Shimane Museum of Ancient IzumoBy Laura Payne
Archeological evidence, historical texts and oral traditions trace the story of Shimane Prefecture so far that eventually, one exits the realm of concrete records and enters the world of myths. This is why exhibits at the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo blend historical and mythological sources to capture a glimpse of the old Izumo Province (now eastern Shimane).
Located just a short walk from the famous Izumo Taisha Shrine, visitors to this museum can expand their knowledge of Shimane and learn what makes this rural region important in the history of Japan.
Life in early Japan
When one pictures Japanese history, samurai and castles often come to mind, but what did the country look like before this feudal era emerged? We can imagine thanks to a record from Izumo Province.
During the early 8th century, when Japan was a young nation, fudoki (records of regional geography, traditions, and resources) were compiled and sent to the imperial court. Of the many fudoki created, only the ones from Izumo Province survive in a nearly complete form today. These pages offer insight into the daily life of old Japan, which is recreated in models and videos in the museum’s permanent exhibits.
Mysteries of the ancient world
One of the museum’s most prominent artifacts is the remains of enormous pillars excavated on the grounds of Izumo Taisha Shrine. These remnants and historical records suggest that Izumo Taisha was once the tallest structure in ancient Japan–about 48 meters tall. Scale models in an exhibit dedicated to Izumo Taisha imagine what the shrine would have looked like in this state.
Other key artifacts include a collection of 358 bronze swords, 16 spearheads and numerous bells. These were discovered in Izumo city in the 1980s and 90s and are estimated to be from Japan’s Yayoi Period (800 BCE-30 CE). Their exact purpose is unknown, but they are believed to be ceremonial, and this collection is currently the largest of its kind in Japan.
Mythology and more
Ancient texts such as The Kojiki claim that prominent legends from Shinto mythology occurred in what is now Shimane Prefecture. The museum documents this mythological heritage by displaying a collection of short films portraying traditions connected to these myths, such as Izumo kagura dances. Items such as kagura props and costumes are also displayed, showing how these ancient myths contribute to modern art.
Topics: history in japan, musems, shimane