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Delicious Ice Cream in Bizarre Flavors!
Price: 350 yen
On the scenic path between Zuiganji temple and Entsuiin temple in Matsushima, you'll find a little shop. Inside is a tourist-friendly souvenir shop, but outside and to the left is a placard displaying dozens of ice-cream flavors, many with a distinctly Japanese style. It's not just 31's Matcha here. Instead, you'll find jellyfish, sake, tofu, wasabi and more! Personally, I really enjoyed white coffee and black vanilla.
If the area is filled with travelers, the ice cream cone can be consumed as you walk through the area. Otherwise there is a nice wooden bench across from the ice cream shop, ready for customers. During non-peak hours, you might have to ring a bell at the front to summon a cashier, but it is worth it.
The ice cream itself is not too expensive at 350 yen per cone and the variety of flavors begs for sampling, though free samples are not given (to my knowledge).
Fun for kids, adults, and even the random bored foreigner, the ice cream at this little shop is the perfect break from a day of sightseeing in beautiful Matsushima.
In the Area
For just 200 yen, you can walk across this iconic red bridge that measures 252 meters to get to the beautiful island that shares the name Fukuujima. Although many of the paths on the island are paved or made formidable by a solid mulch spread, there is still room for off-path adventure if you so choose. The casual tourist may instead enjoy some ice cream or curry and rice before snapping some great photos at several scenic spots around the little island.Weatherproof maps are posted in several locations, making getting lost more difficult even for the directionally challenged. A small restaurant, a smaller shrine, bathrooms, and few gazebo-like roofed structures are all the buildings on the island and no human inhabitants actually live there. There is some life in the insect population, though not enough to be difficult for any tourists with phobias. The bridge itself is known as the bridge of happy coupling, rumor being that any couple who crosses the bridge together will remain so. A smaller bridge a little further down the coast is known as the break-up bridge for exactly the opposite reason.Tickets to cross the bridge can be bought at the small rest-house, across a parking lot from the last of the easily accessible Matsushima tourist shops on the main street leading way from Matsushima Kaigan Station. The tickets are only 200 yen and can be bought from a vending machine inside the shop.Walking down the bridge, around the island, and back takes the average tourist between 2 and 3 hours, so plan accordingly as the shop closes at 5PM. If you're in the area, spare some time to enjoy the bridge and island life!
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.
The Zuiganji Temple Caves were probably once truly amazing, the details of the tiny statues lit with shadows in their cave dwellings. Since then, the statuary has mostly been carved out. Some of the pieces now stand in front of the caves, many details lost to unsavory weather conditions. Others were presumably sent to museums elsewhere in Japan.These caves and their carvings used to be a fun accent to the natural beauty of the rich forest area that led up to Zuiganji Temple in Matsushima. Unfortunately, many of the massive, fantastic trees began dying off and the threat of an incredibly tall tree with root rot taking down its friends as it falls before crushing nearby homes was too great for the town. As of fall 2016, the forest is almost gone, the trees leveled and chopped, leaving the mostly empty caves as a sad reminder of the vacancy that once was something truly magnificent.That said, if you're in the area and headed toward Zuiganji or Entsuiin, you might as well check out the caves. They are free after all, and the statues are pretty interesting to look at.
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.