“Although the Japanese class Matsushima, Miyahima, and Amanohashidate as the ‘Three Great Sights,’ two at least of these san-kei* are apt not to prove such to the average Occidental. [On the other hand,] Matsushima, unquestionably the loveliest of the trio, possesses an irresistible charm.
“Matsushima Bay faces the Pacific Ocean [near Sendai], and is said to contain 808 islands (albeit there are but about 300). All are of friable volcanic tufa that once formed part of the mainland; the constant erosion of wind and water is slowly changing the shape and reducing them, as if Nature was dissatisfied with her beautiful handiwork.
“Many of the islets are of fantastic shapes, and all bear more or less fanciful names: ‘Buddha’s Entry into Nirvana’; ‘The Twelve Imperial Consorts’; ‘Never Growing Old Island’, etc. Many are named after local gods; the sun, moon, animals, and what-not. Some are uninhabited; others (notably Hashikaki-jima) have tunnels worn through them by the action of the waves. Some are bare, but many are crowned with grotesque pine trees which stretch their gaunt arms overhead or reach them down along their precipitous sides. When the wind whips and sways them, they look almost human as they thrash about as if appealing for help.
“Like many lovely things Matsushima is capricious, and is subject to moods. The Japanese find beauty in it under all circumstances; when it lies soothed and hushed under golden sunlight; when wrapped in mist, or drenched in rain; or when the moon light idealizes it and imparts an almost superhuman beauty to it.”
– Terry’s Japanese Empire: A Handbook for Travellers, T. Phillip Terry, 1914
“If someone gave you some clay and some paint brushes and told you to fashion the ideal landscape you’d probably make a crooked range of mountains, colored with a hundred greens, that stopped abruptly at the edge of metallic blue water, and in this water you’d probably drop tiny islands covered with pines and blue bells – islands with sheer cliffs and islands with sandy coves – and if you were really in a creative mood you’d most likely put in a sailboat or two and maybe a curving red bridge between these islands fashioned from your fantasy.
“This would be your ideal landscape and you’d sigh and wonder why such a perfect place couldn’t exist.
“But it DOES exist! The velvety green mountains, the glassy blue water with its pine-clad islands – and where you might have omitted quaint little mud houses with thatched roofs and glass-walled inns that through fascinating reflections on the water at night – these additions have been supplied at Matsushima.”
– “Matsushima’s Tranquil Beauty”, by Mona Gardner, Japan Overseas Travel Magazine, September 1931