Welcome back to another installment of my area guides. In today’s post we’ll be venturing down to the San’in region for a visit to the marvelous Shimane Prefecture. Located on the westernmost end of Japan’s main island, this area has long been hailed as “the land of the gods.” Nestled between the Sea of Japan and the neigh impassable Chugoku mountain range, this remote prefecture is home to both natural splendors as well as an extremely rich mythological legacy. Despite being one of Japan’s least populated locations, and very off the beaten path, Shimane has more than enough content to keep an intrepid traveler entertained for days on end.
Of course, Shimane’s true claim to fame is that it was the very birthplace of what we know as Japan. The area’s history is so vast and deep that it first appears at the very beginning of Japanese mytho-history in the Kojiki (lit. “Record of Ancient Matters”). Here, in the early mists of time, the primordial gods Izanami and Izanagi gave birth to much of the Shinto pantheon after first creating the world. Even to this day, one will continually stumble upon a variety of shrines erected across the prefecture honoring these two deities and their kin.
With such an impressive pedigree, you’d be right to assume that there is an endless number of hidden gems to uncover in Shimane. Unfortunately, for most visitors to Japan though, the prefecture’s remote location means that you’ll likely only get one shot at visiting. Because of this, I am going to foolishly attempt to chronicle EVERYTHING that I consider worth seeing in the prefecture in one go. This way, you the reader, can make an informed decision on your travels while exploring the land of the gods.
Truth be told, this is going to be a foolhardy attempt at overly ambitious piece! And, perhaps it would be a lighter read if it were split into several articles. Still, since you will likely have but one chance to visit Shimane, I would rather you have all the information upfront. This article is going to be exceedingly long, even by my standards. I suggest you read the sections on both Izumo and Matsue and then skim through the rest to see if anything catches your attention. For brevity’s sake, I’ll provide links to additional background information where and when needed.
How to Get There
Making your way to Shimane Prefecture is by no means easy. The area is one of a few that still does not have direct access via the Shinkansen (bullet train). Because of this, those coming by train will need to take the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama first and transfer to one of JR’s Yakumo limited express trains. This entire process can take upwards of six hours from central Tokyo; instead, many opt to take the overnight Sunrise Izumo train that runs daily between Tokyo and Matsue.
Because of the poor access by train, I’d only recommend this method for those starting the journey somewhere closer to Okayama (such as Hiroshima). What’s someone coming to Tokyo to do? Well, unlike most locations in Japan, it is often easier to simply hop a flight to Shimane. While certainly more expensive than the alternatives, electing to travel by air is a surefire way to shave precious hours off the total travel time it will take to reach this secluded prefecture.
Those looking to fly into Shimane should know that the prefecture is served by both Izumo Enmusubi Airport and Yonago Kitaro Airport. Japan Airlines flies to the former whereas the latter is served by ANA. Both are about equidistant to Shimane’s capital city of Matsue so just choose whichever route best fits your itinerary and schedule. Regardless of your transit choice, you’ll need to hop a bus from the airport for the final leg of the journey. To avoid any confusion, note that Yonago Kitaro Airport is actually located to the east of Shimane in neighboring Tottori Prefecture.
Lastly, before moving on, know that if you’re considering Shimane, you’d do well to give yourself two full days to explore at the very least. If you can’t tell by the sheer girth of this article, there’s a lot to do in the area. Chances are you will be challenged to accomplish even half of your journey without spending a few nights nearby. While it is certainly possible to stay elsewhere, I suggest staying in Matsue as it is both the liveliest and best connected spot within the prefecture. Though by no means similar to Tokyo’s public transportation, it will suffice in a pinch!
Venerable Izumo Taisha
When it comes to Shimane Prefecture, no attraction is more famous than Izumo Taisha. Located only an hour away from the capital city of Matsue, this remote attraction is actually one of the most important shrines in Japan. The reason for this is simple. Every year, during the 10th lunar month (which usually means November), Shintoism’s eight million kami or deities assemble for an annual meeting. Locally, this month is known as “Kamiari-zuki” meaning the month with deities and is celebrated during the Kamiari Festival. Talk about cause for a party!
