The Moon Over Matsushima Bay

Written by Jacinta Plucinski, Be Movement issue 3 – JAPAN, published March 2014

Miniature pine tree forests perch on rock islands whimsically sculpted by the waves of Matsushima Bay.

The moon above waxes and wanes as it has done for thousands of years. The very same that the famous haiku poet Matsuo Bashō, struck by the natural beauty of the place, dreamed of as he wended along the narrow road to the deep north in the 17th century.

Now, there are few who come to gaze upon it.

Yuko Isoda, vice president of Matsushima Tourism Association and Okami (Managing Director) of Hotel Matsushima Taikanso, Matsushima’s largest hotel, has seen first-hand how disaster can redirect the flow of travellers away from a place that still remains one of Japan’s three most scenic sites.

“[During] the construction and redevelopment of this area, many people would come and stay in this hotel but not for sightseeing,” Isoda says. “Just after the disaster, zero Japanese and foreign tourists came in a year.”


Matsushima is an enclave – one of the few places that escaped the brute force of the waves that shattered most of the Sanriku coast. The inlet’s 260 islands created a natural protective barrier, subduing much of the tsunami’s ferocity before it could reach the town.

Isoda’s hotel, high on the hill, became an enclave as well, one of safety for those able to flee the tsunami.

Isoda remembers the day.

“At 2.46p.m. there was the earthquake,” she says. “There were many guests for meetings, sightseeing. [But] some couldn’t come to [the] hotel [because of the earthquake].”

She led her guests and employees to shelter behind the hotel. Without electricity, unable to hear the tsunami-warning sirens, unable to get news and unable to see the sea, uncertainty added its own layer of fear. Setting this aside, Isoda focused on what she could do for her employees and guests, preparing food and places to sleep, creating warmth, candlelight and comfort.

As more arrived at the hotel seeking refuge, news of what was happening trickled through. The numbers swelled to 300. People were fearful but calm.

“They were scared,” Isoda says, ”but there was no problem. For meals, they made a line in the cafeteria.”

After three to four days, the guests could leave. However, the families and children of the employees remained there, living together. The hotel became a home. “The family relationship in Japan is very important,” she says.

Looking back today, Isoda reflects on the disaster. Although Matsushima was spared much of the damage suffered by other areas, she still felt she had to do something to help others.

Hotel Matsushima Taikanso was built by her father over 60 years ago. Isoda herself has worked there for 40 years. “I have to run this hotel,” she says, “Not only for myself, but [even more so] for others.”

There were many misleading rumours about Tohoku after the disaster. So, working in co-operation with organisations such as Japanese National Tourist Organisation (JNTO) and other okamis, Isoda concentrated on drawing visitors back to the area.

The number of foreign tourists visiting still remains only a fraction of what it was.

Isoda believes there are many reasons to come, including the chance to be lulled by Matsushima’s natural beauty. It’s also important for people to visit and learn for themselves the truth of Tohoku’s present situation.

With a voice filled with life and light, Isoda says, “I want them to come back. I want to see their smiles.”







Human Check*