MATSUE AREA: JAPAN'S OLDEST SHRINE, ITS BEST GARDEN AND YOKAI HAVEN

MATSUE

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Matsue castle
Matsue is known as the "City of Water," because it located on a piece of land where Nakaumi Lagoon, Lake Shinji and the Tenjin River. Famous for its spectacular sunsets and home to about 145,000 people,, Matsue has an extensive system of moats and canals that radiate out from the 17th century Castle. Boat trips are offered around Matsue castle. Gesshoji temple to the west of the castle features a gigantic stone turtle. Above the five-meter-long, 23-ton statue is a 3.5-meter-high, 11.5-ton stone monument.

Matsue has come to attention of Westerners through the works of Lafcadio Hearn who wrote about the town in his essay In a Japanese Garden, inspired by the garden of his house in Matsue. In his book on ghosts Hearns, who is regarded by some as the first Japanologist, wrote about a stone turtle at Gesshoji temple in Matsue that came to life at night and devoured people and female a ghost at Daioji temple in the same town that gave birth to a baby in a grave and then went out to buy candy for it.

Websites:Matsue Tourism site visit-matsue.com Wikitravel Wikitravel Maps and Transport Info : Matsue Tourism site visit-matsue.com Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels ">Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Matsue is accessible by air and by bus and by train from other Japanese cities. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Lafcadio Hearn

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Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an eccentric, Greek-born, Irish-American who married the daughter of a samurai, became a Japanese citizen, and adopted the name Yakumo Koizumi. Educated in France and Britain, he fell in love with Japanese culture and country life and collected Asian ghost stories and folk tales. Blinded in one eye in a childhood accident, he enjoyed reading so much it was said it his good eye sometimes bulge out of his head, twice it's size.

Born in 1850 to a Greek mother and Irish father, Lafcadio was educated in Dublin and later England, then sent to America at the age of 19. Kevin Short wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Blessed with a vivid imagination, a fascination with the macabre and mystical, and substantial literary skills, he quickly landed jobs as a newspaper and magazine writer. Lafcadio's writing assignments took him from Cincinnati to New Orleans and on to the Caribbean islands. In 1890, Harper's Magazine sent him to Japan to research and write a series of travel essays. Living first in Tokyo but then moving on to Matsue along the Sea of Japan in Shimane Prefecture, he quickly developed a deep aesthetic, sensual and spiritual connection to the Japanese land and people. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, July 27, 2012]

The turn of the century was a time when Japan was rapidly modernizing, and old customs and lifestyles were considered backwards or superstitious. Lafcadio's many fine books and essays not only introduced Japan's rich traditional culture and folklore to foreign audiences, but also helped foster a better sense of appreciation among the Japanese themselves. Lafcadio is most famous for his spine-tingling tales of ghosts and goblins. He also, however, was deeply interested in traditional Japanese ways of relating to nature, and collected a wealth of stories and beliefs associated with plants and animals.

Lafcadio married a woman from Matsue and remained in Japan until his death in 1904. He even took Japanese citizenship, changing his name to Yagumo Koizumi--Koizumi being his wife's maiden name and Yagumo an old poetic term for the Matsue region that he loved so dearly. Hearns taught at a local school, collected birds and insects in cages in his house and smoked a pipe. He kept a conch shell which he reportedly used to call servants to light his pipe. Hearns never mastered the Japanese language but that didn’t stop him from writing 10 landmark books on Japan while he lived there from 1894 to his death in 1904. He wrote Kwaidan (1904) and other collections of ghost stories (See Film). His vivid descriptions in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan helped introduce Japan to the West.

In his book on ghosts Hearn wrote about a stone turtle at Gesshoji temple in Matsue that comes to life at night and devours people and a female ghost at Daioji temple in the same town that gave birth to a baby in a grave and then went out to buy candy for the child. Hearns’s later works are more precise and restrained than his flowery early works. In The Chief City of the Province of Gods, for example, he wrote the early morning noises in Matsue begin with the “pounding of the ponderous pestle of the kometsuki, the cleaner of rice---a sort of colossal wooden mallet...Then the boom of the great bell of Zokoji the Zenshu temples is heard followed by “the melancholy echoes of drumming...signaling the Buddhist hour of morning prayer.”

Sights in Matsue

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The house where Hearns lived for 15 months can be visited by tourists. It has a lovely garden and tea house. Next door is a museum with a collection of his manuscripts and other memorabilia. Hearns’ house is located in an old samurai neighborhood. The house is very Japanese, with tatami mat floors and sliding shoji screens and a famous garden that was the subject of one of his most famous essays. In the museum are his collection of pipes, a conch shell he reportedly used to call his servant to relight his pipe and cages he used to keep birds and insects. Hearns’ image is found throughout the city. Souvenir shops sell a brand of tea with his mustached face on the boxes.

