“Matsushima ya tsuru ni mi o kare hotogisu (the cuckoo bird cried, crane, lend me your beauty so as I will not be out of place in beautiful Matsushima),” wrote the poet Basho in the 17th century. Matsushima Bay contains over 260 stone islands and islets, decorated with evergreen trees, and shaped into unique forms by time, wind, and water. One of my favorite islands, Mehanashi-jima, (freed horse island), was where they sent horses who became old and could not work any longer. I could almost see the ghosts of the horses as we glided by on the boat, cantering around happily, unencumbered by harnesses.
The Japanese poetry in naming is like music to my literary ears. For instance, a tea room overlooking Matsushima Bay had a place the samurai kept their women called Kametaia, “a place to view the ripples in the water.”
In the Zuiganji temple, two things stood out from the flood of knowledge I experienced. First, the wooden floor that sounded when you walked on it like a nightingale to warn you of your enemies. Second, the half jaguar, half tiger painting from the Edo period was truly a mythical, whimsical creation.
A few random mentions. Our guide, Hiromi Tankaka deserves a thanks. She gave us a wonderful tour of Zuiganji temple. An intelligent woman, she taught us much in fact and in memory. In the museum in the tea ceremony room, the two dragons represented the beginning and the end. And a stunning painting, a paper cut by Miyate Mamyuki caught my eye for the stark but remarkable interpretation of the Matushima Island.