Matsuo Basho, arguably Japan's most famous haiku poet, is said to have been at a loss for words when he first saw the hundreds of pine-clad islets scattered around Matsushima Bay during a 17th-century journey to the Tohoku region.

When the monster March 11 tsunami wiped out towns all along the Sanriku coast, killing or leaving thousands of people missing in Miyagi Prefecture, Matsushima's famed cluster of about 260 islets served as a natural buffer, weakening the impact of the waves and largely sparing the coastal town from utter devastation, despite its proximity to the 9.0-magnitude quake's epicenter.

But while the beauty of Matsushima — revered as one of Japan's three most scenic spots — was preserved, a plunge in tourists is hindering the community's efforts to come back from the Great East Japan Earthquake.