Those of you who have been following this blog for a while probably have a pretty good idea what Kamiarizuki and En-musubi mean, but for those of you joining us recently, let’s recap:

In the classical Japanese calendar, the 10th month was referred to as Kannazuki, “the month without gods,” written as 神無月 (gods-nothing-month). Only in the Izumo region is the 10th month referred to as Kamiarizuki, “the month with gods,” written as 神在月 (gods-exist-month). This is become the gods around Japan all gather in Izumo at this time for an annual meeting. Although it refers to a month, the meeting is actually only a week long. Converted to the Gregorian calendar, it usually falls around late November or early December, and there is a week of rituals that take place at Izumo Taisha during Kamiarisai.

En, written 縁, is a mysterious fate-binding power, or spiritual link between people and other people, or even with nature. “Musubi” (結び) is based on the verb “musubu” (結ぶ, “to bind”), so En-musubi (縁結び) is the act of linking fates, binding ties, or in the case of romantic relationships, matchmaking. It is often erroneously translated simply as having to do with marriage and matchmaking, but in fact it can encompass relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, business partners, friends, and beyond.

What is the tie between these two phrases? When the gods are meeting at Izumo Taisha, they are discussing how they are going to bind people’s fate in the coming year. This is because the former Lord of the Lands, Okuninushi, was given domain over this unseen realm in exchange for handing over dominion of the lands to the heavenly kami (more specifically to Ninigi, grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu). Izumo Taisha was built in his honor.

The En-musubi “power spots” are not limited to Izumo Taisha. The gods also gather at nearby shrines, like Sada Shrine, and other shrines closely associated with the local mythology are also closely associated with matchmaking powers, like Yaegaki Shrine. In general, making your wish will make your wish heard throughout Japan, as gods from all over the country gather here to discuss them.

Granted, many of the popular En-musubi spots, like Matsue Vogel Park, have relatively short histories…(click for source)

Of course, you could just direct your wishes to Okuninushi himself. There’s a couple of bits of heresay I’ve picked up about this:
1. It’s bad luck to visit Izumo Taisha with your significant other you have not married yet. Only very strong couples survive that trip together.
2. 5 yen coins are good luck (because they are a pun for how to respectfully refer to En, “go-en“). 10 yen coins are bad luck.
3. When making your wish, you have to mentally convey your address so that the luck knows where to find you.

I’m not sure how much stock to put into each of those, but the one thing everyone will tell you is that there is a special way to pay your respects at Izumo Taisha. At most shrine, you bow and clap twice after offering your coins and mentally offering up your wish. At Izumo Taisha, you bow twice, clap four times, and then bow once more. This is supposed to be on your behalf as well as on your significant other’s behalf (whether you are bound in matrimony already or still have yet to meet your soul mate).

Because of Izumo Taisha’s reputation as a matchmaking shrine, it’s really fun to read the ema (prayer boards) people write and leave there.

“That I may hurry up and meet a wonderful woman and attain happiness”

“That I may get married within the next three years. That I may attain happiness.”

“That everyone may–no, definitely will–be granted eyes for seeing men” (written by a representative)

“N.S. is going to have the best husband ever–that’ll be me!!” – I.K.

“That Ka-kun and I might always, always get along as well as we did when we met <3, and that we'll always, always love each other <3, and be together our whole lives <3 (I'm gonna be I.K.'s wife!)" – N.S.

Of course, drawing omikuji slips is also just as popular as anywhere, and on busy times of year, you might have trouble finding spaces on which to tie them.

But does it actually work? I suppose that’s anyone guess. What with all the singles gathering here while the gods are gathered, I guess that bodes well for meeting someone.

If people can only visit one Shinto shrine in Japan, Izumo Taisha is the one I suggest given its scale, history, points of interest, and mythologically momentous background. Although the local mythology is felt throughout the San’in region, Izumo Taisha is the crowning glory of all that, and it feels appropriate to draw my descriptions of Kojiki mythology, as well as Nihonshoki and Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki mythology, to a close here.

Well, kind of. I’m still planning on keeping up with my mythology themed nengajo (New Years card) and preparing something for the upcoming Year of the Monkey. I can’t think of any direct ties, but I did happen upon a street performer with a trained monkey once on a visit to Izumo Taisha!


Continued from Part 4

Thus concludes The Kojiki As Told By Brittany! Well, not quite. We still have the historical context, local rituals, and some more info about Izumo Taisha to address in the coming weeks. That, and although it won’t be a preview of more comics to come, I am hoping to do another local mythology themed nengajo (New Year’s card) illustration (see 2013, 2014, and 2015).

Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
Historical basis and influence
The Kuniyuzuri rituals at Miho Shrine
The layout of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine
En-musubi and Kamiarizuki at Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine

Or see the Kojiki a.t.b.b. masterlist!
The Kojiki Myths in Manga Form

February in Matsue means it’s time to feast, in the “let’s go gourmet!” sort of sense. Throughout next month, Matsue will celebrate its 13th annual Matsue Dan-Dan Shoku Festa. The name is a pun, so let’s delve into linguistics for a moment:

まつえ is “Matsue” written in phonetic hiragana instead of in kanji, as usual (松江).
暖 is “warmth” and read here as dan.
談 is “conversation” and read here as dan. Pairing them together is like “warm conversation” and sometimes people translate the name of the festival as “heart-warming.”
だんだん, Dan-Dan, is Izumo dialect for “thank-you,” one of the most commonly heard and actively used Izumo phrases.
食 is “food/eat” and read here as shoku.
フェスタ is short for “festival.”

So you could call it anything from “Matsue Festival for Food That Brings About Warm Conversation” to “Matsue Thanks-For-The-Warm-Food Festival” but I find “Dan-Dan Shoku Festa” is most catchy.

There will be gourmet events going on at hotels and restaurants throughout the city throughout the month, but the three “Dan-Dan Gochisou Ichiba” (Dan-Dan Feast Markets) are the most bustling with activity and variety. In addition to food stalls common at events throughout the year or that come from out of town specifically for this food festival (from as far as Miyazaki Prefecture, given the Kojiki myth connections!), you can expect live entertainment and visits from local characters like Shimanekko, the mascot of Shimane Prefecture fighting in the top ten spots for mascot of the year so several years but still has not quite made #1 (keep at it, Shimanekko! Your dance is the best!).

This is a photo from a different event, but I see these guys a lot and thought their product was tasty. Meat-wrapped rice balls aren’t unique to the San’in region, but these “Niku Maki En-Musubi” are made with Shimane beef and Shimane-grown rice. This is also a pun: Niku (meat), Maki (wrapped), Musubi (a term for rice balls), En-musubi (see below).

I’ll bet the Matsue Young Warriors will be there again. They’re always coming up with seasonal shows and displays, and last year they taught the crowd about Matsuba crabs. Even outside of a busy event with lots of visitors from out of town, it feels very normal to see a samurai sitting in your local JR station.

This year, the Feast Markets are on the following Sundays:

February 1:
10:30am – 3:00pm, in front of JR Matsue Station

February 8:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Kyomise shopping area, Minami-Tonomachi shopping area, and Karakoro Art Studio (north of the Ohashi River and southeast of Matsue Castle)

February 15:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Tenjinmachi shopping area and Tatemachi shopping area (Near Tenmangu Shrine, sort of between the JR station and the Shimane Art Museum)

The homepage is in Japanese, but you can see more details and maps here.

One of the (literally) biggest things visitors and locals alike anticipate is the “En-Musubi Hot Pot of the Seven Gods of Fortune.” The first year, I was not fortunate enough to be one of the 800 people served from this enormous hot pot, but last year I certainly felt lucky to get there in time. They certainly do not skimp on the seafood!

Photo from the Dan-Dan Shoku Festa Facebook page (click photo for source).

Speaking of seafood, this year the “Buri-shabu” at the Feb 1 market has my name on it. There is also a month-long crab event going on, but that requires special reservation, and we’ll talk more about crabs in the next entry anyway.

Besides the hot pot, there are plenty of other specials making liberal use of the catchphrase “En-musubi.” It’s been a while, so let’s break this phrase down again:

縁結び (sometimes written phonetically as えんむすび)
縁, en, is a phrase translated in many ways, but often loses its nuance when translated. It can be any kind of tie of fate or relation, be it between romantic pairs, friends, business partners, or even your relationship with Mother Nature. Used like “I have en with that person” as opposed to “that person is my en.” People pray for good en, but this is more about relations and encounters rather than generalized luck (運, un).
結び is a noun based on the verb 結ぶ (musubu, to bind or tie).
Therefore, 縁結び is like “binding fates” or “ensuring good encounters” but often given the rather limiting translation of “match-making.”

