The title is a bit of a mouthful, but the festival itself is quite refreshing–especially considering the free use of onsen facilities although the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen area on the northeast banks of Lake Shinji! The line of ryokan and other facilities all have views facing the lake along the boardwalk.

The onsen are only open for a few hours in the middle of the day, but the festival really picks up in the evening. The purpose of the festival is to give thanks for having the springs in the first place. There is a statue of Jizo, the merciful Buddha often thought of as a patron of children. This is the Oyukake Jizo whereas “oyukake” means that you pour hot water on it, and thus your wishes are granted.

Oyukake Jizo on a sunny day

Oyukake Jizo on a rainy festival night

In addition to the usual street of food and game stalls (as well as toy sales and free sake tastings and what not), there were stage events set up near the line to offer incense and pour water on the Oyukake Jizo. It started raining partway through, but no one seems to mind–umbrellas or not, the crowds didn’t decrease at all.

This festival began in 1974, and it has since become a classic sign of late summer around this onsen area. Besides games and food stalls and stage events and people in yukata everywhere, one of the main draws is cooling off by the lake and watching the fireworks.

The early people waiting for fireworks while the lake is still quiet… I didn’t attempt to take any photos of fireworks this year, but you could always see my Suigosai entry from last year.

Now as for fireworks, I’m afraid they can’t compare to the display put on during Suigosai, the focal point of the summer. This event was supposed to be held August 9~10, but due to a typhoon, it has been postponed until August 30. Usually they fire 3000 fireworks over the course of half an hour on the first night and 6000 fireworks over the course of an hour the following night, but due to this schedule adjustment, they’ll be firing all 9000 of them from 8pm until 9pm!

Everyone, if you can make it to Matsue this weekend, try to find a spot early before everything fills up with people!

And don’t forget, the best Suigosai viewing spots are also around the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen area, and the Ichibata Railway will even be allowing people to view it from a special train car. Well, they’re probably best only next to the view from Matsue Castle, but people had to win a raffle of sorts to get acess to the tower at that hour. Anyway, before or after the fireworks, there is a free foot onsen outside the Ichibata Railway station and the Shijimi Clam Center. The one outside the station has a second Oyukake Jizo to pour hot water on.

I live and work around the northeast bank of Lake Shinji, right by where it feeds into the Ohashi River (which then continues into Nakaumi by cutting through the middle of Matsue). Here’s a bit of trivia: way, way back when, Lake Shinji wasn’t a lake at all, but part of the Hii River! The ancient Izumo flatlands have quite a history of (and culture based around) flooding out there on the west side of the peninsula. Thankfully I haven’t heard of any recent floods!

The boardwalk around that area is a popular spot for joggers, or picnickers like me and my coworkers. Though it’s usually a quiet place to sit (or stretch) and listen to the waves, watch the Shijimi clam fishers at work, or observe the wildlife, last weekend every bit of dry land was covered with people and food stalls. Major roads were blocked off to make way for foot traffic, and only the luckiest few were able to squeeze their way into a lakeside seat (or be lucky enough to have friends who grabbed a spot, as was my case–getting to said friends amoung the crowd was the hard part).

What was the big draw? Matsue’s Suigosai! Otherwise known as the “let’s set off 9000 fireworks over Lake Shinji” festival.

To be more precise, they set off 3000 fireworks for half an hour on Saturday night, and then 6000 fireworks for a full hour display on Sunday night. Fireworks are nothing new to me and I can’t say I’m an enthusiast or anything, but it was probably the best display I’ve ever been to. Besides being so close and watching the reflections on the surface of the lake and the remaining sparks disappear into the water, it was fun being in such a densely packed crowd and listening to the children shout out the shapes that appeared in the sky: “Heart! Smiley face! Watermelon! Umbrella! Circle!!”

At one point, the fireworks seemed to spill off the boat and the sky momentarily went dark. “Was that a dud?” everyone started asking their neighbors, until we noticed softly twinkling lights of various colors floating on the lake. Nice touch!

Seeing as I only had my phone to take pictures with, I’m not aiming to impress anyone with firework photos, and these don’t show the usual height of the fireworks, just the ones close to the water surface. Photos can’t do justice to being there in person at bustling and loud events, after all (cheap excuses, sure–but I was enjoying myself in the moment!).

That said, on less crowded summer nights, the board walk is a perfect setting for lighting small fireworks and playing with handheld sparklers (just hopefully not in as much wind as we did them in).

We were trying to spell “Matsue”… don’t mind my backwards ‘e’.

Fireworks are nice and all, but when it comes down to it, I prefer starlight. Being at sea level with so much moisture in the air, it surprises me how many stars I’m able to see here. The night we all went to light fireworks, a couple of us were lucky enough to notice a shooting star, too.