Horio Yoshiharu (1542-1611) (personal name Mosuke) is the founder of Matsue. To say why, we need a brief overview of the period of history he lived in.

Prior of the long period of peace and development in the Edo era (1603-1868), Japan was composed constantly warring fiefdoms, and notable samurai lords such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda Nobunaga, and Tokugawa Ieyasu gradually gathering enough supporters to become major figures in shaping Japanese history. Their activity eventually led up to the decisive battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and over 200 years of nationwide stability followed.

Yoshiharu was drafted into military service at a young age, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi heard about young Mosuke wrestling with a wild boar. Why he was wrestling with the boar, we can only guess.

These guts proved very useful to Hideyoshi, as Yoshiharu went on to thwart high-profile enemies over the course of Hideyoshi’s campaigns against Oda Nobunaga, and he was awarded land to rule over near Mt. Fuji in the old Totomi Province after major victories. That was how the samurai warlord system worked–if you wanted to rule over multiple fiefdoms, you did so by rewarding the people who serve you. Well-accomplished warriors would rule directly, but still take orders from their overlords. Everyone was happy! If they were samurai, anyway–farmers were probably just happy with whoever wouldn’t terrorize them.

Hideyoshi didn’t live to see the end of the warring states period, though, and after he died Yoshiharu entered Tokugawa Ieyasu’s service, earning property in the old Echizen province facing the Sea of Japan (but still pretty far east of the San’in region). Though he was phasing some of his position over to his son Tadauji at that time, Yoshiharu’s services on and off the battle field were still necessary.

A particularly notable example was at a dinner party he attended with Mizuno Tadashige (an ally) and Kaganoi Shigemochi (a fremeny, if you will–his family had previously served the Oda clan until they surrendered to Hideyoshi and recieved land from him to rule over). Shigemochi got drunk and killed Tadashige, and Yoshiharu therefore killed Shigemochi, thus wiping out the Kaganoi clan and putting the territory fully in Ieyasu’s control. That land would have been in the way of a military manuever enacted soon after, but having Shigemochi out of the way was a big help to Ieyasu.

Though that raised Yoshiharu’s status, he was injured in the battle with Shigemochi, and therefore could not personally partake in the Battle of Sekigahara two months later. Tadauji, however, was present and won honors in his father’s stead. Once Ieyasu took effective control of the country and needed to organize it in such a way that would cement the central government’s control over all the provinces, Horio received his final property to rule over: the Izumo Province.

Here comes Lord Horio, marching through the streets of modern-day Matsue in the annual Musha Gyouretsu (Warrior Parade)!

Yoshiharu and Tadauji hurried out here to the San’in region, stayed in an old castle in present day Yasugi City, and started making plans for building a more suitably located castle. That process is a story for another entry, but you can read about the naming of Matsue right now.

Yoshiharu ruled until he died in 1611, the same year construction on Matsue Castle was completed. He was well-liked and known for having the temperment of a Buddha, and therefore nicknamed “Hotoke no Mosuke” (the Mosuke Buddha).

In 10th month, most of Japan must go without their local kami, because they are all convening for their yearly meeting to decide how they’ll be influencing people in the year to come (more or less on an individual basis). Out here in the old Izumo province, however, we celebrate Kamiarizuki (literally, “the month with gods”) because they gather at Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine).

Having kami around is generally a felicitous thing, so paired with the three day weekend, there were plenty of things to do in Matsue this weekend. I didn’t make it to everything I was invited to, but I fit in quite a bit. You’d think it would be hard to draw a crowd for anything going on because of how much is going on, but there was some giant outdoor gathering for everyone this weekend.

For starters, the Daichakai (“Big Tea Party”). I had been looking forward to this one for a while. Different schools of the tea ceremony set up tents around the castle grounds to do constant introductions of their respective styles.

A little hard to have an intimate ceremony with that many people, but it works.