En-musubi is a big San-in catch phrase for many reasons based in local mythology, but especially because Izumo Taisha is where the gods throughout Japan gather to discuss En-musubi each year, which is kind of a big deal.

And since En-musubi is applied in any way possible here, of course it applies to food–sometimes in clever ways like in the case of zenzai, but at other times just by creating a lunch special and calling it the En-musubi plate.

Besides those various February En-musubi specials, there will be a sweets market at the first Feast Market with an En-musubi theme as well. That’s got my name on it, too.

November was a busy month, as anyone planning a wedding in Japan was probably planning to attend at least a few others as well.

I’ve heard it’s good luck to witness a wedding procession on a visit to a Shinto shrine, but I have never had that luck. Turns out the secret is to go on a weekend in spring or autumn–especially November, it seems! I witnessed my first traditional Japanese wedding on November 1st when a friend of mine was getting married at Izumo Taisha–one of several weddings scheduled back to back in the Kagura-den that day.

Quick reminder for newer readers to the blog: Izumo Taisha is one of the grandest Shrinto shrines of Japan, as it is where the 8 million gods from around Japan gather for their annual meeting to discuss En-musubi, which is often translated as “matchmaking” but it’s more nuanced than that–En is any sort of tie or fated relation or encounter you might have. Like most Shinto shrines visitors are not allowed in the Honden (main shrine where the god resides), but the Kagura-den is decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa (sacred rope) and is a popular spot for Shinto ceremonies.

Although I did not attend the hiroen (wedding reception), when I got home I received a gift from another Japanese friend’s wedding. I was not able to attend that one because of the distance, but sent an o-shugi with my best wishes anyway, and she returned the favor by sending the gift I would have received if I were attending as a guest anyway.

So how does this work? Let me start by saying that Japanese weddings are expensive to attend. I appreciate the gift-giving culture surrounding bridal registries in the US so that guests have the fun of selecting something while being sure the couple will want it and that no one else has purchased it yet, with the general rule of thumb being that if you attend the wedding reception the value of your gift should exceed the value of your meal, and you might bring along extra cash to pin to the bride and groom to help them out. However, there is also something to be said for the usefulness of straight, cold cash. In Japan, you better make sure that cash is only in crisp, clean, fresh bills in a decorative envelope designed specifically for an auspicious occasion such as a wedding. This is o-shugi.

Although the o-shugi package–which you can find at department stores or in convenience stores–has instructions for where to place the money and where to write your name and address, it doesn’t cover all the finer details. Hopefully you’ve made sure to buy an envelop intended for weddings rather than funerals or visits to sick people (as there is a similar set of expectations associated with those), but the bigger question is usually how much to put in it?

After consulting with Japanese friends and checking around the internet for advice, the basic answer is that if you are a friend attending the reception, 30,000 yen (roughly $300) in an odd number of bills (to imply they can’t be slipt evenly in a divorce) is the safest bet.

Even though I did not attend the reception, I was still served lunch for attending the ceremony. Note all the auspicious symbols, such as the red and white knot, the pine, and the sekihan (rice colored with red beans).

“But what if we’re not really close friends, just co-workers?”
“What if I’m not attending the reception?”
“What if it’s a foreign couple who just happens to be getting married in Japan?”

…you might ask. In those cases, I can only suggest you use your best judgement but to err on the side of generosity. Just try to get an appropriate o-shugi envelope and you’re probably already in good shape! Enjoy the chance to dress fancy, because there will be people dressed very, very fancy. The bride will probably have two or three fancy outfits, complete with wigs. If you plan to stay for the after-parties, plan on very high entrance costs.

In the middle of November I attended an outdoor DIY wedding in the woods overlooking Lake Shinji and Izumo En-musubi airport (probably the most appropriately named airport to have close to your wedding venue), and the following weekend I had to end my morning plans early to get back and meet three people stopping by my apartment.

The first was a friend who had forgotten something the day before while she was in town visiting from western Shimane. She was visiting for a wedding.
The second was an old-coworker who wanted to say hi while he was back in town from Tokyo. He was in a bit of a rush to get to a wedding.
The third was a friend who stayed for tea, and was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Osaka for a friend’s wedding.

What plans had I been cutting short that morning?
A samurai bridal procession and wedding at Matsue Castle.

