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Taking the overnight bus is an economical way to travel around Japan; not only can you arrive at your destination early to make the most out of the day, you also get to save on a night's accommodation. The Narita Air & Bus! is a service offered at Narita International Airport and which connects the airport to different places of interest by long distance bus. Of interest is the overnight route to Sendai and Matsushima, two destinations that offer visitors a wide variety of attractions from beautiful coastal views to bustling city vibes.

I started my journey from Narita International Airport and boarded the overnight bus, ready for a few hours of sleep. The bus makes a few more stops along the way to pick up more passengers, but it wasn't long before we were on the highway headed north. My destination was Matsushima Kaigan, and I arrived just as the sun was rising. The plan was to visit Shiogama and Matsushima on the first day with an overnight stay in Matsushima before moving to Sendai City the following day.

As it was relatively early in the morning, there weren't too many things open in Matsushima Kaigan, and I made my way by train to Shiogama Fish Market in nearby Shiogama instead. The fish market, which is open to the public, was ready for business by the time I arrived. It felt a little surreal and adventurous to be at a local fish market, and I knew that I wanted to have raw fish for breakfast. One of the nice things about Shiogama Fish Market was being able to create a seafood rice bowl of my choice by buying pre-packed small portions from the vendors, then buying a rice and soup set from the cooked food stall to complete the meal.

From Shiogama Fish Market, I took the bus to Shiogama Shrine, one of the most important shrines in the region. The shrine has a long history of more than 1000 years, and many of the buildings on the temple grounds date back to the 18th century during the Edo Period. The shrine is a must visit during the spring when the hundreds of cherry trees on the grounds come into bloom.

After paying my respects at the shrine, I walked down to the waterfront to catch my sightseeing cruise of Matsushima Bay, one of the top three scenic views in Japan alongside Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima. There are a few cruise options available: those that start and end in Matsushima, or the one which I took from Shiogama to Matsushima. The 50 minute boat ride took me close to some of the islands in the bay as well as provided a look at some of the local fishing industries like seaweed and oyster farming.

In Matsushima, I visited some of the more well-known attractions like Zuiganji Temple, Godaido Hall and Fukuura Island. These sites were a short walk away from the sightseeing cruise port and can easily be visited in an afternoon. Zuiganji Temple was interesting for me as visitors are allowed to enter the main hall to view the beautifully painted paper sliding doors. I also went for lunch in between the sightseeing and indulged in more local seafood specialties.

Having been up since sunrise, I decided to called it a day around sunset. It was time to check in to my accommodation for the night, enjoy a nice hot bath and dinner before going to bed full and content.

The following day, I made my way to Sendai by train. The one way journey from Matsushima Kaigan Station to Sendai Station took only 40 minutes which surprised me a little as I thought that I was farther away from the city. The city of Sendai is the largest in the Tohoku Region, a fact which was evident upon exiting the busy station.

On the west side of the station are tall buildings and pedestrian bridges that connect the various places. I headed for the bus bay to take the convenient sightseeing loop bus which runs every 20 minutes. My first stop for the day was Zuihoden, an ostentatious mausoleum built in accordance to the final wishes of Date Masamune, the first feudal lord of what we know as Sendai now. This is definitely one of the top sightseeing attractions in the city, and one not to be missed.

I got back on the sightseeing loop bus, and after a few minutes arrived at the Sendai Castle Ruins. This place used to be the grounds of Aoba Castle (colloquially known as Sendai Castle), but nothing except the stone foundations of the main keep remains. However, the site of the castle ruins is a good place to see the city from above and still worth a visit.

To wrap up my day, I headed for the shopping streets in downtown Sendai. There are a number of shopping streets in the downtown core, and together they form one of the largest shopping arcades in the Tohoku Region! Majority of the streets are covered which makes for a comfortable shopping experience in any weather. Those who love shopping can probably spend an entire day here browsing and taking in all the products on offer.

Finally, no trip to a new city is ever complete without trying some of their local specialties. Zunda, a sweet edamame paste, and gyutan, grilled cow's tongue, are some of the delicacies here in Sendai. I made sure to try the both of them and suffice to say, I would recommend them to visitors. The area in and around the station district, which also includes the shopping streets where footfall is high, is the best place to find zunda products and gyutan restaurants.

For most people, it is worth considering extending your stay in Sendai, taking the train to further explore other destinations or simply take the overnight bus back to Narita Airport. But for me, my short trip has come to an end, and I felt like I fully maximised my time at the spots I visited.

Access

The overnight bus departs from Narita Airport daily and arrives in Sendai and Matsushima between 5:00 to 6:00. The approximately eight hour journey takes passengers across 460 kilometers with a few stops in between for the driver. Bus reservations can be made from the Japan Bus Online link below.

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