The way it works is that you buy a ticket (or three), then turn in the ticket at the reception area of whatever style you want to try. They give you a colored and numbered ticket to turn in at the next open ceremony (the color indicates which time slot you have, the number is for organization purposes). There is typically a tent to wait in or observe flower arrangements. Once they start, everyone finds a seat in a rather orderly fashion, and one host prepares the tea while another explains the actions and decorations and characteristics of their style. The first and second guests (typically) receive tea prepared in front of everyone, while the other guests receive tea prepared behind the scenes by other practitioners. Before received the tea, everyone eats a fancy little wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet, which comes in all kinds of clever shapes and colors, and is usually identical in their level of sweetness–as in very, very sweet). In contrast, the tea is usually very bitter, but the contrast is refreshing.

Inside the tents, everyone is seated on a nice clean chair, and the ceremony typically goes pretty fast, meaning they probably serve several hundred guests over the course of two days. Instead of paper cups, in my experience every guest got to use a fancy cup/bowl, since appreciating the tools is also an important element of the tea ceremony.

This is Houenryu, which was very popular. This was more of an east-west fusion, with black tea instead of green tea, and European style China instead of traditional Japanese tools.

I didn’t participate, but I did enjoy the glimpse of tasteful fusion I did get.

I tried Soshinryu first, which served the tea in a more Chinese fashion–a delicate cup filled with loose leaves, which you keep pushed back with a matching lid as you sip the brew. It was served with an orange and pink and purple wagashi evoking maple leaves and filled with anko (sweet azuki bean paste).

After that I tried Fumairyu, the local style started by Fumai-ko. That had a lot of wabisabi influence (this is a rustic Japanese aesthetic that appreciates imperfection), and was a matcha (thick green tea made from powdered leaves), and had an orange and purple wagashi that looked simple like a piece of gyoza, and was once again filled with anko.

The following morning I went out to Meimei-an (the historic tea house), as this is one of the rare occasions when you can actually take part in a tea ceremony inside. It was removed from everything else and hidden away up a hill, so it certainly felt more formal. This was the Musha-Koujisenke, which was also matcha and had a green, purple, and pink wagashi coated in a sticky azuki bean concoction.

Lucky for me, kimono attire was not required. An umbrella would have been nice, though. Ninja rain attacks out of nowhere.

After the Daichakai, we went down to the south side of town for the annual Oden Summit. Oden is a seasonal food, and while there is a usual menu of Japanese ingredients, it pretty much consists of any collection of food items served in a hot broth (usually a fishy kind). It’s not quite like soup–you don’t eat it with a spoon, but take bites of the items and they gush with broth. It’s a bit of a comfort food, if you’re used to it.

This is closest to what comes to mind when I think of oden, though not necessarily shaped like Himeji castle (not a pine tree).

There were several Matsue vendors (with everything from traditional to Italian style), but also vendors from other prefectures (and Korea). I tried a couple traditional varieties and a kimchi one, but the curry flavored oden was my favorite.

After that, we checked out an event that seemed to have something to do with Nikoniko Doga (which is like, the Japanese version of YouTube, only with more active promotion? Does that sound like the best way to put it? I don’t have an account, so I don’t know…). It seemed to be aimed at a younger crowd, but there were plenty of people showcasing products and companies and organizations from everywhere.

While attendees at the Daichakai were dressed in fine kimono and western formal wear, youths here were also putting extra effort into the way they dressed. I liked seeing both styles!

There were performing groups and individuals on stages, and a group learning a dance to a pop song, and some famous (?) people giving autographs who people lined up to meet them, and then some wandering performers.



Practically across the street from the Oden Summit and lining any available space between the art museum and Lake Shinji, there was the Mizube Arts Festival, full of food and craft and clothing vendors, and jungle gyms for kids, painters working on giant canvases, and performers (both on large and small stages, or just on the grass with microphones, costumes, choreographed fighting and dramatic background music).

Also, notice that island in the distance behind the stage? This is one of the only weekends when you can visit it. So I did! But that’s a post for another time.

By the way, the kami aren’t actually here yet. They still meet meet according to the 10th month of the old Japanese lunar calendar, whereas the humans have switched to the Gregorian calendar.