Over the years, Izumo Taisha has continued to rank in the upper echelons of Shintoism, even as power began to consolidate in other parts of Japan. Much of this reverence is due to the long legacy of the shrine’s annual divine congregation. Though the current “honden” or main hall dates back to only 1744, Izumo Taisha actually has roots dating back to the dawn of time itself. In fact, one of the more shocking bits of trivia about the complex is that it seems to predate any and all historical records. The first references to this antediluvian establishment in the Kojiki do so in such a manner that suggests it was simply always there, much like the way one might describe the rising of the sun.
These days, Izumo Taisha is laid out in a way that is similar to other shrines. Upon reaching the core of the complex, you’ll be greeted by the “haiden”or prayer hall with its iconically large Shimenawa rope (pictured above). Right behind this, you’ll find the main hall and a few additional smaller shrines. Unfortunately, these structures are enclosed by a fence that demarcates the inner sanctuary. While this area is not accessible to the public, it is possible to walk around the perimeter for a better vantage point. From here, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Izumo Taisha’s towering main hall. Built in the Taisha-zukuri style, this 24-meter-tall structure is the largest shrine building in Japan.
Those interested in mythology should know that the main deity enshrined at Izumo Taisha is known as Okuninushi-no-Okami. According to legend, this divine being was responsible for raising the Japanese isles from the sea. Later, Izumo Taisha went on to become the ruler of Izumo where he became known as a kami, an overseer of relationships and marriage. When praying to Okuninushi-no-Okami it customary that visitors clap their hands four times instead of the usual two claps (for more information on shrine etiquette, see this article). The rational is quite simple here; one is clapping twice for themselves and then twice for their partner or future partner.
Before moving on to some other attractions near Izumo Taisha, I have a little bit of advice for you, the reader. When checking out the backside of Izumo Taisha’s main hall, be sure not to miss the long wooden structures on both the right and left hand sides of the innermost sanctuary. Known as “Jukusha,” these rather odd constructions are actually temporary lodging for the eight million deities who assemble every year at the shrine. If you’re visiting during the month of November when the kami are gathering at Izumo Taisha’s, be sure to stop by and pay your respects at either of the Jukusha.
OK, so if you’re planning to make the trek out to Izumo Taisha, there are two nearby sites I highly suggest you visit. The first of these is Izumo Taisha’s treasure hall which you’ll find located here at the southeastern corner of the main shrine grounds. Inside, you’ll find an amazing collection of lavish ornaments and containers from Izumo Taisha’s past. While these are indeed quite the sight, the treasure hall is home to an archaeological discovery that is even more impressive. In the center of the building, you’ll find a enormous pillar from one of Izumo Taisha’s previous incarnations. In the artist’s impression above, you can see that the shrine’s original main hall was much, much taller. Yes, those little white priestly figures are actually to-scale!
After exploring the treasure hall, you can discover more about the history of Izumo Taisha and the surrounding area at the nearby Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo. You’ll find this located just to the immediate east of the shrine grounds. In addition to a detailed permanent exhibit featuring Izumo Taisha’s past, you’ll uncover all sorts of other interesting tidbits about the early days of Japan’s long history. What’s more, being a foreign visitor, you are eligible for half off the entry fee if you show a passport or resident card. Talk about a great deal!
OK, with all this said, let’s chat about possible options for getting to Izumo Taisha. Regardless of where you start, you’ll ultimately need to make your way to Izumotaisha-mae Station via the Ichibata Electric Railway. En route, you’ll need to make a quick transfer at Kawato Station. As always, Jorudan or a similar service is going to be your friend here. After all, the trains are pretty limited out here; you don’t want to miss one and be forced to wait an inordinate amount of time!