Other attractions in Matsue include the Shimane Art Museum, regarded as one of the best places in Japan to watch the sun set; the Kanden-an Teahouse, one of the finest of its kind in Japan; Gesshoji, famous for its turtle statue, which people touch for good luck, and 30,000 hydrangea, which bloom in early July. There are also some temples, shrines and samurai houses. In Jozan Inari Shrine in a wooded area not far from Matsue castle are thousands of images of foxes, messengers of the gods, some of the them worn down by weather and partly covered in moss.

The Sudaji tree at Shitabi Shrine in Yakumocho, Matsue is one of the nation's largest chinquapin trees. The 18-meter-tall tree features nine thick spreading branches. The branches spread for about 20 meters from east to west and about 33 meters from north to south. The trunk is 11. 4 meters in circumference at the base. It is believed that Kojin, a guardian deity of the locals, lives inside the tree.

Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle is made from wood and features a five-level donjon (reconstructed in 1642). It sits on a hill and is surrounded by walls that support a series of terraced gardens. On one side is a wooded park. In the castle’s museum are samurai helmets, old kimonos, historical murals and architectural models. From the open platform on the top floor there are nice views of Lake Shinji and Mt. Daisen and other distant mountains. Construction of the castle was delayed by various problems linked to the discovery of spear-pierced skull that continued until the skull was given a proper burial.

According to legend, when the castle was being constructed nearly 400 years ago, a Bon Odori Festival was held at Ninomaru square at the castle on a summer evening when the main tower was near completion. A young woman named Otsuru went missing that evening, and rumors spread that she had been made a human sacrifice for the sake of building the castle. During the following year's Bon Festival, the main castle is said to have started shaking on its own to the rhythm of a taiko drum. People began saying that the shaking of the castle was due to Otsuru twisting and turning out of her desire to dance. Since then, the clan leader banned Bon Festivals within its domain.Bon Odori are still not held around the castle--no one dares, because it is frightening.

Matsue Vogel Bird Park

Matsue Vogel Park (seven kilometers from Matsue Castle) is an aviary park on the North shore of Lake Shinji. Set amid green forested hills, it is a large place with paved walkways between four aviaries holding a variety of birds, including toucans, turacos, hornbills and ibises. Ducks, geese and waterfowl can be found in the aquatic birds aviary. There are also emus and Penguin. An owl flight show, one of the park’s main attraction is held four times a day. The most impressive thing about the show is when the owls fly above the audience, a few centimeters above people’s head. Of a 100 yen or so you can feed the birds in various places. Feeding the toucans is especially fun.

Vogel Park boasts one of the largest greenhouses in the world, with Begonia, Fuchsia and Coleus flowers and various flowers which bloom year-round. Vogel Park is arguably the most impressive and interesting flower and bird park and garden in Japan and has been recognized by Trip Advisor as a cool place to visit. Most of the birds roam relatively freely in the aviaries. Some of the prized hornbills and other featured birds are kept in smaller cages. Thousands of different kinds of begonia and fuchsia bloom all year round in one of the world’s largest greenhouses. There is wonderful view of Lake Shinji from the viewing platform. In the petting zoo you can hold rabbits and call ducks on your lap. On weekends and holidays, you can also hold penguins, for a fee. There are also Mandarin ducks and a fortune-telling African gray parrot named Hiyo-chan.

During the Penguin Walk (10:30am and 2:00pm) penguisn flutter their little tails and waddle along with visitors. At Owl Flight Show (11:00am, 3:00pm) at the greenhouse’s event stage the owls spread their wide wings, and swoop over everyone's heads. For a fee, you can have the owls perch on your hand after the show for a photo. During Bird Show (1:30am) hawks and eagles that flap their wings and fly through the sky and falcons dive with dramatic speed. Other birds do tricks and perform feats of skill.

