I feel a little late on this, especially since I finished posting the story of Susano-o and the Yamata-no-Orochi a few weeks ago and did my own tour of Unnan back in January and it’s now June.

Unnan (雲南) is a fairly new city, established in 2004 with the merger of five towns and one village. It’s in the southern (南) part of the Izumo region (出雲, which is also sometimes called Unshuu 雲州 with an alternate pronunciation for 雲), hence the name. Not all of the sites having to do with the Yamata-no-Orochi legend take place within the city borders, but most of them do, so many public areas and businesses decorate with giant serpant motifs. For a harrowing monster that’s inspired countless artistic renditions throughout Japanese history and more recently served as the inspiration for foes facing everyone from Godzilla to Doraemon, it hasn’t been able to escape modern Japan’s kawaiiifying culture.

That said, if you ask people from Unnan what they’re most proud of, they might mention the largest collection of dotaku (bronze bells) excavated from a single site which was found at Kamo Iwakura, or the cherry trees along the Kuno River (and by extension, the Hii River). It’s designated as one of the top 100 cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan, and it just so happens that I did my flower viewing there a couple months ago. They also have reason to proud of their high quality Kisuki Milk.

One of the other claims to fame you’ll see posters for was a movie set in Unnan and called “Un, nan?” (うん、何? which means “yeah, what?”). This little high school romance not only features cherry blossoms, milk, archeological dig sites, and everyone’s favorite eight-headed monster, but it also helped make a bridge near the cherry blossoms and spanning the Hii River famous as the Negai-bashi (願橋, Wishing Bridge).

The story goes that if you can cross the bridge with your eyes closed, your wish will be granted. With the help of my guide (a fellow CIR stationed in Unnan who always makes a fun guide), I succeeded! I was so focused on crossing, though, that I forgot to make a wish. I suppose if my wish was to cross without falling in, then it came true.

That said, the Hii River, which flows through the old land of Izumo from the mountains north to Lake Shinji is also the spot where Susano-o first reached Japan. It was there that he noticed a pair of chopsticks floating down the river, leading him to conclude that there was civilization nearby, and thereby leading the people of Izumo to conclude that chopsticks come from Izumo because this was the first recorded use of them.

There are gift shops lining the way to Izumo Taisha which specialize in chopsticks, including really, really fancy, expensive bridal chopsticks. That said, a wedding at Izumo Taisha isn’t terribly expensive, you just have to book really far in advance!

At first I didn’t buy that, but there are many scholars that suggest Susano-o is a kami of possible Korean origins, unlike his more nationally revered and purely Japanese sister Amaterasu. It’s quite possible that a number of pieces of daily life in Japan were imported from China via Korea by way of the San’in region.

Moving further south along the Hii River, it doesn’t surprise me that the Yamata-no-Orochi would also choose this part of the region as its home. I rather like weekend getaways to the mountains of Unnan myself. Since I happened to visit a handful of hot springs the last time I was out there, I’ve marked on the map where the hot springs are in the area just for fun.

I’ve visited only three of the ones that show up here! I have much more onsen-ing to do.

The Yamata-no-Orochi was particularly known to reside at a place called Ama-ga-fuchi. Though these are photos from a cold winter evening, it is a breezy place to stop in summer–which is when I’m betting this story took place given Susano-o’s poem about how refreshing the area is.


One of the theories I’ve heard about the origins of this legend is that the anatomy of the Yamata-no-Orochi was based on the mountains and the offshoots of the Hii River. It’s threat to kamikind was likely based on the flooded river’s threat to humankind. The “grass-cutting” sword Susano-o found within one of the tails may represent human triumph over nature in preventing floods and engaging in agriculture, as well as building tools and swords out of iron (both techniques might also have been inherited from Korea). Furthermore, Kushinada-hima is also known as Inata-hime–“Rice Field Princess.” This sources for the Yamata-no-Orochi certainly seems plausible to me, though I don’t know where they would have gotten the parts about the red eyes. On that note, iron is a big thing in ancient Izumo, but that’s something to touch on another time.

On a typical day-tour of the Orochi sites I doubt most people are thinking that deeply into it. It’s fun to drive with a map and check out the well-marked places were even minute pieces of the story took place. While this was the place that the Yamata-no-Orochi lived, it’s also the place where it was buried–the tails in a place called Iwatsubo Shrine, and the heads in a tiny neighborhood spot called Happonsugi (八本杉, literally “eight cedars”). There are eight cedar trees growing there to mark the eight heads.


Besides the tall cedars, there’s not much here besides this rock (and buried heads, I suppose).


And there’s a pretty pattern in the gravel.


And this… altar? Casket? Whatever it is, it’s not something I’m used to seeing in a Shinto shrine–not that this even counts as a shrine so much as a holy site.


I didn’t find any information indicating what this is, but I did find that whoever carved this had nice penmanship.

We’ll be moving on to many people’s favorite part of the legend next: the sake.
Or you could skip ahead to matchmaking.

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