You can reach Izumo Taisha by hopping on the Ichibata Electric Railway from either either Izumo (via Izumo-shi Station) or Matsue. Should you choose Matsue as your starting point, you will need to catch a bus from the JR Matsue Station to Shinjiko Onsen Station. As you can imagine, this can be daunting challenging for those less familiar with the city. Therefore, I highly recommend you fly into Izumo via Japan Airlines, bus to Izumo-shi Station, and make your way to Izumo Taisha first thing. This route allows you to skip the hassle of navigating the local buses.
Once you’ve made your way to Izumotaisha-mae Station, the shrine is just a few minutes away. You’ll find the shrine located here at the end of long shopping street lined with stores and restaurants. At the end of this street, you’ll encounter a large wooden torii gate marking the entrance to the Matsu-no-sando approach to Izumo Taisha’s main area. The trail is divided into three lanes; visitors are to refrain from taking the center lane as this is reserved for the kami. Be sure to keep your eyes out for some cute rabbit effigies. These have ties to Okuninushi-no-Okami, the deity of Izumo Taisha.
Matsue, the “Water City”
Had enough yet? Unfortunately, we are only beginning to get rolling! Next up on our list for Shimane Prefecture is the capital city of Matsue. This charming metropolis is nestled between the Sea of Japan, Lake Shinji, and the Nakaumi (which while officially a lagoon, translates to the “middle sea”). For this reason, Matsue is often referred to as “the water city.” Unlike major urban centers like Tokyo, Matsue’s modest size makes it the “Goldilocks” of cities. It is neither overwhelmingly large nor small enough to be devoid of fun.
One of Matsue’s most notable claim to fame is that it won the affection of the famous Irish author Lafcadio Hearn in the late 1800’s. Although he stayed in the area for a mere single year, Hearn developed a deep love for the town and its surroundings. You’ll find accounts of the area woven throughout Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, one of Hearn’s masterpieces. Today, Matsue is rife with references to the late writer; one cannot walk five meters without encountering a direct reference to Hearn.
Matsue’s charm is rather difficult to capture in text. The city is bisected by the Ohashi River through which the brackish Nakaumi feeds into Lake Shinji. Along the riverbanks, you’ll find a number shops and restaurants featuring traditional and local products. Matsue’s layout often feels as if little has changed over the past few centuries despite its more recent and modern construction. This city is chock full of hints noting its history as a medieval town. For example, much like Kanazawa, many temples within Matsue’s Teramachi area sit on the southern outskirts of town because they could usually pinch-hit as defensive fortifications during an attack.
Speaking of defensive fortifications, let’s quickly examine what is undoubtedly Matsue’s most famous attraction. Located here on the northern side of the Ohashi River, Matsue Castle is one of the few remaining historic castles. Completed in 1611 after Tokugawa Ieyasu unified the nation, Matsue castle actually never saw a battle. Like my beloved Hikone Castle though, this fortress barely managed to survive the anti-feudal demolitions of the Meiji period (1868–1912). Because of this, Matsue Castle has a certain air of authenticity that is all but lacking in reconstructions like Osaka Castle.
One of the defining characteristics of Matsue Castle is its dark austere exterior. For this reason, the structure is often referred to as the “black castle.” Though small in stature when compared to a massive fortress like Himeji Castle in Hyogo, Matsue’s stronghold has an unparalleled view of Lake Shinji and the surrounding area. For a small fee, you too can venture inside Matsue Castle and experience these stunning vistas for yourself. Be sure to grab the combination ticket as it will allow you to save a few yen on other attractions related to Lafcadio Hearn including his former residence.
Note that one of the best ways to enjoy Matsue Castle and the surrounding attractions is by boat. These depart every 15–20 minutes from a handful of points around the castle. As you cruise the moat and narrow canals forming the Horikawa River, the boatmen will share morsels of the area’s hidden history. Of course, as is often the case, their lectures are only available in Japanese; however, the city has stepped up its game and is providing audio recordings in multiple languages.
