TOTTORI / SHIMANE (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 41)
Blessed with sand dunes, onsen hot springs, mountains, a castle, shrines and a World Heritage Site, how much beautiful and unspoiled scenery remains in the western part of the Japan’s Honshu mainland along the Sea of Japan side!
“Water Town”: Matsue, Shimane Prefecture
Matsue is the largest city in Tottori and Shimane prefectures. It lies to the east of Lake Shinji and to the west of Lake Nakaumi. Surrounded by these lakes, the Ohashi River that connects the two lakes, and Horikawa (moats) around Matsue Castle, Matsue is popularly called “Water Town.” It retains the atmosphere of the old castle town, where, among other things, you can experience tea ceremony culture, including delicious traditional cakes.
Lake Shinji, regarded as a symbol of the Water Town Matsue, is the seventh largest lake in Japan with a 45-km circumference. A brackish lake with mixed fresh and seawater, it is abundant in fish. The sunsets on the lake are breathtaking and can be enjoyed from sightseeing boats or the lobby of Shimae Prefectural Museum aside the lake.
-Matsue Castle and the castle town
Built in 1611, the main keep of Matsue Castle is the only original castle tower still remaining intact in the Tottori and Shimane area. The Shiomi-nawate samurai quarters along the moat on the north side of the castle, where midlevel warriors lived during the Edo period (1603-1867), preserves the mood of the old castle town. The Shiomi residences have been kept unchanged for about 260 years and are well worth seeing. Furniture and daily utensils including sword drawers are on display, and such items remind us of the simple and sturdy spirits of the warriors.
-Gurutto Matsue Horikawa Meguri (The moat cruise around Matsue Castle)
Excursion boats go along the Horikawa (moats) which surround the castle to a length of around 3.7 km. Cruising along moats around a castle is very unusual in Japan. During the tour, which takes about 50 minutes, boats pass under 16 bridges and when passing under four of them, the boat’s roof lowers and people on the boat bend and lower their heads in accordance with the captain’s cue because the bottoms of the bridges are very low. A variety of sights along the cruise such as modern buildings, pretty backyards of houses and the tower of the castle are interesting. Kotatsu, or small tables with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt, are provided on the boats during wintertime.
-Tea Ceremony Culture
Matsue is one of the three major cities famous for confectionery along with Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, and Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. In the town, there are numerous venerable confectionery shops and tea shops. The seventh lord Matsudaira Naosato (known as Fumai-ko, 1751-1818) became the lord at age 17. He made efforts to control water, curtail public expenses, and develop commerce, and restructured the clan’s finances. He loved the tea ceremony and established his own “Fumai” school of tea. Creating and nurturing various teahouses, artistically crafted articles such as tea ceremony utensils, and confectioneries, it was Naosato who established the tea ceremony culture in Matsue.?
-Koizumi Yakumo (1850-1904)
Koizumi Yakumo ? the Japanese name of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn ? was a foreign-born writer who loved Matsue. Born in Greece in 1850 of an Irish father and Greek mother, he came to Matsue as an English teacher in 1890 at age 40. Attracted by local culture, landscapes and people, he wrote of such things in the book “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.” He married Koizumi Setsu, a daughter of a samurai family, and lived in Matsue for 15 months. He wrote essays and stories in English related to Japan such as “Kokoro” and “Kwaidan.” He is still revered as a writer in Japan today.
Old Japan, the land of “yokai” specters: Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture
Cartoonist Mizuki Shigeru, who produced the famous manga comic “GeGeGe no Kitaro,” was born in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture. Surrounded by lovely natural scenery, bronze statues of “yokai” ?characters from Mizuki’s manga, such as Kitaro and Nezumi Otoko (Rat man), stand on Kitaro Street in a rural town invoking the atmosphere of the 1960s when these manga first became a big hit in Japan.
Mysterious and supernatural beings called “yokai” are one type of “specter” or “demon” in Japanese folklore. According to Mizuki’s definition, yokai originally dwell in the natural world, unlike ghosts which have a grudge or envy against living human beings. Yokai cannot live outside of natural settings. According to Mizuki, sensitivity of people of today to yokai has much weakened. When the night is dark enough or when people feel intimately familiar with their natural surroundings, they become sensitive and their power to feel invisible presences increases, and as a result, their sensitivity to yokai develops. It is said that any and all types of yokai dwell in Sakaiminato.
It is recommended to go to Sakaiminato from Yonago by JR, which takes 40 minutes. With luck, you can get on the Kitaro Train or Nezumi Otoko Train. The train starts from No. 0 platform. Each of the total of 16 stations has a yokai name attached to it, such as Nezumi Otoko station for the start of the line at Yonago and Kitaro station for the terminal Sakaiminato station. Illistrations of yokai are painted in and also on the outside of the trains. When arriving at Sakaiminato-Kitaro station, bronze statues of Mizuki at work, and of Kitaro, Nezumi Otoko and Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Father), who are watching him, welcome you. The sky is vast, unobstructed by any high buildings.
