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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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Izumo August 24, 2010

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

Izumo is a quaint little town located on the other side of Lake Shinji from Matsue.  It is more famous than Matsue due to Izumo Taisha, Izumo soba, and Iwami Ginzan.  The city itself is very small with only a few things to do within the city.  Like most of the cities in the San’in region (Tottori and Shimane), many of the shops close at 5pm.  You can always find good food at most times of the night, but if you are looking to do sight seeing, or looking for fun, you will be out of luck most of the time.  I would highly recommend at least a day, but two or three is best in order to take advantage of all the great things in the area.

By far, the most important place to visit in Izumo has to be Izumo Taisha.  It is a historical shrine and said to be the oldest in Japan.  Some origin stories claim that the god that lives in Izumo Taisha is the god that built Japan.  I have also heard that every year, the other gods visit Izumo Taisha, but unfortunately, I’m not sure as to the reason for this.  The main reason people visit Izumo Taisha is because they wish to find their life partner.  The shrine is well known for being a place where, if you pray to the gods, you will continue to be with your partner, or you will find your life partner soon.  This is especially true for people having a tough time finding someone, or for newlyweds.  Many couples also get married in Izumo Taisha due to the relation to the resident god who happens to be a god for relationships.  Unfortunately, when I visited, the main shrine was under reconstruction, so all I could see was a large steel house that protected the workers as they rebuilt the shrine.  While not being able to see the main shrine is a problem, the gardens around the shrine are very nice and the Kaguraden, which is next to the main shrine, is more famous than the shrine itself.  At this building, you will find the largest religious rope in Japan.  As with all other buildings in the complex, most people pray for their relationships.  The rope itself is a place to pray.  If you take a coin, the goal is to throw it into the rope.  If the coin gets stuck in the rope, you will have good luck.  Don’t forget to make a wish and pray.  It’s similar to tossing a coin into a fountain, but much harder as your coin will more than likely come back at you, or other coins will also come back at you.

A short drive out from Izumo Taisha is Hinomisaki.  This is a small cape that is famous for its lighthouse and shrine.  It is home to the Hinomisaki Lighthouse, the tallest stone lighthouse in East Asia.  The light house itself is not particularly spectacular, but the views of the Sea of Japan are.  A climb to the top of Hinomisaki is a must, but be aware that the hike to the top is not easy.  There are over 150 steps to the top, and they are all steep.  Like any lighthouse, there isn’t anything special at the top.  The only special thing would be to see what a modern light house looks like, and to get a little information on how they work.  Unfortunately, the information is all in Japanese.  The best thing to do, while in the area is to explore the shore.  There is a large park connecting Hinomisaki village with the lighthouse, but venturing a little north of the lighthouse will take you to Izumo-Matsushima.  The rocky cliffs on the way from the lighthouse towards Izumo-Matsushima are great for exploring and taking various photos.  You could spend hours just walking along the rocks, and there are a few places where you can enjoy a great swim.  When the rock cliff ends, and the forest trail begins, you will be able to see Izumo-Matsushima.  It is called Izumo-Matsushima due to it’s similarities with Matsushima near Sendai.  While there aren’t many rock island formations, there are a few, and it wasn’t as disappointing as Matsushima.  I would recommend a short walk out this way to enjoy the peace and quiet.  It’s great for an hour of relaxing. On the way back to the parking lot, you can also stop by some of the shops.  It was a little strange, but there are a lot of blowfish skins that can be bought.  I didn’t bother to buy them, but it was available for purchase, but I was a little scared of what it might do to me as we travelled.

Hinomisaki village is a small area next to the lighthouse.  When leaving the lighthouse, turn left at the first set of lights and you’ll be in the village.  It’s famous, mainly, for Hinomisaki Shrine.  It’s a typical red coloured shrine that is nestled into the hillside.  A little further from the town, towards Izumo Taisha, there is a hotel located on a Cliffside.  It’s a little scary as it has been abandoned.  It is said to be haunted, which makes Hinomisaki feel slightly haunted.  It might have been due to the time, the clouds, and the story of a haunted hotel, but the shrine was very spooky.  It didn’t help that when I visited Hinomisaki Shrine, it was getting a little dark, only a few people were there, and some of the smaller shrines were in the forested hills.  Those smaller shrines were nestled into the forest creating a dark and eerie feel that I may not forget.  That aside, the shrine wasn’t all that spectacular, but if you are in the area, it’s worth a quick stop.  Once you finish with the shrine, you should walk out to the pier.  At the pier, you’ll be able to see Fumishima.  It is a small island that’s very close to the coast.  Depending on the time of year, November to July, you’ll be able to see thousands of black tailed gulls.  They are a protected species, and the island is off limits to everyone except the priest of Hinomisaki Shrine.  The birds are very noisy and a little messy, but the sight of thousands of birds hanging around a very small shrine and a single wooden torii is interesting.  If you are too lazy to drive over from the lighthouse, or vice versa, it’s a short walk along the coast between Hinomisaki village and the lighthouse.

While you are in the Izumo area, it’s recommended that you visit an onsen.  In Izumo, and neighbouring Hikawa Town, you can visit many onsen.  Lake Shinji is well known for its onsen hot springs.  While you can visit many onsen all around the lake, the onsen in and around Izumo are easy to reach.  The easiest onsen to visit would have to be Lamp Onsen.  It’s a small onsen located on the south side of Izumoshi Station, and relatively cheap.  The name comes from the fact that they use oil lamps inside the onsen for lighting.  It’s a great small place to go and relax for an entire afternoon.  There isn’t too much to do there aside from bathe, but the water is great.  The numbers of baths are small, so there is little chance of making a mistake. Another unique aspect to this onsen is the fact that it has reddish brown water, probably due to the clay or earth from which they get their water.  I would also recommend a small onsen called Yurari, which is located north of the Izumo airport.  This onsen is not as nice as Lamp, but it had more baths, a large resting area, and a few restaurants.  Unfortunately, it did feel a little sterile due to the more modern nature.  If you want a unique feel, Lamp would be your best bet.

Izumo is a great place to visit.  If you combine it with a trip to Matsue and Iwami Ginzan, it would be a great week.  While you don’t truly need a week to see and do everything, running around as fast as you can, in the countryside is not always ideal.  If you want to be more like a local, take things slow and absorb the energy each area has to offer.

Izumo Information:

Izumo City (Travel Information – English): http://www.izumo-kankou.gr.jp/english/
Izumo City (Travel Information – Japanese): http://www.izumo-kankou.gr.jp/
Izumo (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Izumo

Izumo Taisha (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izumo-taisha

Lamp Onsen: http://odekake.ojaru.jp/onsen/chugoku/shimane/izumo/izumoekimae/lampnoyu/lampnoyu.html
Yurari Onsen: http://odekake.ojaru.jp/onsen/chugoku/shimane/izumo/kappou/yurari/yurari.html
Izumo Taisha (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5804.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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