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Matsue August 31, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Matsue” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-matsue

Matsue is a nice small city located near the coast of the Sea of Japan, north of Okayama.  It is a little different from typical small towns located along the Shinkansen due to the lack of easy access points.  The entire region of Shimane is similar to each other.  The city of Matsue is great for its ability to have all of the amenities of a modern city, and the friendliness of a small town.  It is not a major tourist destination, even for Japanese people, but it is very friendly to foreign tourists who are looking to experience small town Japan.

There are a lot of things to do in Matsue.  The main attraction has to be Matsue Castle.  It is one of the largest landmarks in the area, and a great base for a day full of exploration.  Upon entering the temple grounds, you will realize that the entire castle area is much smaller than other castles such as Himeji.  On the grounds, the first thing to see would have to be the Matsue Jinja.  It is a very small shrine that is within the castle grounds, but below the castle itself.  It isn’t a significant shrine, but it is picturesque enough to warrant a picture.  Next to the shrine is the Matsue Kyodo-kan.  It is a European style building with a small, and free, museum inside.  Inside the museum, you can see a few miniature models of the city showcasing the city around the start of the automobile era.  It’s nice to see, but a little cramped within the exhibits.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to head upstairs, but there are more exhibits there as well.  A more interesting place to visit would have to be one of the guard towers located a stone throw away from the Kyodo-kan.  Inside the tower, you will be greeted by typical castle architecture.  Think of it as a mini-castle where you can enjoy yourself with relatively few people to disturb you.  I enjoyed it almost as much as the castle, mainly because there was only one other person inside.

Matsue Castle itself is a mid-sized castle.  It is an original black Japanese castle.  In Japan, there are two varieties of castles, white and black.  Himeji is a typical example of a white castle, which is predominantly white, and Matsue is a black castle, which is predominantly black.  The area around the castle is also nice, but inside you will be greeted by the original architecture.  One of the original water wells are still there and open, but covered by chicken wire to keep people from falling in.  Like most castles, you will be able to get a taste of the old life in Matsue.  You can see old traditional samurai armour, pictures of castles from around Japan, and miniature scale models of Matsue itself in both the past and modern times.  What caught my interest the most were the old wooden partitions with paintings of daily life activities on them.  It was somewhat unique in the area and worth a few extra minutes to enjoy.  The castle keep itself was not special. Most castle keeps in Japan are just open spaces with beautiful views.  While the view of Lake Shinji was beautiful, the other sides were not as spectacular as you mainly saw the modern buildings of Matsue.  Unlike Kochi, you didn’t have a sense of the old life, or the beauty of nature just outside the city as you couldn’t really see past the buildings.  Generally it’s still a fun place to visit, and do spend a little time to go around the entire castle grounds as you can see different aspects of the history of castle construction as you do so.

For Japanese tourists, a trip to the northern side of Matsue Castle is a must.  Buke Yashiki, or the samurai residence, is a small section that houses the old home of the top level samurai of the region.  The home itself was not as grand or lavish as some of the other samurai homes that still exist, due to the low salary of a samurai in Matsue.  If anything, the entire area is worth a visit for the ability to look around and see how the samurai lived and how people in general lived at that time.  Next to the Buke Yashiki is the Lafcadio Hearn’s Old Residence.  This is an old house that housed one of the first foreign residents of Matsue.  He went on to become a naturalized Japanese citizen and wrote many books on Japan.  He is usually credited with introducing Japan to the western world, but his works tended to over romanticize the country.  He only spent a little time in Matsue, but he was remembered the most by the people in Matsue.

The best thing to do in Matsue is to take a boat cruise.  There are several small and long boats that ply the waters of the castle moat and the old moat system around the city.  One circuit will take roughly 40 minutes.  The boats themselves are fun to ride and you pass under very low bridges at times.  You have to be a little careful as the roof of the boat actually lowers, forcing you to bend over and nearly touch your head to your knees.  Thankfully, when I took the tour, I was with one other person, so we could just lie down and relax sprawled out on the floor rather than contorting our bodies in a somewhat unnatural way.  The trip will take you under various new and old bridges and past various historical and important modern buildings.  The guide will point out all of the important places, including telling you of the different bridges you pass by and under, but all of it will be in Japanese.  Thankfully, you can get a little enka music played when there is nothing special to listen to.  The guide is also interesting as they dress in white cotton pants, a blue jacket that is similar to a “happi” that is worn during festivals.  The guides also wear rice hats as if they were in Vietnam.  If you have the time, you can hop on and off of the boat and various points.  I had been recommended to visit the Ji Beer Kan, which is a micro brew shop in Matsue.  The beer is supposed to be delicious, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to go.