Admission: ¥1,500 (30% off for international visitors, ¥1,050); International discount for children ¥530. Preschool (Kindergarten or younger): Free. Hours Open: April-September: 9:00am-5:30pm (last entry by 4:45pm); October- March: 9:00am-5:00 (last entry by 4:15pm); Getting There: By Train: depart from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station (Ichibata Railway), stop at Matsue Vogel Park Station (¥410, 16 minutes). 45 minutes from Izumo Taisha-mae Station, 15 minutes from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station (get off at Matsue Vogel Park Station, which is directly in front of the facility). By car or taxi : 40 minutes from Izumo Taisha, 25 minutes from Izumo Airport, 30 minutes from Tamatsukuri Onsen, 20 minutes from Matsue Castle, 25 minutes from JR Matsue Station. Parking is free for up to two hours for regular vehicles and for buses. For each following hour regular vehicles pay ¥200. Website: ichibata.co.jp/vogelpark, Tel: 0852-88-9800

Shimane Prefecture

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Izumo Shrine
Matsue is in Shimane Prefecture, which covers 6,708 square kilometers (2,590 square miles), is home to about 695,000 million people and has a population density of 103.5 people per square kilometer. Matsue is the capital and largest city, with about 206,000 people. It is in the Chugoku area on the southwestern part of Honshu island and has five districts and 19 municipalities.

The Mystery Ghost Tour, is organized by the nonprofit organization Matsue Tourism Kenkyukai, visits various locations by bus in the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture where people can experience the feeling of awe before nature or at sites where mysterious legends are passed down and animate the surroundings.

Lake Shinji (eastern Shimane Prefecture) is the 7th largest lake in Japan. It is a popular place with birdwatchers. More than 200 species of bird have been spotted at the lake, including flocks with 40,000 wild geese and 30,000 tufted ducks. The water is slightly salty and is home to shijimi clams, which can only be collected for a three hour period on four mornings a week. The average dept of the lake is only 4.5 meters and the clams are collected with a device consisting of a pole, rake and baskets that are dragged along the lake bottom to scoop up clams. The island in Lake Shinji is called Bride Island after a young bride who fled across the lake when it was frozen in the winter to escape from her wicked mother in law. The ice melted as she was fleeing and the bride drowned---and was turned into an island by a goddess that took pity on her. Website: Matsue Tourism site visit-matsue.com

Shimane Peninsula Area

The Shimane Peninsula was thought to be separated from the mainland during previous fault events, and later the Izumo Plain, Matsue Plain, and the Yumigahama Peninsula formed as a result of alleviation of rivers on the mainland, reconnecting to the mainland once again. Both the Okinoshima Islands and Shimane Peninsula are the setting of Japanese mythological tales such as Kunibiki Shinwa. Shimane-hanto Peninsula boasts some spectacular coastline with cliffs and a cave you can enter by boat.

Shimane Peninsula in particular has a number of historical sites and landmarks, which are said to serve as the center of the ancient Izumo culture and associated with the myths, including the Izumo-taisha Shrine, Hinomisaki-jinja Shrine, and Kakanokukedo. Kakanokukedo refers to wave-eroded cave mouths. A cavern located near Kukedohana is known as Shinkukedo while another cavern located by the bay is referred to as Kyukukedo. A sightseeing boat takes visitors inside the cavern. Hinomisaki is located at the westernmost tip of the Shimane Peninsula. Here you can find the Hinomisaki Lighthouse and Hinomisaki-jinja Shrine. The local coastline features a protruding coast and its complex topography forms an impressive landscape visible from the coast.

Jodogaura Beach has interesting seascapes consisting of rock formations of various colors and shapes. In the summer, the marine park zone attracts visitors for sea kayaking. Akiya Beach is marked by an abrupt red basalt cliff. It is equipped with footpaths and public restrooms and visitors can enjoy camping and strolling. Kuniga Coast features dynamic coastal scenery, sculpted by the waves of the Japan Sea. The 257-meter-high Maten-gai Cliffs are among the highest in Japan. You can take in the dramatic scenery from deck of a sight-seeing boat.

Getting There: From Haneda Airport in Tokyo it takes about 75 minutes to get to Izumo Airport. From there you can take an Izumo Ichibata Kotsu bus about 25 minutes to get to Izumoshi Station. From there take JR about 45 minutes to get to Ohdashi Station. From there take Bus Iwami Kotsu> about 60 minutes to get to Sanbe Shizenkan "Sahimel" (Shimane Nature Museum of Mt. Sanbe "Sahimel")

Izumo Taisha

Izumo Taisha (30 kilometers, one hour by train, west of Matsue) is the second most important Shinto shrine after the one in Ise and is regarded as the oldest shrine in Japan even though none of its original buildings remain. Situated along the Sea of Japan at the foot of Yakumo Hill outside the town of Izumo, it is associated with Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, the God of Marriage, who is also credited with bringing art, medicine, and agriculture to the world. Many visitors pray for progress in their love life. The shrine is said to be the gathering place for 8 million kami )deities) who are believed to show up in October during Kannazuki, meaning the 10th month of the lunar calendar, literally means the month without gods because it is believed all the gods around the country go to Izumo Taisha. In the Izumo area, the same month is called Kamiarizuki, the month of the gods because all the kami are Izumo shrine.