-Mizuki Shigeru Road
When you get off the train and start walking, you first reach Yokai Square. Some 130 bronze statues of yokai stand along the about 800-meter street. The most popular character appears to be Nezumi Otoko. In 2004, the local government invited applications from the public for sponsors of statues at one million yen per statue. Sponsored statues have plates on which the yokai’s name and sponsor’s name are inscribed. Why don’t you buy a paper fortune slip at Yokai Shrine? A yokai will personally bring the fortune slip to you. Yokai shop GeGeGe is actually an electrician’s shop; however, it entertains you with mysterious and elaborate yokai dolls on its shelves, all of which are made by the shop’s owner. Yokai Manju (buns) are wrapped in yokai newspapers which report local interest items of the Sakaiminato area. And you will probably notice a “Yokai Post” standing here and there. If you send a postcard from one of these, a yokai character postmark will be stamped on the card. Mizuki Shigeru’s atelier in Chofu, Tokyo, is reproduced in Mizuki Shigeru Memorial Museum and a large contingent of yokai are waiting to welcome you inside.
-Yokai Helped the Town
Tottori Prefecture has the smallest population in Japan. Sakaiminato is the smallest city of the four cities in Tottori Prefecture. It prospered as a port where many ships for trade came in the Edo period (1603-1867) and also as an important trade port of the Sea of Japan route to the Korean Peninsula, China and Russia from the Meiji period (1867-1912). However, from around the 1980s the shopping street in front of the station began to go into decline. What helped the town at this juncture was yokai.
-A One-of-a-kind Mysterious and Nostalgic Town
When standing in the Mizuki Shigeru Road, most people experience a sense of happiness or peacefulness. Sitting on a bench, feeling the sea breeze, soaking in the sun, looking up the blue sky, forgetting your normal everyday cares, you want to enjoy fully relaxing in this town. Though many tourists may come, the town will never be just an ordinary tourist spot. It will be a rural town essentially unchanged, where yokai naturally dwell in the same space as local people. In the world of today, it is a mysterious place where you can still breath the air of both the yokai world and the human world.
Adachi Museum of Art: Yasuki, Shimane Prefecture
You can enjoy Japanese gardens and modern Japanese paintings at this museum. Why does it have so many works by master artist Yokoyama Taikan? And why does it have such exquisite gardens in such a rural setting? Many tourists may visit the museum with such questions in mind. However, once you visit, such questions will quickly seem out of place. The excellent art works and beautiful gardens render them irrelevant.
-The Gardens Can Be Viewed like Pictures
When you enter the museum, you find a Japanese-style garden stretching in front of you, which immediately gives you the feeling that one attraction of the museum is the gardens and not only the art works. There are six gardens, including a moss garden, a dry landscape garden, and a pond garden, over an area of 50,000 tsubo (195,000 sq. m) against the backdrop of picturesque mountains. You can see one of the gardens through a window above the tokonoma, or alcove, in a traditional Japanese tearoom, as if the garden were a scroll picture. The garden, with white sand and green pines, reproduces the masterpiece by Yokoyama Taikan and its contrast of white sand and pines is impressive. At the museum gardens you can enjoy beautiful scenes in every season. In autumn, autumn leaves reflect on the surface of the pond. In winter, the snowcapped dry landscape garden reminds you of an ink painting by Yokoyama Taikan. Kikaku no Taki Falls at the back of the garden is an artificial waterfall 15 meter high, whose dynamic fall of water emphasizes the grandness of the landscape. Gazing at the gardens while drinking tea in cafe “Taikan” is also enjoyable. The gardens were selected as the best Japanese garden in 2007 for the fifth straight year by the Journal of Japanese Gardening, a garden magazine published in the U.S., followed by Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto in the number two spot.
-Collection of Yokoyama Taikan
Adachi Museum of Art was founded in 1970 by Adachi Zenko (1899-1990), a businessperson from this area. Starting out in business from his earlier years, he successfully developed various enterprises after starting from practically nothing, experiencing many vicissitudes along the way. While operating his businesses, he collected Japanese paintings that he had been interested in from a young age. In particular, he was fascinated by Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958), who leaves a name that will live forever in the history of modern Japanese art. The museum houses 1,300 works by masters of modern Japanese painting. Among them, the more than 130 pieces by Yokoyama Taikan that the museum houses are number one in collections in Japan in terms of both quality and quantity.???
Tottori/Tottori Sand Dunes
The Tottori Sand Dunes are the main sightseeing spot in this area. The dunes stretch 16 km east to west and 2 km north to south along the coast of the Sea of Japan. The ripple patterns sketched by the wind are natural art. Riding on a camel will further enhance the exotic feeling of the place.
