Despite being Matsue’s most festive month, October is passing me by and I’m not making it to many events due to being busy elsewhere or too busy doing things at the events to hold a camera! That means I have nothing to show for this year’s Little Mardi Gras parade and live jazz events to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Friendship City relationship between Matsue and New Orleans (besides saying it was great), and only have my memories and few photos of last year’s Dai-chakai and Do-gyoretsu Drum Parade.
October is also one of the only times of year when you can set foot on an iconic piece of Matsue, Yomegashima, the only island on Lake Shinji. Stretching 110 meters east to west and 30 meters across, the island near the southeast bank of the lake and looks like a round slab of flat island that flung onto the surface of the water and stayed there. Actually, that is the scientific theory–possibly lava from someplace like good old Daisen? That would make it very similar to Daikonshima, the volcanic island on Lake Shinji’s sister lake Nakaumi that is famous for its peonies.
Yomegashima is not famous for its scientic origins so much as for its legendary origins, though. It is said that a young bride was married off to a cruel family across the lake, and unable to bare it any longer, she decided to runaway and go back home. In her hurry, she took a short cut across the ice that had formed on the surface of the lake, but just as she was close enough to see the lights of her home village, the ice broke and she fell in and drowned in the icy waters. The gods that were watching took such pity on her that they made the island spring forth in her honor. Hence, it is called “Bride Island.”
I don’t know how long it’s been called this, though–back in the 8th century when the Chronicles of Ancient Izumo was being compiled, it was called something more like “Snake Island,” but it was already called “Bride Island” by the time Lafcadio Hearn arrived at the turn of the 20th century.
The poor drowned bride doesn’t always need to be lonely, though! I went just after the rain had cleared on a day last October when they were sending boats out (they did the same this October too, but I was busy!). Local guides explain scientic and legendary aspects of the island to visitors, and then you can take your time to wonder its 240 meter circumference and then stop and enjoy some matcha (because that’s what all the cool people do out here).
One of my first impressions when I arrived was how flat it was and that there were shijimi clam shells underfoot. It’s the most famous of the seven (tasty) wonders of Lake Shinji.
While apparently not totally resistant to waves on stormy days (unless those were very athletic shijimi), the island has been protected by rows of Jodei-ishi, designed by Kobayashi Jodei, a famous craftsman of the Matsue domain in the Edo period when Matsue was actively ruled by the samurai class. The material is Kimachi stone, which is still taken today from the Kimachi area of southern Matsue to carve into lanterns are other such decorative items. The Jodei-ishi that surround and protect Yomegashima today are the same stones that were placed there in the Edo era, and photographic evidence from the Meiji and early Showa periods shows that they were also placed around the Sodeshi Jizo, a pair of Jizo statues by the shores which are almost as iconic as Yomegashima itself in Matsue’s famous sunset scenery.
As for some human efforts made to ease the loneliness of the mythical drowned bride, early photographs show that there originally wasn’t much on the island at all, but early in the Showa period a couple of citizens donated a large number of pine trees so that a small forest grows there now. At the front of the forest, facing the sunset viewing spot on shore, is a torii gate so as to dedicate the island as a shrine to the goddess Benten.
I’ve been to the island by boat, but there is also an annual event you can sign up for to walk out to the island. They set up a walkway just below the surface of the water. I’ve missed this twice, but I hope next time both to try it out for myself and see what a trail of people walking on water would look like! With my luck I won’t have my camera with me, though.