(Note: This article was also published on the official Shimane tourism website, Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan. All photos were used with permission.)
As much as I have always loved clear mountain streams, green forests, and fresh air, I never thought I had much of an interest in straw. The bright green rice paddies this time of year are charming and Shimane’s rice is delicious, but their dried remains? Although I expected to enjoy the nature, cuisine, and onsen of Iinan-cho, I was taken by surprise by how fascinating long strands of dried rice plants can be. Granted, the 16 meter shimenawa at the Kagura-den of Izumo Taisha has always been my favorite part of the shrine, so perhaps I should have taken an interest sooner in the amazing things that can be done with simple materials.
We started our visit to Ohshimenawa Sousakukan, where the shimenawa at Izumo Taisha is constructed, by making small shimenawa charms to take home. In my daily life I mostly do computer related work or create two-dimensional art, so it was a step outside of my usual activities which required me to pour my energy into a material I had always overlooked.
Even more engaging was when we all worked together to weave a giant shimenawa destined for a shrine in Hiroshima. I literally felt the full weight of the amount of work that the artisans there had already poured into assembling so many individual straws! I may have broken a sweat twisting the ropes (which I could barely fit my arms around), and carrying them back and forth as we wove them together and it took shape. The hard labor made the finished product all the more satisfying. It was one of the most unique and memorable experiences I have had in Japan yet.
The little shimenawa I was so proud of is now hanging in my room, a reminder to step away from my digital life, breathe fresh air, and note the wonder in simple things.