Established in A.D. 659 during the reign of Emperor Saimei and built mostly after 1874, Izumo-taishi shrine is approached through on an avenue of magnificent pine trees and is located on place important in the mythology of the birth of the Japanese islands. The main kami of the shrine is Okuninushi no Okami. According to the Japanese creation myth, he created the island of Japan and ruled from Izumo. He is regarded as the deity of good relationships and marriage and hence visitors clap their hands four times instead of the usual two times during their prayers: twice for themselves and twice for their partners (See Below). Despite sometimes being swamped with tourist, the shrine is amazing quiet and features "borrowed view" gardens, wooded grounds, graveled spaces,11 gates, walls, entry roads, moats, and courtyards between the outer torii gate, and Izumos Taisha's innermost shrine.

The main buildings have been periodically torn down and rebuilt like the shrines in Ise. The main shrine was rebuilt 25 times. The current structure was completed in 1744 and is the largest shrine building in Japan. Dignified and imposing, it is 24 meters high and built in accordance with some of the earliest known forms of Japanese architecture. As is true with Ise, Japan's other ultra-important shrine, the building can not be entered.. Until 1744, Izumo Taisha was periodically rebuilt like the Ise Shrines. Since then, the tradition has modified in that major renovations instead of full rebuildings are carried out every 60 years or so. The most recent took place between 2008 and spring 2013 when the last piece of scaffolding was taken down and the kami returned to the main hall. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Shimane Tourism site kankou-shimane.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide ; Getting There: seven minute walk from from Ichibata Railways Izumo Taisha Mae station to the front gate of the shrine From JR Izumoshi station you need to a bus that takes about 25 minutes. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Buildings and Features of Izumo Taisha

Izumo Taisha is surrounded by a large park. Leading up to it is a pleasant shopping and restaurant area with ice cream parlors, chocolate shops, hamburger restaurants and charming souvenir shops. A large wooden torii gate, marks the entrance to the shrine grounds. You walk along a path here for about half a kilometer through rows of pine trees. Where the trail divided into three paths, visitors should avoid taking the center one as it is said to be reserved for the deities.

A bronze torii gate marks the entrance to the main shrine grounds, where visitors are greeted by a beautiful wooden structure — the Worship Hall (Haiden) — with a huge sacred straw rope (shimenawa) hung across half its length. People who come to pray do so in different way than the traditional method: they bow twice and then clap four times---rather than two---and bow again as they are supposed to clap for themselves and their actual or desired partner before Okuninushi no Okami. In April 2008, the main hall was opened to the public for the first time in 59 years. The shimenawa indicates the presence of a deity and separates kami and human worlds. Shimenawa in the Izumo region are known for being particularly massive. [Source: Japan-Guide]

Behind the worship hall stands the Main Hall (Honden). It is 24 meters tall and tallest shrine building in Japan. It used to be even taller in the past, when I was perched on large pillars. The current structure was built in 1744 in a uniquely Japanese architectural style called Taisha-zukuri, that predates the arrival of Buddhism to Japan. The main hall together with its associate smaller shrine buildings are surrounded by two sets of fences which demarcate inner sanctuaries off limits to visitors. You can stroll around the outer fence and get a good view of the structures. The pair of long rectangular buildings on the east and west side of the main sanctuary, called Jukusha, provide lodging for 8 million kami (Shinto gods) when they come to visit the shrine in October to arrange marriages.

The treasure hall is situated at the southeastern corner of the main shrine grounds contains many interesting antiquities and valuable articles of ancient Japanese art. . According to to Japan-Guide it “exhibits paintings, documents and lavishly ornamented containers, as well as a model and artist impressions of how Izumo Taisha might have looked in the past when it stood on tall pillars. Unfortunately, there are almost no English explanations. Immediately east of the shrine grounds stands the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo where visitors can learn even more about the shrine and the Izumo region.”