It’s been a few years since the last wedding at Matsue Castle, but it was something I had already heard of before. When I was studying abroad in a different region in 2008, I saw a brief news segment about a wedding taking place in a castle, complete with period dress for all the relatives, a full procession, and a happy feudal lord and princess waving to the crowd from the watch tower. It left a strong imprint on my memory that they had won a nationwide contest to hold their wedding like that and–being the history nerd and samurai fan that I was and still am–I found it cool, but I did not remember which castle it was. I only found out recently that it was the castle I see from my window every day.

Turns out its been a royal comedy of errors in trying to get pictures of this event, as they were supposed to have two this year but the first one was canceled due to the groom’s injury, and I was only able to see the opening procession for the second one. Furthermore, my camera broke and I lost all my data. I ran into Kimono-sensei as she had been busy all morning dressing the wedding party up, and she sent photos to me later, but I wasn’t able to download the data. Instead of snapshots I encourage you to check out the page of outstanding photographs on Made In Matsue, and the 51 second news clip on this site will give you any idea what the ceremony was like.

What I didn’t stick around for was mainly the wedding ceremony at Matsue Shrine (down a few stairs from Matsue Castle’s watch tower) and the wedding proclamation from the tower itself, which would have kept me there until lunchtime. Thankfully the weather was comfortable for the crowd that gathered to wish them well, and I got enough of my period-dress fill to last me until the next Matsue Musha Gyoretsu in early April, as well as my fill of weddings to last until next year.

I’ve frequently been asked what the first thing I noticed in Japan was. The answer was easy: “It’s humid.”

On more trips that not when I’ve entered Japan, it’s been in summer. While August–considered the height of summer–is said to be hot and relatively dry, I certainly don’t find it dry. Well, I don’t find most of the months dry, except the depths of winter, that’s usually because indoor spaces dry out easily with the artificial heating. Even in winter, however, we have snowfall here in the San’in region, and when it’s not snowing, it’s raining.

Oh yeah. Rain.

This region gets a lot of rainfall. We don’t get as many typhoons because they tend to peeter out after leaving the Pacific shores, but they still have plenty of water to expend when they get here. In response to the amount of precipitation, a common trait of Izumo style Japanese gardens is that the stepping stones will be relatively high so as not the get the tips of your kimono unnecessarily wet.

This is one of the entrances to Kangetsu-an, a tea house inside of Fumon-in Temple which was one of Lord Fumai's favorites.

This is one of the entrances to Kangetsu-an, a tea house inside of Fumon-in Temple which was one of Lord Fumai‘s favorites.

Although people in Japan will proudly declare that Japan has four seasons, you’ll also find that tsuyu–the rainy season, also sometimes called baiu–tends to be declared as a season of its own, so it’s more like five seasons. But even that can get much, much more complex, so you could have 24 seasons instead. In the Chuugoku region at the western tip of Honshu (including both the San’in and San’yo areas), this typically starts on or around June 7. This year it officially started on June 4 according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

I wouldn’t mind rain if it wasn’t so wet.

There are some upsides to tsuyu here, though. In Matsue, the rain is known as Enishizuku, the droplets that bind us all together in common fate. Or, you know, there are invisible strings in the rain droplets in Matsue that lead you to someone you have yet to meet–who knows who will drop into your life with the rain? I wonder if the En-musubi in the water has anything to do with Izumo–home of the ultimate En-musubi power spot, Izumo Taisha–being “from whence clouds come” (出雲: “emit” “clouds”)?

There are Enishizuku themed drinks at bars around the city only available on rainy days, but you’d be more likely to find me at a tsuyu matcha cafe inside Karakoro Art Studio making leaf boats.

Or I might be at Gesshoji Temple, enjoying a cup of matcha while observing the famous hydrangea or teasing a monster tortoise and slipping on the old stone paths.

Or I might be gratefully dashing through puddles while using a Dan-Dan umbrella. These are part of a program in which they took the umbrellas people forget in public and mark them specifically for public use. I’m certain I’ve contributed at least a couple umbrellas to this program, but I’ve more than reaped the benefits when I’ve been walking around without my forgotten umbrellas. The “Dan-Dan” in the title means “thank you” in Izumo dialect.

Or I might be inside grumbling about how I can’t get my hair to behave in the additional humidity.

Continued from Part 3

Continued in Part 5

In the previous entry, we addressed the historical origins of the Kunibiki (land-pulling) legend. Now to take a look at why it’s hard to come to the San’in region and not learn a little about this legend.

First of all, there is art like this everywhere:

Click for source

More curiously, this painting at Yakumotatsu Fudoki-no-Oka has a number of people/gods pulling the land. Ah, don’t mind me pretending to be Susano-o here. I have a weakness for dress-up and you can do that for free in the museum lobby. We’ll bring up Fudoki-no-Oka again in a few paragraphs.

