How did the city of Matsue get its name?

First, let’s take a look at the kanji: 松江
松: pine tree
江: bay, inlet

It would be too simple to write this off as “Bay of the Pines,” because someone had to think of that at some point. There are two possible stories.

The first took place in 1534, 70 years before the founding of the city, when a man named Oomori Masahide (or Tadahide? we aren’t sure…) from Fukui Prefecture went on a pilgrimage to Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine), and left records of where he had been. He wrote, “On the second day of the fifth month, I reached Izumo’s ‘Bay of the Pines’ (Matsue) area.” This area was likely around the mouth of the Iu River in Higashiizumo, where there were pine planted around the “Brocaded Bay.” The area was named for this scenery.

You can see flying fish in Matsue all the time, but these flying fish only come out once a year.

The Iu River in relation to the rest of Matsue

However, that’s a pretty narrow area, and even today, a good 20~30 minutes drive from, say, Matsue Castle. The other story (and probably more common one) goes that Matsue’s founder, Horio Yoshiharu, was given the following advice (more or less) from his trusted Buddhist monk friend, Shun-Ryuu-O-Shou: “So, Yoshiharu, I was looking at the scenery around Lake Shinji, and it reminded me of the scenery around the Songjiang (淞江) area in China. The character for ‘Song’ (淞) is pretty much like ‘pine’ (松), you know? They sound the same, too! Anyway, Lake Shinji also has the same sea bass and water shield plants that their river does, so I was thinking, you should totally name this place ‘Songjiang’ as well! Just write it as 松江, and it will be pronounced ‘Matsue’ in Japanese instead of ‘Zunkou’ (like 淞江). Cool, huh?”

Most of my research points to this being the modern day Songjiang district in Shanghai. In general, the natural scenery in Matsue still resembles that of southern China. My biased opinion is that it’s more like Hangzhou than Shanghai, though. Since they are Friendship Cities, someone else must have thought so, too.

Either way, the connection between pines and water is pretty clear.