October 3, 2015

Matsushima's Many Islands

My friend Michelle must be the friend I've had the longest. When we were kids, we used to run around my backyard in Massachusetts and have Sailor Moon adventures. She was Venus, I was Mars. Now, she's teaching English in northern Honshu, but just as I was getting ready to head up that way, she was flying back to America for a well-deserved vacation. Funny how that works, but since I was going to Sendai, Michelle recommended that I visit Matsushima, whose pine-clad islands are one of the Three Views of Japan (Nihon sankei).

Our group went to see it together, but by the time we got there, everyone else had little time since they were going to the Arashi concert that day. Luckily, I got to stay longer and appreciate the view. These 260 little islands (shima) are covered in pines (matsu), hence the name.

It's worth a mention that this place has the same name as one of my favorite actresses, Matsushima Nanako! Both Matsushimas are very beautiful and deserving of their good reputations. (Matsushina Nanako plays a wonderful older sister to Matsumoto Jun's Doumyouji in Hana Yori Dango. Also her 2011 drama Kaseifu no Mita was one of the highest rated Japanese dramas of all time. And I'm currently watching her older (younger) performance in 1998's GTO! So cute!)

Matsushima (松島) v. Matsushima (松嶋).
Sadly, I only took one of these photos...

Red bridges seem to be a theme here. Godaido Temple has two, one to get to the first platform where there are vendors selling little souvenirs and trinkets, and another onto the temple itself. Godaido may be a small temple hall, but it's quite lovely and has a nice vantage point for admiring Matsushima Bay.

An even better view can be achieved from this building I saw from Godaido. I thought it looked interesting and wandered over. Since I could see people leaning over the railing on the top floor, I could guess it was a lookout point. It cost only ¥300 to enter, and you take off your shoes before entering, exchanging for their slippers. The smooth plastic slippers were super slippery going up the steep flights of stairs leading to the top, and I clutched the railing for dear life. But I made it!

Not gonna lie, I was sure I'd slip right off!

The view from there was pretty sweet. Apparently you can see some magnificent views from the mountains or whatever, but this was good enough for me. I could see the bay, the hills, and the city.

Now if you want to see the islands up close, take a scenic boat tour! It's only ¥1500 for a 50 minute boat tour, and they generally depart on the half hour. I'd miscalculated how much money to bring and was sure I'd suffer for it later, but I couldn't miss out on the opportunity. After all, who knows when I'll be in Miyagi again? It was definitely worth it, because it's inexpensive and there's quite a bit of variety in the island formations. Most (maybe all?) of the islands even have names, and people have chosen their personal favorites.

Kanejima. My favorite island!

When I got off the boat tour, I continued to wander the area. Zuiganji Temple is laid out on grounds much larger than Godaido temple, and the walk to the main hall is a marvel itself, with many statues filling various caves that were traditionally used for meditation. You have to pay to enter the main area, which my finances didn't allow.

There's a lot of good food in the area. I passed a lot of shops selling grilled seafood, but I wanted more beef tongue (gyutan), Sendai's specialty. It's so tender and tasty, with salt bringing out the rich flavor in a thin piece of grilled meat. Just looking at the pictures is almost making me drool...but I probably spent too much on this delicious lunch.

Grilled seafood hanging out & lookin' good.
Beef tongue. White rice. Japanese pickles. Clam miso soup. SO GOOD.

Going home from the train station, I took a second to appreciate how rustic it looked. I also took a second to hope for the best, since I didn't really have enough money to get home. I thought I'd left with a good amount of money, but after the ¥1600 lunch and ¥1500 boat ride, my ¥4000 or so was dwindling down to nothing. Stuck in a more rural area, I was having problems finding an ATM that would accept my debit card.

Luckily, the station I would exit is really small and I knew they didn't monitor it as strictly as most, so I used the last of my money to buy a ticket with almost the right amount to get back. Hey, if it's an honor system, it's the thought that counts, right? Unfortunately, the hotel shuttle wasn't there to pick anyone up. It's available on request, which is very convenient unless you don't have international calling and don't think to use a payphone (duh!). I most definitely did not have money for a taxi, but there was some other hotel's shuttle there and I all but begged them to drop me off at my hotel. And since there was absolutely nothing in it for him, the driver did it out of the goodness of his heart! Thank goodness.

And so, another adventure concluded. Matsushima was beautiful, the money I spent was worth it, and everything worked out in the end!

