For those who have read my blog since the beginning, or ventured to older posts, you will know that I have visited the Top 3 Views of Japan. This is not an easy adventure and Japan has a top 3 list for many things. I have recently written about the Top 3 Chinatowns in Japan and feel that there has been enough time to justify a second reflection of my trips to each of the places on the Top 3 Views list. The list in alphabetical order is Amanohashidate, Matsushima, and Miyajima. They all have their own importance and all were chosen by the Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gaho. The fact that he was the one who chose each of the three has a particular importance that is easily lost to foreigners, including myself, who don’t understand Japanese or to those who have not read the references to these three places.
Amanohashidate is located in Kyoto, but do not expect to be able to easily visit Amanohashidate when you are in Kyoto. It is a long train ride that goes from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan. Kyoto city is located in the southern area of Kyoto and Amanohashidate is located to the north. The trip out to Amanohashidate can be very worthwhile and I remember arriving to a very small town with almost nothing to do. There were very few restaurants and most of the shops cater to tourists. It is a very beautiful tourist trap but still definitely worth a visit. Amanohashidate is nothing more than a long sand bar that separates Miyazu Bay into two parts. It has also grown over the centuries. It was once a long bar of sand that has now grown and become populated with many pine trees. The most famous thing to do is to head up one of the mountains flanking Amanohashidate, bend over and look at Amanohashidate through your legs. When viewed this way, Amanohashidate is said to appear to be a stairway into heaven. This view has inspired many writers and artists. There are so many poems written about Amanohashidate that you can see many of the poems written on plaques all along the sand bar itself. It is a nice place and my only regret is that I didn’t fully understand the meanings of the poems themselves. Hopefully the next time I visit I can appreciate the area a lot more.
Matsushima is a small bay that is located near Sendai. It is a small town that is very similar to the other Top 3 Views in Japan. The one thing I noticed more was that the entire town, at the bottom of the bay, was heavily promoting the fact that they are part of the Top 3 Views in Japan. When I visited Amanohashidate and Miyajima, there was little in the way of informing visitors that they were in one of the Top 3 Views of Japan. Matsushima was a bit different in this way. I can imagine why as the famous way to see the views are by boat. There are several tours that head out into the bay so you can see the various islands that make up Matsushima. Matsushima gains its status as a great view by the hundreds of islands that dot the bay. They look like some god dropped these large rocks into the bay and then planted some pine trees on top of them. The islands are also known for their shape. The islands shoot straight up and the waves eat away at the rock face causing spherical voids. It is amazing how nature naturally created these voids. Something that was even more amazing is how Matsushima is naturally protected. After the major tsunami in 2011, Matsushima was left relatively unharmed. Some areas had problems but for the most part, everything was safe. The way the islands were set in the bay created a natural wave break that protected the village. Matsushima was very quick to declare that they were open for business after the tsunami, but I fear that they are not attracting the number of visitors they would like as most people still don’t know that the bay is safe. It may take more time to recover from this problem but I’m sure they will. Unfortunately, I still feel the same about the area as when I first visited Matsushima. I doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone unless they are living in Japan or they have visited Japan many times as it was a large disappointment for me.
The last place, and in my opinion the best, is Miyajima. I have been there twice and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The island is a good day trip from Hiroshima and very popular. It is very much a victim of its own success. Even on a weekday the island can be overrun with tourists. It is a very beautiful place that has been written about often. Most of Miyajima is off limits to all people as it is mostly parkland with very few trails. The most famous sight is Itsukushima Jinja. It is the focal point of the entire island and the most visited location. Walking from the port to the shrine is a very enjoyable experience with many deer lining the path. The shops cater to tourists as always but they promote a lot of local items such as Hiroshima oysters and Miyajima wood products such as chopsticks and rice spatulas. One area only a few people visit is the top of the mountain. It is popular when the cable car is running, but unfortunately it wasn’t running the second time I visited. The top of the mountain is a very cool and fun place to hang out as it reminded me of various fight scenes between Captain Kirk and various aliens on the original Star Trek series. I would love to visit the island again to see the peak as I fell in love with Miyajima. If I had a chance to go again, and I didn’t have to pay, of course I would go however after visiting the island twice, it is no longer on my list of things to do again for the time being.
For those deciding what to see, my own personal opinion is that Miyajima is the best followed by Amanohashidate and Matsushima. All of them are nice and definitely beautiful. Miyajima has become more and more overrun with tourists but it is still a special place. Amanohashidate has grown on me over time and I remember the remoteness of the location meant that I had the place nearly to myself. Matsushima was the dark spot but I hope it is mainly due to my experience. In several years, I might want to re-visit Matsushima and see what it is like. Perhaps my opinion will change and I would enjoy it a lot more.