There is art both inside the Ichibata Railway between Matsue Shinjiko Onsen and Izumo Taisha and along the stations, including one I saw on the ceiling of one of the little local trains with Yatsuka saying his catchphrase, “Kuni, ko! Kuni, ko!” This is literally “land/country, come!”

Yumeminato Tower in Sakaiminato, on the tip of the island/peninsula one of Yatsuka’s ropes turned into, provides a view of the mythologically added-on land, and labels for everything you’d be looking at from the observation deck. Unfortunately, I visited just as it started raining that afternoon, and right after getting one shot you couldn’t see very far. Thankfully there is plenty to do inside the tower, my personal favorite spot being dedicated to the history of early contact with not only Korea, but others throughout the Asian continent. It’s too bad I didn’t take anyone to dress up with me in so many ethnic costumes that day!

Click for source

On a good day, you should be able to see 360 degrees worth of sea and land.

While the story of Kunibiki is not included in the Kojiki, Yatsuka’s is listed among godly genealogy there (though this, like many elements of the Kojiki, if up to interpretation). Just as much a kami as any of the other eight million gods that populate Japan, he is enshrined at Nagahama Shrine along the coast of coast of Izumo, at the western end of the peninsula. Although sacred ropes are common in Shinto practice throughout Japan, this god’s use of ropes makes them a common theme at this shrine on their good luck charms. You know what else ropes can be used for? En-Musubi. Just one more way in which the San’in region finds ways to bind your fate.

Click for source

Click for source

Click for source

Also in Izumo City, there is a Kunibiki Marathon, the 33rd of which was held last month.

Over here in modern-day central Matsue, the very word “Kunibiki” is a common part of life. Kunibiki-doro is a major street leading north from JR Matsue Station, and Kunibiki Bridge is the easternmost of a series of four bridges that link the northern city center to the southern city center over the Ohashi River. Does singer/song-writer Mai Hoshimura ring any bells for anyone? Her song “Kunibiki Ohashi” is named after this very bridge! The music video also makes generous use of footage from the Ichibata Railway and other scenes of Matsue:

Furthermore, Kunibiki Messe is Shimane’s largest full-scale convention and exhibition center, located just across the Kunibiki Bridge from Matsue Station.

Click for source (and other nifty photos of a nifty building)

But this legend has had influence on naming conventions long before that. Way back when this legend was being recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, and for a few centuries surrounded that, the governmental affairs of the region were handled from a district in what is now southern Matsue. This district was known as… Ou!

Yes, that “Ou” which Yatsuka shouted when he declared his work a job well done. Not only does the interpretation of the utterance vary slightly, but the spelling varies as well, and is further complicated by how it was written then and how it was written later on and how it’s even written differently now.

Are you ready for some language nerdiness now? His shout, whatever it expressed, was recorded with the characters 意恵 for the sounds as opposed to their meanings. Phonetically, they were later expressed as おゑ, which may look strange to the hiragana-inclined readers among you. This is because we no longer use the character ゑ (ye) in Japanese syllabary. It’s usually replaced by え (e, like eh) now, which is why the lucky god (and San’in native) Ebisu is usually called えびす, but depending on what beer you’re drinking you might still see ゑびす from time to time. However, in this case, “Oye” (oh-yeh, not oi!) was not usually transcribed as “Oe” but as “Ou” (like oh, not oo) or… “Iu”?

Now we need to get back to the use of characters used for pronunciation, though when it comes to place names, you’ll find the general rules of standard pronunciation for Chinese characters mashed around to fit the Japanese language are not always followed. For our purposes here, it’s not worth trying to make sense of. Let’s just accept that although Yatsuka may have shouted 意恵, the area named after his shout was recorded as 意宇. Although in some place names it would still be read “Ou” in keeping with the desired pronunciation cast upon these unsuspecting characters stripped of their meaning in favor of phonetics, the more common sense reading for them is “iu” (ee-oo).

Still following? Good! Because you find both “Ou” and “Iu” throughout the region. While the district of Ou has been parsed out and reorganized into other little neighborhoods that retain many names passed down from the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, when the area is called “Ou” you’re usually referring to the ancient government center and its ruins and the historic shrines found throughout that area. The aforementioned Fudoki-no-Oka is the best place to go to learn about this, though so far I haven’t visited the indoor exhibits because I was running out of time the day I have visited (having spent too much time that day at the neighboring shrines and folklore village, Izumo Kanbe-no-Sato). On the eastern stretches of good old Ou, there is the Iu River flowing down from Lake Nakaumi.