In addition, be sure not to miss the Shiomi Nawate Samurai District located to the north of the castle. This 500 meter-long street follows along the moat and has been aesthetically designed to be easy on the eyes. The side of the road running closest to the water is lined with majestic pine trees, whereas the opposite side, hosts several traditional buildings. Among these holdings, you’ll find a traditional samurai house as well as the former residence of Lafcadio Hearn and a museum dedicated in his honor.
The area around Matsue Castle can be reached in about a half-hour from the JR Matsue Station. Alternatively, you can also reach this location by taking the “Lake Line” loop bus which can be picked up just outside the station. While this is by far the most expedient way to reach Matsue Castle, I’d highly suggest you hoof-it instead. Simply put, there’s no better way of exploring this delightful city than by leisurely strolling along its charming streets.
Although the castle and Lafcadio Hearn’s connection are undoubtedly the area’s most notable claim, Matsue has a lot more going for it too. For starters, the city is home to two killer onsens. I’ve already alluded to one of these, Shinjiko Onsen, when explaining how to get to Izumo Taisha. You’ll find it located here, about 20 minutes away from the castle. Despite being home to many a ryokan, Shinjiko Onsen has only a few facilities that are open for day use. If you are interested in a soak, I would highly recommend heading here. Note that Shinjiko Onsen also features two free foot baths as an optional adventure.
In addition to Shinjiko Onsen, Matsue’s other hot spring is known as Tamatsukuri Onsen. First mentioned in the Chronicles of the Izumo Province in 733, this site has been regularly hailed as “the Bath of the Gods.” The waters are said to have some exceptional dermatological qualities which supposedly improve the bather’s skin elasticity. These days you will not find any deities relaxing in the waters of Tamatsukuri Onsen, nevertheless it’s a popular attraction for those looking to experience Japan’s more tranquil side. To get there, simply hop on the JR San’in Line to Tamatsukuri Onsen Station. It’s only about 10 minutes or so away from Matsue Station.
Lastly, in addition to the hot springs, know that Matsue is also host to extraordinary sunsets. The twilight is best viewed from this vantage point at the western edge of the city. Why this spot? That’s simple! The silhouette of Yomegashima, a small island 200 meters off the shores of Lake Shinji, provides the perfect backdrop for the setting sun as seen in the shot above. Should you find yourself lingering in either of the previously mentioned onsens, the spectacular sunset is an phenomenal wonder. Regardless of where you enjoy nightfall, be sure to keep the sunset in mind when planning your time in Matsue.
Food & Drink in Shimane Prefecture
When it comes to traversing the prefectures, I always try to be sure to sample the local specialties (known as meibutsu in Japanese). Luckily, when it comes to Shimane, this task is quite simple. For starters, the area is famous for its unique method of serving soba noodles. Known as warigo soba, this dish is served in multiple lacquerware boxes that are stacked on top of one another. Originally hailing from Osaka, this convenient way of eating was perfect for the area’s busy merchants. Unlike zaru or mori soba where the noodles are dipped, one is supposed to pour the sauce all over when eating warigo soba. Given the noodles are separated into multiple containers, it is common to see diners pour any leftover sauce onto the next bowl, leading to the development of different flavors.
When exploring Shimane, you’ll find plenty of places throughout the prefecture to indulge in warigo soba. Enamored by this peculiar way of eating noodles, I ultimately ended up having the dish for the majority of my meals. Of all the venues sampled, one stood far above the rest. Located here in the Shiomi Nawate samurai district, this rustic and charming restaurant goes by the name Yakumoan and has its own garden. If you’re in the area around lunch time, you’d do well to stop by for some of the best soba in the whole country!
Anyway, though I may have developed minor food allergies from gorging myself on serving after serving of soba while in Shimane, it is by no means the area’s only meibutsu. In fact, the brackish Lake Shinji is home to some of the best clams that I have ever eaten in my life (as well as a number of other options for seafood too). If this is making your tummy rumble, then you’ll want to head over to one of the clam shacks near Shinjiko Onsen Station. Though a bit of an effort is required to get there, the freshness of what’s on offer makes the trek more than worth it.