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Artifacts, Myths and Heavenly Tree Trunks from Izumo Taisha

In 2012, an exhibition called Treasures from Sacred Izumo was held at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno to mark the completion of the renovation in 2013. Yasuo Hayakawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “"Uzubashira," parts of three cypress trunks, are a main attraction at the venue. They are believed to have been used as part of a pillar for the main hall of Izumo Taisha, which was built in 1248 during the Kamakura period (1192-1333).. The piece is about three meters around. Carved on the back of it is a scale model of the shrine’s ancient main hall, which was 48 meters from ground to ceiling, that catches the eyes of visitors. The ceiling of the current main hall of the shrine is about 24 meters high. I can imagine people in ancient times looking up at the ceiling of the main hall as if it was floating in heaven. [Source: Yasuo Hayakawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2, 2012]

“The Kojiki, compiled in 712, says that after the chief god Okuninushi created his country, he handed control of it to Amaterasu, the grand goddess of the sun, at her request. He then asked for a place to live after his retirement--a shrine towering into the air with thick pillars and ornamental crossbeams in the gable. This is said to be the origin of Izumo Taisha. A drawing in the exhibition on which the Uzubashira pillar and the main hall are depicted resonate with the myth in Kojiki. Myths about the Izumo region comprise about one-third of all the myths in the Kojiki.”

Izumo’s rich culture dates to the Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C.-ca A.D. 300). “Seventy-nine bronze artifacts, including spearheads, unearthed from the Kojindani ruins in Izumo and the Kamo-Iwakura ruins in Unnan, the same prefecture, are on display in the exhibition. Fifty-six of 358 doken bronze swords unearthed from the Kojindani ruins are also on display at the exhibition. The 358 swords are the most excavated at one site in Japan. Sixteen of 39 dotaku bell-shaped bronze vessels excavated from the Kamo-Iwakura ruins, which are thought to have been used for ceremonies, are also displayed. They, too, are the biggest collection of such artifacts unearthed at one site.

“Dohoko socketed bronze spearheads found at Kojindani and on display are believed to have been produced in the northern part of Kyushu. And dotaku made with the same mold as that used for Kamo-Iwakura were found in the Kinki, Chugoku and Shikoku regions, indicating there was a wide exchange of bronzeware at that time. "Ancient culture, which emerged from exchanges with other regions, might have made Izumo a source of mysterious power," Kikuo Morita, curator of the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo in Izumo, said. Doka bronze halberds and magatama comma-shaped beads, also on display, are said to have been unearthed from underneath a large stone about 200 meters east of Izumo Taisha. It is clear that the surrounding area has been the home of special places from ancient times.”

Okuninushi and the Rabbit of Inaba

Okuninushi and the Rabbit is a story closely associated with Izumo Taishi Shrine. There is a bronze statue of Okuninushi and the rabbit of Inaba is on the grounds of Izumo Taisha. According to otogi fandom: “Okuninushi lived in the land of Izumo in Ashihara-no-nakatsukuni with his numerous brothers. One day, his brothers heard of a goddess of unrivaled beauty named Yagami-hime. She lived in the land of Inaba, and every one of them wanted to ask for her hand in marriage. When they set out for Inaba, they brought Okuninushi along as their servant to carry their baggage, which was so heavy that he soon lagged behind the group. [Source: otogi.fandom.com

“When his brothers reached Cape Keta in Inaba, they came upon a rabbit lying on the ground that had been stripped of its skin and was crying in pain. The brothers said to the rabbit, “You should wash off in seawater and then climb to the top of a high hill where the winds blow strongly to dry off. You’ll recover very quickly if you do.” So the rabbit did as it was told, but instead of recovering, things got worse. As the winds blew, its skin dried and cracked, and the salt from the seawater got into its cracked skin. It couldn’t stand the pain, and fell down crying.

“When Okuninushi, who was still trailing the group, finally reached Cape Keta, he saw the rabbit crying out in pain, and asked it what had happened. The rabbit replied, “I’m from the island of Oki, and I wanted to cross over to the mainland. There was no way for me to do it on my own, so I decided to fool the sharks that live in the waters around Oki. I called out to one of the sharks, ‘Let’s see which there are more of, you sharks or us rabbits. Have all your fellow sharks line up one by one from here to Cape Keta, and I’ll count you. Then we’ll know for sure which group is bigger.’ ”

“And they did just like I said. So I ran over them, counting each one, and just as I was about to reach land, I said, ‘I just tricked you all into doing what I wanted.’ Just then, the last shark in the line caught me and bit my fur right off me. As I was lying here, a large group of gods came along and told me to wash off in seawater and then go where the wind would dry me off. I did what they told me, but now things are even worse.” Hearing this, Okuninushi told the rabbit, “Go to that river over there and wash off in fresh water. Then gather some cattails, spread them out on the ground and roll over them. You’ll be as good as new in no time.” So the rabbit did as it was told, and soon it had completely healed.