But what of that forest, made from Yatsuka’s rake?

Well, it’s not so much of a forest anymore as it is a grove of trees, but…

Click for source

This is the main spot everyone is referring to as Ou-no-Mori (“The Forest of Ou”, written with an old character for forest: 意宇の杜), and has a few different kinds of trees. However, perhaps this is isn’t the only spot left over from the rake-forest.

Click for source

Because the legend involves various look-out spots and geographical features throughout the region, you’ll find the word “Kunibiki” everywhere from Mt. Daisen to Mt. Sanbe. Now just think of how smart and cultured you’re going to look when you visit the region with your friends and tell them the myth behind the word they keep seeing? What with all the historical, geographical, and linguistic tidbits packed into these two entries, you can also look like a know-it-all and drive everyone crazy. Have fun!

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.

Reusing old maps? Me? Never. Kamosu Shrine and Shinjiko Onsen are always worth noting even if they have nothing to do with the content of the entry.

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.

A pretty common theme here, you’ll notice. The area is also a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, which I’ll bring up again later in this entry.

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:

I know there is something special about a couple of the larger stones on the floor of the bath, but I’ve completely forgotten what it was.

Not only is this bath shaped like a magatama, but it’s lined with precious stones, too!

While we’re at it, here’s one of the outdoor baths (rotenburo). Not my top favorite among the outdoor Tamatsukuri baths, but very nice nonetheless.

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.

He’s got a protective green stone next to him.

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!

Household objects have been left in the photo for some size comparison.

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.

I am currently on vacation and will return to reply to comments and provide new content later. Until then, please enjoy an excess of doodles and comics about my daily life in the San’in region. See you in mid January!

I love onsen, and am founder and president of the “Hello My Onsen” club here in Shimane. That’s really just a fancy name based on a funny typo for a small group of JET participants who go to hot springs around Shimane together. Well, so far our little club has only gotten together once, but even if we don’t go together, we’re united in the spirit of love for hot mineral water and decorative baths! Not to mention good skin, as Shimane is once again rated as the best prefecture for beautiful skin.

EDIT: Just to make sure this isn’t misunderstood out of context, yes, they are gender-seperate! Like I said, this feels so normal to me now that I forget how weird I used to find the idea.

Although the legend of the White Hare of Inaba (Inaba-no-Shirousagi) takes place mostly in eastern Tottori, the Izumo region celebrates the story in its myth and En-musubi-filled atmosphere. For instance, there are a handful of gift shops around Matsue and Izumo specializing in stones, especially Izumo magatama comma-shaped jewels. These tama were often produced in the region out of local Izumo agate, and are a very characteristic souvenir, so you find them in the major tourist areas–in front of Izumo Taisha, or around Tamatsukuri Onsen (literally “jewel-making hot springs”), Matsue’s samurai street Shiomi Nawate or Kyomise shopping district. However, you never find one of these stores without little stone rabbits sold right next to the array of magatama.

Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)

Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)

Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)

Speaking of Tamatsukuri Onsen, the resort area in southern Matsue is not only lined with fancy hotels, charming shops, and free foot hot springs in the river and its own En-musubi power spot, but it also has little statues featuring legends and characters from the Kojiki, such as this one of Onamuji and the white (or hairless) hare.

“But… but I have no money to pay for medical services. I’m a hare.”

Matsue is full of En-musubi power spots, both old and from only 1999 or so. A more recent example of a spot that everyone visits to collect their luck and take a photo at is along the banks of Lake Shinji on the grass lawn between the Shimane Art Museum and the water. It’s a very, very short walk between this famous spot and the perfect sunset viewing spot, so these “Lake Shinji Hares” get a lot of attention.

Because I see them all the time, both in print and in person, I never think to take pictures of them. The day I did go to take pictures of them, though, my camera was doing something weird and they all got over-exposed. There’s this sense of doom that the hares are taking over.

There is a custom of giving shijimi clam shells from Lake Shinji to the second rabbit for good luck in matchmaking.

“Give… me… your… SHIJIMIIIII…”

I don’t get it either.

The legend is also celebrated with a large statue on the ground of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. Hmmm… but what would little Onamuji be doing at Izumo Taisha?

Click photo for source.