When it comes to nightlife, Matsue isn’t really much of a party town. Though you’ll find a decent collection of small bars and izakaya to choose from, most other options are a bit seedy in nature. If girl bars and the like are your shtick, know that there are plenty of those but I suspect that my readers aren’t really into that type of entertainment. What’s a night owl to do then? Well, why not head over to St. James’s Gate? This Irish bar is run by a Canadian chap who is so culturally fluent, he can pass as an authentic Japanese dude. The man pours a proper Guinness which is a rarity in Japan. If you’re looking to have a good time in Matsue, be sure to pay him a visit!
More Locations Near Matsue City
While Izumo Taisha and the city of Matsue alone is more than enough to keep one busy for some time, the area around the capital hosts many hidden gems. To kick things off, know that Yuushi-en (pictured above) is a must visit for any fans of peonies. Located to the east on Daikonshima island in the brackish Nakaumi, this private garden was established in the 1970’s. The 40,000 square meter grounds feature many stunning interpretations of common garden motifs. As you stroll through Yuushi-en, you’ll encounter the likes of ponds, waterfalls, stone lanterns, and a rock garden.
As beautiful as this sounds, Yuushi-en’s collection of Japanese peonies is simply enchanting. Thanks to careful planning by caretakers, these flowers are in bloom year round. While the winter months tend to be harsh, the dedicated indoor facilities ensure that you can enjoy the blossoms regardless of the seasons. Note to the wise; if you’re visiting in late April or May, the garden holds its annual Peony Festival that is indeed a sight to behold!
Yuushi-en is only about 10 km from the central Matsue. The island on which it sits is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Because of this, the simplest way to reach the gardens is to simply hop on the Ichibata Matsue-Sakaiminato Shuttle Buses from the JR Matsue Station. A few busses run every hour and the one-way trip will take approximately 25 minutes. Try to ease your travels by preparing the 700 yen fare in coins before boarding.
In addition to Yuushi-en, there is another amazing hidden gem to the eastern reaches of Matsue. Known as the Yomotsu Hirasaka, this quite literally is considered the entrance to Yomi-no-Kuni, the underworld in Shintoism. According to the Kojiki, the gateway was sealed off by a large boulder that was placed there in antiquity by the deity, Izanagi. Supposedly, after creating the world, Izanami died and went to the Yomi-no-Kuni. In a story that bears an uncanny resemblance to Persephone from Greek mythology, Izanagi went to the underworld to rescue her but she had already eaten the food of Yomi-no-Kuni. The wonky Japanese language and culture blog Tofugu has done a wonderful job of retelling this folktale in great detail. Therefore, rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll just direct you to this post about the Japanese hells.
If you’re interested in visiting the Yomotsu Hirasaka, know that you’re going to need to walk a bit. You’ll find it located here, about 15 to 20 minutes away from the JR Iya Station. When visiting, be sure keep an eye out for a charming little mailbox sitting next to the boulder plugging the entrance to Yomi-no-Kuni. In an adorable gesture that clashes with the very notion of the underworld, this receptacle receives letters addressed to those who have already passed.
Along the way, be sure not to miss out on Iya Shrine while trekking to the Yomotsu Hirasaka. Like with the mighty Izumo Taisha, this timeworn place of worship predates all written Japanese history and enshrines the progenitor deity, Izanami. So that you don’t provoke her wrath, be sure to pay your respects at Iya Shrine first before checking out the gateway to the Shinto underworld!
Moving right along, know that the area to the south of Matsue is home to a number of alluring hidden gems as well. Of these, my favorite by far was Yaegaki Shrine which is said to be the site of the first wedding in Japan. Needless to say, the shrine is a popular location for people looking for what’s referred to as en-musubi. Believers assert that this divine matchmaking force brings together those seeking their soulmate.