”Then the rabbit said to Okuninushi, “Your brothers will never earn the love of Yagami-hime. Even though you look like a poor servant, she will fall in love with and marry you.” When Okuninushi finally arrived at Yagami-hime’s palace, the rabbit’s prediction came true. Yagami-hime said to his brothers, “I will have nothing to do with any of you. Okuninushi is the one I will marry.” Hearing this, his brothers were enraged, and they decided to kill Okuninushi. Each time they tried, his mother came to his rescue and was able to save him, but their plots became so frequent that his mother said to him, “If you stay here, your brothers will succeed in killing you.” So Okuninushi fled far away, to the house of Susano-o in the land of Ne, the Underworld.

“The rabbit that Okuninushi and his brothers encountered came from the Oki Islands, a group of islands about 50 kilometers off the coast of Shimane in the Sea of Japan. The land of Inaba, where Yagami-hime was from, is in the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture, as is Cape Keta, where Okuninushi and the rabbit met. A sculpture that recreates this meeting can be found on the grounds of Izumo Taisha, as that is where Okuninushi is enshrined. Yomotsu Hirasaka, the entrance to the Underworld, once again makes an appearance in a Shimane-related myth. It can be found in the Higashi Izumo area of Matsue City.

“While Yagami-hime was on her way to Izumo, it is said that she stopped and bathed in the waters of a hot spring she found bubbling out of the ground in a valley. Not only did the waters refresh her from the long journey she had taken, but they also made her even more beautiful than she already was. This hot spring is Yunokawa Hot Spring in the Hikawa area of Izumo City. It is one of many hot springs throughout the prefecture that are said to have been enjoyed by both regular people since ancient times and by the gods even before that. Yunokawa Hot Spring is also famous for being one of the three “Bijin no Yu”, hot springs in Japan well known for their promise of beauty for those who bathe in their waters. Also in Hikawa is Mii Shrine, which has three wells on its grounds that are said to have been used by Yagami-hime when she gave birth to the child she had with Okuninushi.”

Adachi Museum and Gardens

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Adachi Museum gardens
Adachi Museum (in Yasugi, Shimane, 25 kilometers southeast of Matsue) features lovely gardens that blend in well with the landscape and a wonderful collection of art. The gardens have been named the No. 1 in Japan for seven consecutive years by the U.S. publication the Journal of Japanese Gardening. No.2 is Kyoto’s famous Katsura Rikyu. The museum’s six gardens cover 165,000 square meters. The gardens have three stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan . The museum and garden attract about 450,000 people a year

The museum was established in 1970 by Zenko Adachi, an entrepreneur born in Yasugi. Adachi personally selected the pine trees for the garden which has different stations where extraordinary beautiful views can be enjoyed. Some walls of the museum have been cut out so that the gardens can be viewed as if they were living paintings. The museum contains 1,300 paintings by Japanese painted such as Taikan Yokohama (1868-1958), Seiho Takeuchi (1864-1942) and Gyokudo Kawai (1873-1957) and ceramic artists Kanjiro Kawai (1890-1966) and Rosanjin Kitaoji (1883-1959). The works are changed four times a year to match the season and the views of the gardens.

The Adachi Museum of Art's extensive collection of contemporary Japanese paintings is not bad but the gardens are by far the main attraction. You can not go outside and stroll through the main garden but you can admire it through large windows at about six or seven different places in the museum. The scenery varies with the season.

According to the museum: “The Adachi Museum of Art was founded by local businessman Zenko Adachi in 1970, in the hope of sharing his love for Japanese art and gardens with the people of Japan. Adachi himself assembled its traditional arts and crafts collection, which is most famous for 120 quality works by the master Taikan Yokoyama, and he was also deeply involved in the landscaping of the rolling gardens.In Japan, these contrasting elements combine to create singularly enchanting experiences. Visit Japanese gardens and appreciate the beauty of the four seasons as medieval poets once did. Admire exquisite lacquerware. Turn your eyes to the present, and you’ll find modern art museums coexisting in perfect harmony with nature, open-air music concerts, immersive exhibits of cutting-edge digital art, and more.”

