trip and said that this place won the taste test hands down. You would be hard pressed to find fresher, more delicious sushi with better customer service in all of Japan.According ro Japan-blogger Alice Gordenker, Shiogama is the sushi capital of the world and her meal at Sushi Shirahata was also exemplary. Her review: https://alicegordenker.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/sushi-capital-of-the-world/I return to this shop any time a fish-lover is visiting. If I had the money, I'd eat there regularly, despite my dislike of fish.A three minute walk from HonShiogama station on the Senseki line, it's hard to find a more convenient way to get some of the most delicious sushi in the world.
Just across the street from Marine Gate Shiogama, the place where you can take the ferry to Matsushima or the Urato Islands, you'll find a little building with a bright green tile sign that reads Pizzeria La Gita.Inside, the warm wood tones and copious pictures on the wall make it feel like a little bistro from anywhere. The small restaurant only seats 21 total, but even on a Saturday afternoon, I found it uncrowded and comfortable.The owners are a husband and wife team, trying to recreate Naples in Shiogama with their lovely hand-tossed pizzas. Having never been to Naples, I can't speak to how well they accomplish this task, but the pizza is delicious. Lunch time runs from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and for 1200 yen you get your choice of pizza in addition to a small salad and drink. The restaurant boasts some great Italian wines, but unfortunately they are not part of the special.There is an English menu if you need one but the owners are comfortable speaking to you in Japanese as well. I opted for the Deliziosa, which came with tomatoes and salami. The dough was well cooked and pulled apart easily. The cheese in the middle was copious enough to be a little bit of a challenge for the thin dough to keep up with, but that's the way I like it.The salad that came ahead of this pizza was absolutely wonderful, with a range of colors and excellent dressing. It even had slices of purple carrot which is one of my all-time favorite veggies.As a beverage, I chose the beer, which is a draft Asahi Super Dry. Not my favorite, but it's nice that there was a beer option with the lunch special.So if you're early for your ferry or just hanging around, catching the lunch special at La Gita when you have the chance. If you like your pizza hand-tossed, fresh and delicious, this is the pizza place for you.
There is a reason why the citizens of Shiogama are so proud of their shrine. Most residents of this small seaside city would never dream of attending New Year's celebrations anywhere else, and not just because of location. The main entrance to the shrine involves a 202 step stone staircase through some lovely wooded area, though weather had made the steps rather treacherous, especially in icy weather. There are two other approaches, so you have your choice of ways to get there.The shrine itself is composed of 4 small prayer spaces within thee larger areas. Each are has its own little gift shop for shinto charms for everything from good luck on a test to safe driving to luck in love. This shrine is also known in the region for selling packs of useful charms and talismans for pregnant women, including a small dog shaped statuette, chosen as dogs are seen as having relatively easy births.The gardens at the shrine are magnificent in any season, but the real show-stopped is spring. Sakura trees line the walkways up to the shrine via one entrance and a small grove of them exists between the shrine and a parking lot, perfect for hanami. Several different varieties of sakura tree grow there, including 27 of Shiogama-zakura, which are famous for having double blossoms with 10 petals each. A small maritime museum and an even smaller food/drink building stand near the hanami area, but nothing in Miyagi can hold a light to the excellence of the shrine area.
On the walk from Matsushimakaigan station to the the shrines and temple in Matsushima, you'll see this shop on the left side of the street. Naohide Kokeshi shop is run by a little old couple, one of whom you can frequently see at the woodworking station at the front of the store, finishing the doll-shapes on a machine as passers-by watch.Inside the shop, the walls are lined with shelves of professionally constructed dolls, some in simpler traditional designs while others are more elaborate. Some of the more expensive pieces include carved details as well.One of the biggest draws of this place, other than supporting a mom-and-pop shop filled with unique souvenirs, is the ability to paint your own. For 800 yen, you too can do the work of the kokeshi master and paint a doll with yellow, red, and black paint. The paints and brushes are provided (though the paint tends to run and the brushes are a bit thick, so if you're looking for hard-core detail work, bring your own utensils) as well as a space where you can paint to your heart's content.Unless you're great at going with the flow, I do not recommend sharing a kokeshi painting session with a small child. The results will be a bit strange.On the far wall sit kokeshi painted by amateurs including some local celebrities, the pictures of whom hang nearby as well as at the front of the shop.If you lack the time or energy to paint, there are plenty of other options, ranging in price from a few hundred yen to somewhere above 10000 yen. The least expensive options are smaller souvenirs fitting the kokeshi doll theme, including eco-bags, ear-picks, key-chains, magnets, and many others. On our recent trip, we even found boxes of matches with little kokeshi faces painted on!So if you're looking for a crafty souvenir or looking to make one yourself, Matsushima Naohide Kokeshi shop is the best place to turn in Matsushima.
One of the most beautiful sights in Matsushima has nothing to do with view of islands and ocean. Instead, along a path leading to Zuiganji temple, you'll find Entsuuin, an enclosed zen-garden and temple space. For a fee, you can make a bracelet out of special stone beads, and after you finish, the meaning of each type of bead will be explained, but only in Japanese. The enclosed garden is a gorgeous reminder that you're in one of the most interesting and beautiful countries in the world. It stretched back and opens into a small rose garden and a pathway that splits off through a small, cultivated forest. A walk through the garden only costs 300 yen for adults. In Autumn, there is an illumination event in the evening which I recall as being slightly more expensive but well worth it. The autumn colors in the zen garden with live musical accompaniment is an experience not to be missed.On a recent trip, we found the temple buildings (to the right within the gardens) even had a small TV showing a documentary about the place at low volume with a small seating section right off the walking path and complimentary barley tea. It was just right for a little something special.The garden is gorgeous and the path is mostly paved in stones, but remember that this is still nature. Bugs of a small variety do wander the grounds with you, including some impressively creepy spiders if you're on the taller side and not paying attention. Watch out for webs, especially near the more tree-heavy portions of the garden.