The last thing to do is to head to Lake Shinji.  It is a famous lake in Shimane and the major obstacle between Izumo and Matsue.  It is famous for its small clams, the Shijimi.  In Matsue, you can purchase the shells of the Shijimi, and also the clams themselves.  They are great inside miso soup, but do be aware that as with all other forms of seafood, it’s probably not allowed for importation in your own country.  I would consider just buying some miso soup which would probably come with some Shijimi.  The lake itself, from Matsue, is well known for its sunset.  There are a few sunset tours, but a view from the park is probably best.  If you head out of the station, head west along the street just north of the station and you will reach the park in roughly 15 minutes.  It would mark a great end of the day to anyone’s tour of Matsue.

Matsue is such a beautiful place that needs at least a day to explore.  There is a lot you can see and do if you have the time.  You can either rush and see many things in a short time, or take your time and see everything at a slow pace.  I always prefer the slow paced approach.  If you do have the time, rent a car and head out for a drive around Shinji Lake.  You won’t be disappointed.

Matsue Information:

Matsue City (Official Site – English): http://www.city.matsue.shimane.jp/kankou/jp/e/e.htm
Matsue (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5800.html
Matsue (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Matsue

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Naruto August 18, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Naruto” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-naruto

Naruto is a suburban town of Tokushima.  It is extremely small and serves almost no points of interest.  However, they do have one major claim to fame “The Naruto Whirlpools”.  Naruto is on the north-eastern tip of Shikoku.  It is the main link between Shikoku and Kansai.  While most people will just race through this area going to either Takamatsu in the west and Tokushima in the south, twice a day the town is buzzing with tourists.  It is very important that you check the schedule for the whirlpools, or you will end up visiting and seeing nothing.  The whirlpools are a natural phenomenon that occurs during the peak of the high and low tides.  This is when the tidal waters of the Naruto Strait, shifts causing whirlpools to form on both sides of the strait.  The best time to see the whirlpools is during high tide, but low tide is also good.  To find the whirlpools, all you have to do is head for the Naruto Park, which is under Naruto Bridge.

The first thing you should do when looking at the whirlpools is take a boat cruise.  Just past Naruto Park, you will be able to find a small ferry port where there are two cruise ships, a large one and a small one.  They both leave two to three times an hour.  If you look at their website, you will be able to determine the peak whirlpool times.  You have roughly one hour before and after the listed time, in red, to see the whirlpools.  I believe it’s best to arrive roughly one and a half to two hours ahead, especially on weekends.  These boats will take you directly into the whirlpools where you’ll cruise inside the tidal area for about 15 minutes before returning to port.  On my trip, I took the smaller ship which has a very interesting compartment.  You are seated inside the hull where you have many windows below the surface.  As you leave port, you can see a few jellyfish swimming about, but there really isn’t much to see.  You can head up on deck a little to enjoy the scenery and see Naruto Bridge approaching.  As you approach the whirlpools, you are ushered back into the hull where you can see the whirlpools from under the sea.  It is like a large bottle of champagne that is bubbling and frothing.  It was interesting to see, for about 10 seconds, but in reality, you want to get on deck as soon as possible.  Once on deck, you can see all the action.  You will be really close to the whirlpools and you’ll experience the rough seas.  Beware that small children, and especially babies, should be well taken care of.  After floating around inside the waters, you are quickly taken back to the port to reminisce of your adventure.

After a cruise, you can easily drive back to Naruto Park and enjoy the whirlpools from a higher vantage point.  There isn’t too much to see in the area, but you can venture out under the bridge.  You can walk roughly 450 metres out and enjoy the spectacular views.  You will be 45 metres above the whirlpools, and there are several windows in the floor that allow you to enjoy the view below.  Do be warned that there are big red letters on the glass that says “DO NOT JUMP!” in Japanese.  Unfortunately, I found out AFTER I had jumped.  The entire walk out onto the bridge is a must see, in my opinion, and worth the fee.  However, if the whirlpools have stopped, I might take a second thought before heading out.  The park itself has many things you can see and do.  For children, there is a museum about whirlpools with several interactive machines to play on.  There is a long escalator that goes to a series of restaurants on a mountain, and several short hiking trails in the area.  If you have a full day, you can easily venture around and enjoy yourself.  There is also a “replica” art museum.  This place holds nothing more than replicated works of art, including a replica of the Sistine Chapel.  If it’s too expensive to travel around the world, this museum can offer you a taste of the best art under one roof.

Naruto’s last claim to fame is their sweet potatoes.  It is considered the sweetest sweet potato in the world, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.  It is definitely worth a taste.  Other than that, there is no reason to really stay in Naruto.  After seeing the whirlpools, you can easily head back to Takamatsu, Tokushima, or even Kobe.  Kobe is a short drive across the Awaji Island and the Akashi Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world.  You can even venture onto Awaji Island and camp along one of the beaches.  It would provide a great tale.

Information on Naruto:
Whirlpool Timetable: http://www.uzusio.com/shio4-6.html
Naruto City’s Website:http://www.city.naruto.tokushima.jp/contents/foreign/english/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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