Glimpse an unfamiliar Japan
The secrets out in Shimane where the attractions are undeveloped and far-flung - and all the better for it.
Stretching along the San-in coastline bordering the Sea of Japan, Shimane prefecture is about as remote as you can get on Japan’s main island of Honshu. Rural traditions and unspoiled landscapes remain thanks to recent efforts to preserve the region’s cultural heritage. See the bright koi carp swimming through the streetside waterways of picturesque castle-town Tsuwano before heading along the dramatic coastline towards the World Heritage Iwami Ginzan silver mine. From Matsue, you can cross the sea to explore the spectacular Oki archipelago, the home of exiles. And don’t miss Shimane’s most famous sight, the magnificent Izumo-Taisha Grand Shrine – where all eight million Shinto gods gather together for their annual meeting to decide the fates of men.
Starting in the west, Tsuwano is sometimes referred to as “Little Kyoto” and strolling among the old samurai mansions and storehouses, sake breweries and traditional sweets stores, it’s easy to agree. Even the Taikodani-Inari shrine, where thousands of red torii gates line the mountain slopes, is a mini version of the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha. But Tsuwano sets itself apart with its relaxing, rural vibe and koi-filled canals that run through the city – if you’re there in spring, you can catch the impressive horseback archery contest at Washibara-hachiman-gu.
The Iwami Ginzan silver mine in Oda once produced around a third of the world’s silver. Visit the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage Center which has displays about the mine’s history and explore some of the preserved mine shafts. Quaint Omori nearby is a good place for lunch. Matsue is the prefectural capital of Shimane and is the access point for the spectacular Oki Islands. Take a ferry from Shichirui Port for camping, hiking and getting away from it all.
The Izumo-Taisha Grand Shrine is thought to be the oldest in Japan, dedicated to the god of relationships and marriage, and is one of the biggest. Worshippers clap four times instead of the usual two – twice for themselves and twice for their partner – in order to summon marital bliss. For one week in October, Izumo transforms into the spiritual meeting place for all of the Shinto gods across Japan who gather together for a sake-fuelled destiny conference. Festivals and ceremonies are held to encourage the deities to act kindly.