Address: 320, Furukawa-cho, Yasugi City, Shimane Hours Open: 9:00am-6:30pm (–5:00pm October–March) Admission: Main gallery (Japanese Art and garden) ¥2,200. There may be a discount for foreigners. Getting There: Adachi Museum is reached by a free shuttle bus that connects it with JR Yasugi Station, JR Yonago Station, Tamatsukuro Onsen and Yongago Airport. Check to make sure all these places are still served Website: adachi-museum.or.jp Real Japanese Gardens japanesegardens.jp

Sakaiminato: Yokai City

Sakaiminato (20 kilometers east of Matsue) is the birthplace of Shigeru Mizuki, a revered manga artist and creator of Kitaro. He was sent to Rabaul, New Guinea during World War II and lost his arm there, an event he described in his manga. Much of his work deals with yokai (Japanese supernatural beings). Mizuki's long-running manga and anime series Gegege no Kitaro has featured dozens of traditional yokai characters. One prominent example is Konaki Jiji, who looks like an abandoned baby until a luckless passerby picks him up, after which he turns into a crushingly heavy old man. GeGeGe no Kitaro is an anime based on the manga Hakaba Kitaro by Mizuki. It the story of Kitaro, the last living member of a tribe of ghosts that have emanated from his dead mother's decayed body. Kitaro is protected and accompanied by the eyeball of his father, an expert on “yokai." Kitaro first appeared in 1960 and has been and a television anime four times."Source: Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri, December 2010]

Mizuki was born along the coast near the Sakaisuido channel. The facing coastline of Shimane Peninsula, Shimane Prefecture. This area is dominated by steep mountains and sits in sharp contrast to Sakaiminato’s flat terrain. Young Mizuki visited the Shimane peninsula and said at the time he felt close to yokai such as Noderabo (rustic temple monk) and Kawa-akago (infant monster living near rivers). Sakaiminato is also known for its beaches.

Kenichi Sato, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Sakaiminato “is crowded with statues and pictures of yokai characters familiar to readers of Mizuki’s manga; even the rooftop signs on taxis are shaped like Medama-oyaji (eyeball father).. I felt as if I had wandered into a yokai paradise. Leading from the station is Mizuki Shigeru Road, built to honor the 89-year-old mangaka. Flanked by bronze statues of yokai characters created by Mizuki, the 800-meter-long road opened in 1993. It was created when large-scale retailers opened in nearby suburbs, dragging people away from the thoroughfare that used to be the city’s main street. The number of bronze statues has increased from the original 23 to the current 139. [Source: Kenichi Sato, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 23, 2011]

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Kitaro characters

”The road leads to touristy spots: Yokai Shrine, featuring a huge eyeball-shaped stone immersed in a stone chozubachi (a vessel to hold water)--just like Medama-oyaji bathes in a bowl in Mizuki’s manga--and a Kappa fountain.Passersby are welcome to browse about 100 stores selling sake, snacks and dolls while looking for statues of Nurikabe (plastered wall), Nekomusume (cat girl) and other favorite yokai.One such store is the Kyokuno Shoe Store, which has been running for about 100 years. Its proprietor makes Kitaro-style geta (wooden clogs) by hand.

”At another store with a sign reading "yokai food research center," I sampled a Japanese sweet shaped like a real eyeball. When I asked the center’s female director for an interview, she handed me a business card with the name "Majo (witch) Kaoru" and said, "I'm 460 years old.” A 65-year-old manager of an electric construction company sells yokai goods and also teaches visitors how to make yokai goods for free in his spare time.

”Mizuki Shigeru Museum, toward one end of the road, examines the life of the author who explored the world of yokai manga. Pictures of heaven and hell that are also said to have inspired Mizuki are on display in Shofukuji temple in the city. Across the channel on a peninsula sits Miho Shrine, dedicated to a series of gods featured in Kunibiki Shinwa--local mythology that has been passed down in the historical province of Izumo, now in Shimane Prefecture.”

Getting There: Flights from Haneda to Yonago Kitaro Airport take about 1-1/2 hours. Rail trips from Osaka take about 3 hours and 40 minutes by JR via Okayama and Yonago in Tottori Prefecture. Some trains that go to JR Sakai line terminal station are emblazoned with colorful characters from the yokai monster manga Gegege no Kitaro. Website: Sakaiminato Tourist Association: sakaiminato.net. Tel: (0859) 47-0121.

Omori

Omori (80 kilometers west-southwest of Matuse, 100 kilometers north of Hiroshima) is a small town with 500 people built around a group of silver mines that produced silver for more than 500 year after the metal was discovered in the area in 1309. The mines were at the peak of the production in the 16th and 17th century when 200,000 people lived in the town and 38 tons of silver, most of Japan’s supply, was produced. At that time Japan produced one third of the world’s silver and was known in Spain as “Silver Island.” In 1552 Francis Xavier visited the mine.

The silver was of high quality and much of it was exported. The men who worked in mines died young and the tombs on the cemeteries bear witness to that. The quality of the silver began to decline around 1630 and the last mine was officially closed in 1943.

