Please enjoy a few December views of Japan’s highest ranked garden–ten years running!–while I’m organizing photos from the kimono event. These are a few snapshots from my first visit to Adachi Museum of Art, in Matsue’s neighboring town of Yasugi.

Giving the number of shuttles that go directly to and from the museum, you can get there by taking shuttles directly from Tamatsukuri Onsen, Kaike Onsen, Yonago Airport, or Yasugi Station (the next station east of Matsue on the express lines, or four stations down on the local line). As easy as it is for individual travelers to make it there on their own (especially foreign travelers who get a half-off discount on admission!), you can expect to see a line of tour buses out in the parking lot on any given weekend. As such, my friend and I got there at 9am to try to beat the crowds. When we parked outside there were only two buses, but by the time we left there were at least ten!

The garden, a series of small self-contained worlds, varies both by season and by time of day. I visited during the later part of kouyou (autumn leaf) season, and the surrounding mountains of Matsue and Yasugi were all warm hues even on the grayest of days. At this early hour of December 1st, the sun was still relatively low in the sky, so there were slanted rays of light to peak through the leaves in the eastern gardens and cast a heavy shadow over the western dry landscape while illuminating the background mountains. Depending on what kinds of pictures you’re trying to take, the morning light can be a blessing or a curse.

This garden leads to one of two Japanese styles tea houses. The museum also has a restaurant and another cafe, all of which provide different views of the garden. One of the tea houses, Juraku-an, boils the water for the tea in a pure gold kettle.

Many Japanese gardens attempt to create a miniature version of a more vast landscape, with the arrangement of motifs mimicking patterns in nature. The large rocks are mountains, while the white gravel is a river coming forth from the mountains.

The natural mountains of Yasugi also make up part of the garden landscape. This peak is Mt. Katsuyama, where the Mori clan set up camp while battling the Amago clan. The war between these two clans influenced much of the western edge of Honshu before Japan was unified under the Tokugawa shogun’s rule.

Just because they use gravel as a water motif doesn’t mean they can’t use real water, too.

At the far right side of this picture in the distance, there is an artificial 15 meter waterfall–a part of the garden which you can see from outside the museum! The Kikaku Waterfall was constructed in 1978.

This was the only snap shot I could get of the pond garden on the east side. The sun was reflecting so brightly off the surface of the water that you can’t see anything in my other ones! With the naked eye, it was hard to look beyond the shimmering surface at the lively fish for very long.

With my simple point-and-shoot camera I didn’t bother trying to get any perfect shots. Even when setting up the shots I did take, it was hard to decide what to try to include and exclude, as even a little change in angle and zoom will result in a different looking world. You’re really only able to take in the world of the Japanese garden with your own eyes and physical perspective, and it was much more exciting to be there in real life than to see photos. There are parts of the pathway to sit and see the framed view of the garden that make it appear like certain styles of landscape painting, or like the scroll of a tea room in the tokonoma (decorative alcove). In place of a scroll in that room on display, they had a window.

In order for the garden to take on an active, immediate level of art, it must be perceived. It is best perceived in person, as your perception changes with every step, and every unique view provived throughout the course of the art museum. As part of the active perceptive space, you continually pass between views of the living garden and series of Japanese paintings, especially collections of Yokoyama Taikan‘s works.

Yokoyama Taikan. “Distant Landscape” (1957). Click on the picture to go to the Yokoyama Taikan page, or on his name to go to the Wiki page and learn more about his style and contribution to modern Japanese painting.

While everyone talks about the garden and posts pictures of it everywhere, it’s still a perfectly good art museum even if it wasn’t part of the garden world. While I didn’t feel the need to go home and plant a maple tree, I did feel the itching desire to go home and sketch birds sitting on plum tree branches.

Sakakibara Shiho, “Japanese White-eyes and Plum Blossoms” (c.1939). Click on the photo to read more about the “Fragrant Flowers” exhibition, Winter 2013.

In addition to the Japanese landscape, portrait, kachou (flowers and birds) and series of other natural subject matters in Japanese style, there are collections of things like ceramics, paintings from modern travels around the world, illustrations for children, and statues. Thanks to the Google Cultural Institute, you can view some the collection here. I discovered Ide Yasuto and Yoshimura Seiji, a couple of promising, imaginative artists who were featured in one of the exhibitions and were honored with the Adachi Museum of Art Award.

Obligatory “I was here” snapshot.

The Japanese approach to religion is sometimes a little more worldly than eternity-focused. That’s not to say there isn’t a deeper side of religious practice, as there certainly is a depth and variety of it, but practices like leaving beer as an offering for Buddha are completely normal.

Alcohol is a somewhat universal offering, is it not?

The requests you can make of a Buddha–in this case, the very merciful Jizo-sama–can be surprisingly shallow in light of other religious practices, but nonetheless very popular. There is plenty of scholarly research about Japanese perceptions of beauty and beautiful people which I don’t need to go into here, but suffice to say that people–especially young women–can and do go on beauty tours. One of the places they come to is Tamatsukuri Onsen, on the southeast bank of Lake Shinji.

Our local hot springs--highly recommended!

Shimane is known as the best prefecture in Japan for beautiful skin, but the Tamatsukuri hot springs in particular are known as the Baths of the Gods. Besides mythological records of the Izumo region like the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, we also have the 8th century encyclopedia of the Izumo region, the Izumo-no-Kuni-no-Fudoki (one of the most complete anthropological and geographical records of Japan for that time period), in which these hot springs were described as a place where the young and old alike would party in the baths that kept their skin looking young and pretty. Today it’s not just the locals, but vacationers staying at the ryokan (fancy inns) or just strolling through the area who take advantage of these waters and beauty products made from them.

That’s why signs like this on the outskirts of the ryokan area are only slightly surprising.

“There are lots of BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE around this area, so keep your eyes peeled!”

While the historic shinto shrine, charming shops, foot baths along the Tamayu River and the luxury hotels are probably the things that first come to mind when people think of this area, I thought I’d introduce Seigan-ji, a temple built around the year 1500 and known for its Oshiroi Jizo. It is the 33rd of the 33 Izumo Kannon pilgrimage spots.

More general pictures of Seigan-ji are here (Japanese page), but they don’t have pictures of how to make a very specific request of the Oshiroi Jizo-sama. You start by buying a little prayer tablet, either for your face or your body, on which you write how you’d like to change your body image on one side, and indicate the area on the picture on the other side. You then hang this board next to the Oshiroi Jizo.

After doing so, you apply some white powder to the spot on the Oshiroi Jizo-sama that corresponds to the spot you’d like to change.

The story goes that a high priest did this and the ugly birthmark on his cheek disappeared. People not only do this to remove shallow imperfections, but also for to heal ailments and injuries.

I didn’t do it because I was too flustered with people I knew watching, but as soon as I walked away I suddenly though of everything I would have asked for! Oh well, can’t push my luck. I went home with a little bottle of Tamatsukuri beauty water anyway.

There’s something wrong with this picture–you don’t rinse your hands above the fountain, but in a lower basin next to it so as not to contaminate the water!

I got my bottle for free–and the little old lady taking some for herself was very enthusiastic about the water’s effects.