Much like many other sites in Shimane Prefecture, Yaegaki Shrine first appears within a famous legend. As the tale goes, the vicious eight-headed serpent, Yamata-no-Orochi, was slain by the god Susanoo. Thereafter, he and his new bride, Hinata-hime, were married at this shrine. Today, the pond that Hinata-hime used as her mirror continues to host a custom whereby one places a coin on a floating piece of paper as pictured above. Supposedly, the length of time that it takes for the paper to sink signifies how long until you meet your significant other. If you’re interested in giving it a try, you can purchase the papers at the shrine’s office for a mere 100 yen.
Yaegaki Shrine is connected to Kamosu Shrine, the oldest standing example of Taisha-zukuri architecture in Japan, via the Haniwa road. This two-kilometer path stretches between the two shrines and pays homage to the many tombs that were discovered throughout the area. These days, you’ll find numerous replicas of relics from Japan’s Kofun period (250–538) adorning the sides of the path. If you are keen to check out Kamosu Shrine and its 700 year-old structures, the Haniwa road makes for quite the pleasant stroll.
Both Yaegaki Shrine and Kamosu Shrine can be reached by bus from the JR Matsue Station. Simply head to platform 4 outside of the station. Then, either hop on city bus number 63 for Yaegaki Shrine (250 yen) or take Ichibata bus number 20, 21 or 22 bound for Kamosu Shrine and get off at Fudoki-no-Oka Iriguchi (310 yen). Travel times are 18 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively.
In addition to Yaegaki and Kamosu Shrines, there’s one more site that is worth a visit in southern Matsue. Known as Kumano Taisha, this very old but exquisite shrine is also dedicated to the warrior deity Susanoo (who’s pictured above in combat with Yamata-no-Orochi). In addition to this, the complex is also said to be the first site in Japan where fire was created. In celebration of this, Kumano Taisha plays host to the annual Sanka-sai Fire Festival every year on October 15. If you’re in Matsue around then, consider checking it out!
Kumano Taisha can be reached via bus but the 15 kilometer journey is quite complicated. You’ll need to start by taking Ichibata bus number 20, 21 or 22 to the Yakumo Shako terminus. From there, take one of the Yakumo community buses bound for Kumano Taisha.
Other Nearby Attractions
Alright folks, I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that we’re reaching the final stretches of this piece. The bad news is that we’ve barely even scratched the surface of what to do while exploring Shimane. Seeing as the prefecture is the birthplace of much Japanese culture, properly doing so would entail writing a manuscript longer than the bible itself. So that this article doesn’t further devolve into rant, I’m only going to briefly cover what remains. If any of the following blurbs pique your interest, I suggest that you head on over to Google and do some further reading.
With that said, let’s first take a look at the area of Miho-no-seki. Situated on the eastern tip of the Shimane peninsula on the Sea of Japan, little has changed for this inlet since it appeared in Lafcadio Hearn’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan in the late 1800’s. Miho-no-seki (lit. “The Seat of Miho”) derives its name from Miho shine, an ancient monument that is dedicated to the gods Mihotsuhime and Ebisu. The shrine’s haiden or prayer hall has a unique structure and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. It is one of only a few examples of shrines with dual haiden.
In addition to the peculiar architecture, another allure of Miho Shrine is that it is home to a large collection of musical instruments spanning the ages. The reasons for this are simple. You see, the deity Ebisu is known as a lover of music and because of this, people have dedicated many a shamisen or koto. You’ll even find examples of percussion and wind instruments. Many of the most valuable artifacts have quite the history to them such as a music box from 846 which is the oldest example of its kind in Japan.
Miho Shrine shares an entangled legacy and mythology with Izumo Taisha. Because of this, there’s a saying that “Visiting Izumo Taisha alone does not complete the pilgrimage.” While the rustic Miho-no-seki is surely a challenge to get to, it’s worth it for completionist. If you do make the trip, be sure not to miss the 100-year-old lighthouse and the fish market!