Misasa Onsen, one of the San’in district’s most famous hot springs, has an 800-year history. It has its traditional origin in a folk tale of a white wolf: when a retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitomo (1123-1160), a famous warrior who was killed after being defeated in battle, went to Mount Mitoku to pray for the restoration of the his former master’s family fortunes, he saw a white wolf but did not kill it. In fact, the white wolf was an emissary of Bodhisattva. In the night the Bodhisattva appeared to him in a dream and told him of a secret hot spring location in return for his mercy. This onsen has the highest quantity of radium in its waters in the world. The transparent and soft-feeling water is good for drinking as well, and is effective for gastrointestinal disorders.
In the area around Misasa Onsen, Sanbutsuji Temple, water falls, weird-shape rocks, and Oshika Gorge, ?which is very picturesque in spring and autumn, are good for sightseeing. Sanbutsuji Temple at Mount Mitoku has been a sacred site for Mountain Buddhism since the Heian period (794-1192). National Treasure Nageire-do is a small building which stands along a 470-meter-high cliff and its method of constructions is still unknown.
Kurayoshi is located in the center of Tottori Prefecture and has prospered as a regional hub city. It is famous for white wall storehouses and merchant houses along the Tama River as well as for a folk tale: a heavenly maiden flew down to the foot of the mountain. As a farmer who found her robe of feathers hid it, she involuntarily got married to him and bore children. One day she found the robe and finally returned to heaven.?
Yonago prospered as a key junction of trade and transportation by land and sea in the region from 1610, when Yonago Castle was built. Popular Kaike Onsen, located about five km from Yonago, was discovered by a local fisherman in 1900. Japan’s first triathlon competition took place in 1981 at Yumigahama beach, well known for the beauty of its white sand and pine trees.
Various outdoor activities, such as picnicking, camping, cycling, horse riding, skiing, woods bathing, and mushroom gathering, are available for enjoyment in the spacious Hiruzen Heights. The area boasts delicious local specialty foods such as Japanese radish, milk, ice cream and cheese. Mount Daisen, 1,709 meters high, is the tallest mountain in the Chugoku region (western Japan) and is designated one of the One Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan (as selected by the novelist Fukada Kyuya), and has been revered as a sacred mountain since ancient times. Daisenji Temple in Daisen town flourished from some 1,300 years ago as sacred place for the practices of mountain religion.?
Izumo Oyashiro (Izumo Taisha Shrine)
The Izumo region, which is known for its many myths, especially Shinto creation myths, is full of a large number of ancient ruins and old shrines. Izumo Oyashiro is dedicated to the worship of the deity Okuninushi no Okami. The current 24- meter-high Honden (main hall) was built in 1744, but the former one was much taller than the current one. A giant shimenawa (a decoration of sacred straw rope), 13 meters long and weighing five tons, is hung in the Kaguraden (a hall for music and dance). The old JR Taisha station, which was abolished in 1990 due to the discontinuation of the JR Taisha Line, is preserved as a valuable cultural property as it was built in 1924.
Iwami flourished on the back of its silver mining industry. Its history dates back to the beginning of the 14th century. Although it was abandoned because of over-mining for a period of time, Kamiya Jutei, a merchant in Hakata, Kyushu, discovered new veins or ore again in 1526. In the Edo period (1603-1867), it became a shogunal demesne and flourished as one of the largest silver mines in the world. The mine closed in 1923 and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2007.
Omori, stretching for one km in the valley of the mines, is a town which prospered thanks to the flow of silver. Iwami Silver Mine Museum, which stands on ruins of the Edo government local office, displays models of the silver mining process and mining tools. There were about mining 570 tunnels at the end of the Edo period but only the 600-meter Ryugenji Mabu tunnel is open to the public now.??
Zuwaigani, or snow crab, which is widely caught along the Sea of Japan, is one of the most delicious foods in winter, and is called “matsubagani” (pine needle crab”) in this region. It can be eaten from early November to March.
Nijisseiki pear (meaning “twentieth century pear”) boasts a fresh taste and abundant juice. About half of the amount of production of this variety of pear in Japan is grown in Tottori.
Lake Shinji is blessed with abundant fish and other seafood. Especially, whitebait, common fresh water clam, eel, tiger prawn, sea bass, pond smelt and carp are called “Shinjiko Shitchin,” meaning “seven delicacies of Lake Shinji.” Local dishes using such delicious ingredients can be eaten at restaurants or Japanese ryokan in Matsue and reservations are recommended.
Izumo soba (buckwheat noodle) was created by buckwheat noodle chefs whom lord Matsudaira Naomasa brought with him after he was forced to move to the Izumo domain (now Shimane Prefecture) from the Matsumoto domain in Shinshu (now Nagano Prefecture), a place that has been famous for buckwheat noodles. Because the buckwheat is ground unhusked, Izumo soba is dark-colored, fragrant and firm.