Matsue is considered a rather large city in the sparsely populated San’in region, and life in the center of town is easy. I have a ten minute walk to work or to Matsue Castle, and a plethora of grocery shopping options that are easy to get to. A car ride twenty minutes in any direction, however, will take you the outskirts of town where life is simplier. Nature is abundant, as are farmers. Agriculture is still a major industry for this reason, and it’s hard to see remnants of Japan’s burst bubble because the bubble economy didn’t reach this region much. In many ways, Shimane and Tottori seem to follow their own train of history which goes at a more leisurely pace than the better-connected areas of Japan. On that note, the Chuugoku mountain range makes it unlikely a bullet train route will ever be built out here.

In addition to being a place where rustic nostalgia paints the landscape, this is also the land of myth. Many of the Kojiki myths are tied directly to the geography of this region, and I’ve spent a handful of weekends getting my JET friends in the inaka–the rural areas–drive me around to go hunt down places associated with the Kojiki myths. On one particular September afternoon, I met up with a friend in Shinji, a southern district of Matsue on the banks of Lake Shinji which borders the town of Unnan. While driving along to where we think we’re going to find the shrine in my guidebook, we make small talk.

“So, how’s life in the inaka?”

“It’s good.”

“Ever see any tanuki around here or anything?”

“No, this is my third year, but I’ve never seen a tanuki. I’ve seen monkeys chilling by the side of the road, though!”

“I see nutria where I live sometimes, but never monkeys!”

Around this time of year, the rice is harvested when it turns the right shade of gold. Throughout the inaka of Japan, you’ll also notice the air is hazy with the smell of burning waste from the harvest.

When the maps on our phones are no longer helping, we look around on foot. We can’t find the shrine, but we can see the figs are ready for picking soon! These are a local product of the Izumo region (some Japanese friends in bigger cities didn’t even know that figs were grown in Japan).

We finally asked for directions from a group of ladies who were taking a break from their harvest, who very cheerfully informed us we were on the wrong side of the hill. Shimane is known for having record numbers of centenarians, and these ladies are perhaps the oldest looking people I have ever met in Japan. Furthermore, they spoke with the thickest Izumo dialect I have heard yet. Through toothless smiles and leathery skin they point up the road and give us detailed directions, and off we go, much better off having asked.

It took a bit longer than we expected, but we found the shrine, and I gathered material for a future post to go with a future manga myth rendition, with only a few autumn mosquito bites to show for it. As we were heading off to go meet up with friends for a dip in the onsen, I got one more glimpse of Shinji’s charming sights.

“STOP!!!! IT’S A TANUKI!! BACK UP! LOOK! LOOK, WE FOUND ONE!” – Buri-chan, the shotgun driver

Not everything in the inaka is so charming, though. Unlike my encounter with a mujina/nopperabo, however, I have photographic proof of this disturbing encounter! It’s as if she follows you all the way from Unnan back through Shinji, waiting on the side of the road just to jump out and startle you.

This is what I’m used to seeing. This happy child is something I’ve encountered all around Japan, a friendly warning to drivers to watch out for children who might dash out into the street. Brightly colored and noticable, he seems to do alright at his job.

But one day, she appeared.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving, or I might have crashed in surprise to suddenly see a disturbingly unhumanlike human suddenly accost me from the side of the road. She wasn’t just in one place, either–she was everywhere, lurking along the sides of innocent looking streets. As I was started to adjust to her presence, suddenly we really did see a real child standing at the side of a neighborhood road with a similarly wide stare. Though this was a good little girl who did not dash out into the street to give us the heart attack of our lives, both the driver and I were startled that time to see something live in the place of this soulless girl we had expected to be standing there.

She’s watching you…

Advertisements