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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


18-19 January: Matsushima Bay

Saké bottle from Matsushima

Various Daruma figures

Various Daruma figures

Pile of Daruma, souvenir shop, Shibamata, Tokyo

Pile of Daruma, souvenir shop, Shibamata, Tokyo

Yesterday, on 18 January, I headed north, travelling by shinkansen as far as Sendai. This is the closest main line station to Matsushima, the first of the Nihon sankei (the ‘three scenic views of Japan') that I was to visit on my trip. Sites in Japan are often linked as part of a series; another example is Goshikinuma, the 'five coloured lakes' in the northern Bandai mountain region. In some cases, the sites are spread throughout Japan, as is the case with the Nihon sankei. These series create circuits to be completed in a day or in a lifetime.

By the time I reached Matsushima, groups of Chinese and Japanese visitors appeared at the pier, having stayed there overnight. All kinds of boat trips are available to tour Matsushima Bay and the dramatic pine-clad islands standing high above the water. The pristine landscape of white rocks and spindly pines admired by the sixteenth-century poet Basho is now complemented by the smoking chimneys of a factory further along the coast.

After the boat trip, I went to the nearby temple, Zuigan-ji, the other main focus for visitors. With few visitors on a week-day in January, the woman at the stall near the entrance to the temple was willing to tell me about what people buy from her. Some of the more popular items at this time of year are Daruma figures.

Souvenir shops lined the sea-front and were scattered in the back-streets near the temple. The last shop I visited used to be a well-established inn visited by dignitaries. During our discussion the owner showed me early twentieth-century photographs of the house and garden. Before I left, she produced a sake bottle, cup and small saucer that had been made for visitors to the inn. The bottle shows the pine-clad islands and boats in the bay. The pine motif is repeated on the cup and saucer, also decorated with the words from a song. The owner of the shop sang it twice and wrote down the lyrics with kanji I could read, but as I was running to catch the last train back to Sendai, we both expressed regret that I didn't have time to stay and learn the tune.