Given the choice between mountains and oceans, I’ll usually choose mountains. I attribute this to growing up at the foot of the Rockies, and finding going for a hike among the pines and aspens just a normal way to spend your time. That’s always been very commonplace to me, as opposed to scenes like this:

Going to the beach was always a big deal–you don’t get to enjoy tide pools where there is no tide. It’s still a little strange to me that I live such a short drive from the Sea of Japan, but I usually don’t think about it because Lake Shinji is but a 10 minute walk away. I can see a big beautiful body of water whenever I want! Not to mention the castle moats throughout town and the Ohashi River that bisects the “City of Water.” What with the pleasure boats around the city center and the array of bridges and canals, it’s not surprising that Matsue is sometimes called the Venice of Japan.

Living so close to the coast also does not sink in because of the unusual geography of the Shimane Peninsula. The areas between and around Lakes Shinji and Nakaumi are fairly flat (the Izumo flatlands on the west side are fairly unique nationwide, I’ve been told). This is just north of the Chuugoku mountain range, which sort of cuts this area off from the rest of Japan. Instead of fading out into the sea, however, there is another set of mountains along the northern coast of the peninsula.

Therefore, it’s not as if I have regular ocean views–I have a small wall of mountains to block that view instead of provide a vantage point. Seeing the green hills makes me plenty happy, though. Tsunami are hardly a concern either, and earthquakes are infrequent here to begin with.

On a clear day I can see to Daisen, though!

There are the days, however, when it strikes me: “Oh yeah! I’m right by the Sea of Japan!”

That’s usually on a drive for work or with friends, leaving the city center to head north through the winding roads. There are a handful of beaches I’ve heard quite a bit about, but I’ve only seen a small taste of them. Furthermore, I never manage to get there during good swimming times! Either it’s too late in the day or too late in the season. Besides the colder temperatures, that also means giant jellyfish.

“This place is really busy in summer. Really! Drinks and flotation rental and everything! A lot of these houses are inns during peak season, too! Really…” my friend introduced one of her favorite spots to me when we visited on a rainy day. We saw the beach house structures filled with everything that I’m sure gets a lot of use in hot weather, there just weren’t any people.

That said, the water still looks lovely in cooler weather and the fishing activity is still just as lively. Dried squid is a speciality along the San’in coast, and at Kakahama in northern Matsue there are fishermen and fisherwomen who can teach people how to cut and clean their own squid, which then gets spun and sun-dried. Although it takes several hours to dry it into the kind of snack you can pull apart like jerky and eat with sake, you could probably hunt around for some place to eat some other specialities, such as sazae (turban shells) or kame-no-te (“turtle hand”). Or you could just join the locals who are fishing out there if you have your tools and some patience.

Thanks for the photo use, Alaina! Click for her blog.

Also Alaina’s photo.

Stand back if you don’t want a splash (or slap) to the face! Also Alaina’s photo.

I didn’t touch any squid or do any fishing that day, but I did take a nice walk and snap a few photos of my own. Although Lake Shinji gets some nice waves on windy days, it’s not quite like the crash of the surf or the echoes of a wave-cave.

Along the north coast, the neighborhoods are quiet, and you can walk out your front door to scenes like this:

Those cement blocks are found all over Japan to break the waves that could come on shore.

A seemingly quiet, peaceful spot, right? However, if you turn around, you’ll see this:

This is the site of the Mihonoseki Meteor. On December 10, 1992, right around 9pm, a meteor crashed through the roof and floor of a house in this spot. It was was 25.2cm in length and weighed 6.38kg, and the fireball it created was witnessed from Hiroshima, a few hours south of Matsue. Thankfully no one was injured! The meteorite itself has been studied and is now on display in Meteor Plaza, a museum, heated salt-water pool, and relaxation station attached to Shichirui Port (a good place to depart from to get to the Oki Islands). That heated pool happens to be mineral water from the sea… hmm, I guess that takes away the seasonal swimming excuse.

As special as going to the beach still is for me, I can understand how it may not be as exciting to other people. Case in point, a few weeks back we had a barbecue at a friend’s place, on a seldom-used road right along on a tiny harbor surrounded by docked fishing boats. Before lighting fireworks, I saw a stunning sunset. As we were all getting caught up in saying how nice it must be to live with the ocean at your door step, my friend laughed, saying she had always assumed it was completely normal, and pointed out the places where she’d jump in to swim as it was common sense to do so.

I guess I need to get more beach sense.