Jomon history in Miyagi, with a superb view

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Islands dot Matsushima Bay, as seen from the Otakamori viewpoint.

By Yuka Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHIGASHIMATSUSHIMA, Miyagi — I try to walk as much as I can while traveling, because human beings’ primary mode of transportation sharpens a little the senses dulled by civilization. That’s why I empathize with the concept of “olle,” a kind of walking trip that originated on Jeju Island, South Korea.

Olle originally meant the narrow path toward one’s home. It has since come to refer to enjoying nature and people’s lives using the five senses while walking on a trail, including unpaved old paths. The Miyagi Olle trekking courses were established in autumn last year, following the Kyushu Olle built earlier in the Kyushu region.

Walking to scenic heights

The Miyagi Olle was built after the South Korean Jeju Olle Foundation agreed to a Miyagi prefectural government plan to develop a sister olle trail in the prefecture, as part of its efforts to address a decrease in the number of foreign visitors after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Boar and blowfish bones are seen in the cross section of a shell midden layer at the Satohama Historical Park.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

The prefecture is believed to have had a hard time negotiating with the foundation to approve the Tohoku region development, in the face of concerns over the effects of the disaster.

“Olle in a way is a path of friendship that enables us to share difficulties connecting with nature,” foundation President Seo Myung-sook said happily at Miyagi Olle’s opening ceremony last October.

The walk along the trail’s 10-kilometer Okumatsushima course tours Miyatojima, the largest island in Matsushima Bay, and takes four hours. Matsushima Bay’s landscape is said to have been little affected by the 2011 earthquake, in which coastal areas on the Pacific Ocean were hit by a tsunami more than 10 meters high that killed at least 1,100 people.

I wanted to walk the course partly to support the reconstruction efforts of the disaster-hit areas.

The Okumatsushima course starts and finishes at Selco Home Aomina, a multipurpose facility built for the reconstruction and revitalization of the Miyato district. It also is a gateway to Otakamori, one of the four best viewpoints overlooking Matsushima, a scenic site with a group of small islands. Matsushima is one of three highest-regarded scenic sites in the country.

But the best seems to come last. Veering away from the peak of the island, the path led me to the Satohama shell midden, one of the nation’s largest shell mounds.

How people lived at the beach during the 5,000-year period from the early Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) to the mid-Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C.-ca A.D. 300 ) can be seen at the shell midden. The landscape is believed to have stayed the same, since the island has no river that would change the scenery by erosion or sedimentation.

The cross section of a shell midden layer from about 2,800 years ago caught my eye at the Kaiso Kansatsukan museum at the Satohama Historical Park. I could see not only shells and stone tools, but also the bones of humans and dogs. The shell midden served as the grave of every object and living thing, where people gave thanks for natural blessings and tools, and paid homage to ancestral spirits.

The Satohama Historical Park fronting the small bay is a delightful spot.

“This is where Jomon people used to work,” said Hiroki Sugawara, director of the Historical Museum of Jomon Village OkuMatsushima.

People in the Jomon period fished, shucked shellfish and manufactured salt there. Sugawara said he used to wonder why they lived on an inconvenient hill since they would have to go down to the shore to fish or other activities.

“But I realized the tsunami didn’t reach the hill. They’ve told us where a safer place is,” he said.

Sights thousands of years old

Having passed through fields and gone to Inagasaki Park, which commands a fine view, I headed over to Kannonji temple. Nearby is a stone monument that is believed to show the point a tsunami reached after an earthquake in 869.

About 900 island residents were able to flee the 2011 tsunami as they climbed to places higher than the monument, said Shinichi Kijima, a local resident and a member of the Okumatsushima tourism volunteer group.

I passed through a graveyard and up a mountain path, which is said to have been restored by cutting down trees on an old transmountain path. The location of the old path was learned from local elders. Although the island’s population is now smaller, Kijima hopes to revive it with tourism.

I walked further for an hour and finally arrived at Otakamori. I caught my breath at the beautiful sight, which must have remained the same for thousands of years despite the tsunami. It's no wonder I felt nostalgic during the walk on the “path toward my home.” I had the distinct feeling that distant ancestors were following me on my way.

One more Miyagi Olle course

There is another Miyagi Olle course on the Karakuwa Peninsula in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which is surrounded by a sawtooth coastline. The course starts at a visitor center at the tip of the peninsula and includes an old path restored by local residents.

While listening to the sound of chopping waves, trail walkers can enjoy the unusual coastal views of the Oreishi marble stone pillar and Hanzo, where a series of marble rocks have been carved into strange shapes by marine erosion. It’s a spectacular course featuring the local history of an area that lived with the sea, while fearing it at the same time.


It takes about 1½ hours from Tokyo Station to Sendai Station by Shinkansen bullet train, and about 30 minutes to Nobiru Station by rapid-transit train on the JR Senseki Line. From there to Selco Home Aomina, it takes 10 minutes by car.

For more information, call the Higashimatsushima tourism and trade association at (0225) 87-2322. To inquire about the Miyagi Olle, call the Miyagi prefectural government’s tourism section at (022) 211-2755.Speech

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