To the south of the Nakaumi, you’ll find the city of Yasugi. Though nothing out of the ordinary in its own right, Yasugi is home to the wonderful Adachi Museum of Art. This property is ranked highly, even by international standards, and is home to one of the best Japanese gardens. It was founded in 1980 by Adachi Zenko as a way of combining his passion for Japanese art with traditional gardens. If you’re anything like my mother and are an aficionado of such places, it would greatly behoove you to make a visit.
Though the Adachi Museum of Art is most famous for its gardens, the facility is also home to an impressive art collection. Inside you’ll find nearly 1,300 paintings and artworks from the 20th century. In addition to this, there’s also a permanent display of Yokoyama Taikan’s work as well as a ceramics exhibit.
Are there any Princess Mononoke fans out there? If so, you need to check out the areas of Unnan and Okuizumo to the south of Matsue. Though blessed with nature, the location is most famous for its Tatara iron works. These historical bellows were foot-operated and were wholly appropriated by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli when designing Irontown. Even today, the area’s long legacy of producing iron can be seen in any of its preserved tatara furnaces. You’ll even find a wonderful museum dedicated to swords that were originally forged in their fires.
Getting to this section of Shimane Prefecture isn’t easy. It would be in your best interested to do some digging by looking at Jorudan but for now, just note that the two municipalities are served by the Kisuki Line. You can pick this connection up at Shinji Station which is located near Tamatsukuri Onsen Station. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this area myself yet I’ve read that the train ride is quite spectacular during the autumn foliage season.
Up until now, with the exception of Izumo Taisha, most of what we have covered has been in the eastern half of Shimane prefecture. Though things get even more remote as you head west, there is one area that is definitely worth checking out. Known as Iwami Ginzan, this silver mine was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. During its peak, the area was Japan’s largest source of silver and word of its riches reached as far as Europe. These days, some of the mine shafts remain open for casual spelunkers. Nearby Iwami Ginzan, you’ll also find the lovely historic town of Omori with its narrow streets and alleyways. Not to be missed, this former hamlet provides a glimpse of what life would have been like for miners throughout history.
Nearby the notorious Iwami Ginzan mines, you’ll also find a few other locations worth checking out. The neighboring town of Yunotsu once prospered as a port through which shipments of silver would pass. Much of the town remains unchanged from the Edo period (1603–1868). Being located near an onsen, you can expect the usual hot spring town fare such as a collection of ryokan as well as a few public baths. Local rumors hold that the waters are saturated with minerals from the nearby mines and caves making them quite therapeutic.
If you do make a visit, be sure to catch a performance of the lively Kagura dance. Dedicated to the gods, this colorful folk entertainment depicts scenes taken from the pages of Japanese mythology. Its fast-pace choreography recounts the heroic deeds of the likes of Susanoo and others. Supposedly, it’s possible to catch a show year round so don’t miss out on this unique cultural experience if you’re in western Shimane!
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Oki Islands. Located about 60 km off of the Shimane peninsula, these isles really deserve their own dedicated post. The islands boast unique traditions and lifestyles due to their age long separation from Japan’s mainland. Throughout history, the Oki Islands and their remote location have served as a place of exile. Most famously, Emperor Godaigo was detained there in the 1300’s; however, he managed to escape and later established his own rival government in Yoshino. The stunning and complex ecosystem is part of the Global Geoparks Network as well as the Daisen-Oki National Park.
Of all the isles, Dogo Island is the largest and home to some mammoth-sized Japanese cedars. The surrounding islands flaunt some impressive cliffs and caverns to explore as well as grassy farmlands where cows and horses casually graze. Seeing as Dogo Island has its own airport, it is actually easier to hop a flight from a major metropolis than to take the ferry. I would be willing to venture that a trip to the Oki Islands is a trip unto itself. And, with that said, perhaps not one to tack on to your trek traversing Shimane Prefecture.
Until next time travelers…