People can visit the Iwami-Ginzan Silver mines, which were in operation from 1526 to 1923 and used to embrace about 600 mining tunnels. A museum and an underground mining tunnel in the Ryungenji drifts is open to the public. The main tunnel here was about 600 meters long in the Edo period. Its height varies between 0.9 and 2.1 meters. Chisel marks are still visible on the walls. The abandoned mine shafts and the surrounding 442- hectare area in Oda were picked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007

Omari features charming narrow streets, lots of old wooden houses, cave-like Buddhist temples set into hillsides and traditional samurai houses decorated with flowers. The only way to get to the town is by car. An effort is being made to preserve the town, maintain the character of its traditional neighborhoods and prevent it from being over run with vehicles. UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website

Nima Sand Museum (in Oda, Shimane Prefecture, six kilometers from Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine) is the home of an hourglass recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest in the world. It is 5.2 meters high and one meter in diameter. The municipal government of Nima, now part of Oda city, built the museum for about ¥1 billion as a symbol of its drive to vitalize the town. The museum opened in March 1991 as a sand-themed facility where various sand clocks and sand from all over the world are displayed. Nima is known for the “singing sand” on Kotogahama beach. [Source: Yuri Sato, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 29, 2016].

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. According to UNESCO: “The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in the south-west of Honshu Island is a cluster of mountains, rising to 600 meters and interspersed by deep river valleys featuring the archaeological remains of large-scale mines, smelting and refining sites and mining settlements worked between the 16th and 20th centuries. The site also features routes used to transport silver ore to the coast, and port towns from where it was shipped to Korea and China. The mines contributed substantially to the overall economic development of Japan and south-east Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries, prompting the mass production of silver and gold in Japan. The mining area is now heavily wooded. Included in the site are fortresses, shrines, parts of Kaidô transport routes to the coast, and three port towns, Tomogaura, Okidomari and Yunotsu, from where the ore was shipped. [Source: UNESCO]

“Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine pioneered the development of silver mines in pre-Modern Asia. It had contributed to exchange of values between East and West by achieving the large-scale production of high quality silver through the development of the Asian cupellation techniques transferred from China through Korea and the Japanese unique assemblage of numerous labor-intensive small businesses based upon manual techniques in the 16th century. The exceptional ensemble, consisting of mining archaeological sites, settlements, fortresses, transportation routes, and shipping ports represents distinctive land use related to silver mining activities. As the resource of silver ore was exhausted, its production came to an end, leaving behind, in the characteristically rich nature, a cultural landscape that had been developed in relation to the silver mine.

The site is important because: “During the Age of Discovery, in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the large production of silver by the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine resulted in significant commercial and cultural exchanges between Japan and the trading countries of East Asia and Europe. Technological developments in metal mining and production in Japan resulted in the evolution of a successful system based on small-scale, labor-intensive units covering the entire range of skills from digging to refining. The political and economic isolation of Japan during the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) impeded the introduction of technologies developed in Europe during the Industrial Revolution and this, coupled with the exhaustion of commercially viable silver-ore deposits, resulted in the cessation of mining activities by traditional technologies in the area in the second half of the 19th century, leaving the site with well-preserved archaeological traces of those activities.

“The abundant traces of silver production, such as mines, smelting and refining sites, transportation routes, and port facilities, that have survived virtually intact in the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine Site, are now concealed to a large extent by the mountain forests that have reclaimed the landscape. The resulting relict landscape, which includes the surviving settlements of the people related to the silver production, bears dramatic witness to historic land-uses of outstanding universal value.

"The elements of the property showing the original mining land-use system remain intact; the organic relationships among the individual elements exhibit the full expression of the mechanism of the original land-use system. They are a living part of the contemporary lives and livelihoods of the local society in unity with the abundant mountain forests and hence the integrity as a cultural landscape is maintained. The elements of the property that show the whole process ranging from silver production to shipment, in a good state of preservation and retain a high level of authenticity. In the mining settlements, there remains a group of traditional wooden buildings of 17th-20th century with careful maintenance, treatment, and repairs, retaining authenticity in terms of design, materials, techniques, functions, setting and environment."

Image Sources: 1) Japanese Guest Houses 2) 3) Sado Island site 4) 5) 6) Kanzawa City 7) NASA 8), 9) reggie.net 10) Fukui Dinosaur Museum 11) 14) 16) Wikipedia 12) Japan National Parks, 13) 15) Matsue City 17) Wikitravel

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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