Tamatsukuri Onsen, most famous for its beauty water and as a relaxing vacation spot laden with fancy ryokan hotels, is also an En-musubi power spot. As a quick review for recent visitors to this blog, En-musubi is binding your fate with people or nature or whatever, but is popularly thought of as matchmaking. The San’in region is very, very immersed in the tyings of En, which is why I tend to bring it up a lot.
Power spots are a recent phenomenon among Japanese tourists, but it’s hard to say whether they have the same lure for international visitors. As a fan of local customs and mythology and folk culture, I find them endearing, but prefer to know which places were considered important before the power spot boom. In a spot like Tamatsukuri, it’s quite fitting that there would be a power spot in the form of an enshrined stone, as the area is historically known as a major producer of magatama jewels (hence the name, “jewel-making hot springs”). That has less to do with the beauty water and more to do with the abundance of green agate mined nearby to produce the comma shaped jewels, thought to bring forth spiritual powers since Japan’s prehistoric times. They remain a popular souvenir from this area, and there are museums and ruins and workshops dedicated to them.
Stones remain a popular theme throughout the onsen area, and are frequently worked into the themes and designs of the ryokan baths and gardens. It’s not as if I would usually carry my camera into an onsen, but I do have a few snapshots of the different baths at Choseikaku, one of the fancier places you can pay to just use the bath and without staying (fluffy towels and a cup of matcha in the lobby are included in the price at this one, but the hours and prices vary according to each hotel). Most day-trippers use the much cheaper Yu~Yu facility, which I find reminiscent of a giant fish bowl in the sky. But I digress, here are the photos I do have:
This hotel is sort of at the end of a long promenade of them, and while I’ve never stayed overnight at Tamatsukuri, it’s one of my favorite places to take a stroll, be it in hot weather or in cold weather (in which case the free foot baths, especially the hottest ones down at the riverside, are even nicer).
On a typical stay at Tamatsukuri Onsen, you would wear one of the yukata (comfy and casual cotton kimono) your hotel provides for you, stroll around and enjoy the charms of the area before returning to relax in the hot springs and enjoy a multi-course meal before retiring for the night. One of the spots that you would have high on your list to see is Tamatsukuriyu Shrine, and I’m sort of surprised at myself for not having a proper photo of the entrance. In all its picturesqueness, the main torii gate at the entrance is right across from a little arched bridge over the Tamayu River, and then the shaded stone steps head straight up from there to the main shrine area.
But don’t head up the stairs too fast! You need to buy a Kanai-ishi (wish-granting stone) first. The type of little stone you get varies depending on your luck that day.
Then proceed up the stairs and follow these instructions to have your wish granted by the Negai-ishi (wishing stone), a stone thought to hold special spiritual powers given its unusual roundness. You’ll find many Shinto shrines dedicated to oddities in nature. I’ve heard that Mt. Fuji is revered more for its shape than for its height.
Sometimes you’ll be surprised by the line that form around the stone in tourist seasons, so don’t be in a rush to make a wish.
Visitors attracted to Tamatsukuri Onsen for its beautifying properties would probably also be interested in visiting Seigan-ji, the temple next to the shrine with a Buddha that takes away aesthetic imperfections.
Now that we’ve addressed the Negai-ishi, I can finally get to the point of this entry. See that Cake Shop Agate I noted on the map? I want to show you this cake I enjoyed!
As one of the En-musubi sweets advertised here and there, I’ve had my eyes on this cake for a while, and finally treated myself to one at the Dan-Dan Food Festival that Matsue hosts throughout the month of February. This year I managed to get there in time for the Eight Lucky Gods Hot Pot, a nabe dish full of local seafood, vegetable, and other specialities big enough to feed 800 people. After that I wasn’t as hungry as I hoped to be, which is why I picked out something to take home after wandering in and out of the festival for a few hours. Along with all the edible festivities, there are plenty of penguins and samurai and stuff for entertainment, so please see Bernice’s photos here.
So here it is, the Wishing Stone themed cake, with a collection of tastes and textures but sweetness that is not for the faint of heart. The design on top is a pink magatama and a torii gate, like you find at the entrance to a shrine.
Seeing as Matsue is a city of sweets–particularly wagashi–it’s no surprise that magatama themed sweets have been done before. This is one from Saiundo, a “Wishing Sweet” that comes in five colors and flavors.
Back to this cake, it’s a mix of Japanese and Western desserts, as you’ll notice it is covered in a very soft layer of mochi (pounded rice cake). The overall color scheme is pink and white, as these colors (or red and white together) are commonly associated with auspicious things, like En-musubi.
On the inside… well, let’s see if I can remember everything on the inside, as it all blended together quite nicely. Seeing as Tamatsukuri is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, with a long stretch of the Tamayu River covered in cherry blossoms before you even hit the ryokan area, cherry is the key flavor, though not as heavy as its taste would be in a Western cherry dessert. As the outside mochi oozes apart, you’ll notice we have cherry whip creme, a little bit of anko, cherry mousse, and some normal whip creme (I think?) and sponge cake. Yum.
A collection of light, delicate flavors, but altogether very sweet, and therefore goes down well with some green tea (I think either sencha or the locally preferred matcha would be fine). Despite its size, it doesn’t last long even if you’re trying to savor it.
In other news, though it’s not cherry blossom season yet, there’s already talk of sakura-mochi. I’ve been thinking about them since spotting them at the food festival, and someone has just brought some to the office. Hurray! Forget En-musubi, I just want more sweets. A dip in the onsen is always nice too, of course.