September 27, 2015


Arashi is huge in Japan. They held a series of four concerts in the more rural Miyagi prefecture, and when Jen heard the dates announced back in early spring, she booked a hotel right away. Which was super smart, because Arashi fills up hotels and drives up flight prices like crazy. I'll figure out how to get tickets later, she thought, and through the efforts of various people, she made it happen. I flew into Sendai, the capital of Miyagi, and loved that the city was covered in Arashi. My favorite set of ads were probably these giant banners in Sendai Station:

My favorites!

Arashi has a big campaign with Kirin, the beverage company that also brews two of the most popular beers in Japan (Kirin Lager and Kirin Ichiban, in case you're wondering). Plus there's a Kirin brewery in the area, so Kirin ads featuring Arashi were plastered all over the place. And I loved it!

Welcome! to Sendai!

I had to take a picture every time I saw Arashi advertisements. I mean, look at Jun's ad for Meiji! So handsome!

Or Nino as an astronaut? Or handsome Sho? Or a very interesting-looking Ohno?

Of course the music stores had pulled out all the Arashi discography to make it easy for fans to give them their money.

Arashi's latest single, "Ai wo Sakebe"
at Tsutaya
at HMV

Loft has all the uchiwa supplies you need, if you want to make a fan to hold during the concert and show how much of a fan you are. I loved their examples - all Arashi. Jen had already gifted me an uchiwa though.

Armed with my NINO uchiwa. yay!

There were some special events in the area, too! 7-11 was celebrating Arashi Blast by selling certain snacks with special stickers that could only be found in Miyagi around the time of the concert. And because fans are crazy, they swarmed 7-11s in search of these stickers. It's not something I would have done, but some of Jen's friends did and they gave me some of the revels! How sweet is that?

All the stickered items are sold out. haha!
Okay, the stickers are pretty cute...

The best and most hardcore special event (besides the concert itself, haha!) must have been the limited donut set at Mister Donut. Yes, Arashi donuts are officially a thing. They were selling a set of 5 donuts, one in each member's designated color, for ¥600 (about $5). They started selling them at 10am, only for the concert, and only a limited number! So Jen and her friend Chiho ended up waiting like two hours for these donuts. The rest of us split off because we'd all made an appointment for a Kirin brewery tour (separate post to come!!) at 10:30. But in the continuing trend of me getting stuff I didn't deserve, Jen had bought a set just for me! "You want to eat them when they're fresh!" she said.

Flavors, left to right: soda, orange, matcha, strawberry, taro
Just a portion of the long line. Jen and Chiho in the middle!
Okay, this box is pretty cute. Maybe worth waiting an hour for...
All right, these donuts are pretty freaking cute!
And they were really good, too! Light and just a little sweet. The flavors came across well.

As for the actual concert, of course the craziness continues. I only went to the last day, but Jen and some of her Canadian friends went to all four days! It was held at Hitomebore Miyagi Stadium, with a capacity of 52,000.

I didn't buy any concert goods of my own, but there was a plethora to choose from, including t-shirts, headphones, bags, and my personal favorite, a towel with a hood. Because what would I use that for?!

We chilled for a while, checking out this art exhibition translated as "Ohno Satoshi and Children's Future Art." Ohno had undertaken this project where he encouraged children to draw pictures with the theme of "future," and it was nice to see. After said chilling and a little dinner, the doors opened and we got in easily. Just seeing the stage made me excited! The stages for these concerts are amazing!

Our seats were great, because we could see everything. I am definitely jealous of the people sitting in the center stands though, because they got to see all the members up close...aughh! But the setlist was super fun, and I liked the special touches they added to pay respects to Miyagi. They invited choir groups from local high schools to sing a special version of Kansha Kangeki Ame Arashi, which was beautiful! And then they had special matsuri (festival) versions of Hadashi no Mirai and Carnival Night. We learned a dance for Hadashi no Mirai, and it was really fun to dance with Arashi. And Sho did my favorite of his solos! Hip Pop Boogie, anyone?

The view from our seats!

When I went to my very first Arashi concert exactly one year before this trip, I thought it would be the only one. Once in a lifetime, ichigo ichie kind of deal. Who knew I would make such a good friend - at the airport! - and go to two more concerts? Thanks again to Jen for always being on top of things, planning out all the details, and being kind enough to invite me along. I'm really grateful to have you in my life!