I kid you not, that is exactly how it happened! I heard the Kodama (tree spirits)! If you have not seen this movie, this is all you need to know:

This would make a great story, expect that I remembered it wrong. Hayao Miyazaki’s movie “Princess Mononoke” didn’t take place in Higashi-Izumo. It took place in Oku-Izumo!

I was really excited about the unidentified sounds and certainly appreciated the five-minute walk through the forest near Yomotsuhirasaka for it, but I thought about it more later and what I remember of the Studio Ghibli film. The geography wouldn’t make sense with the time period, so I checked–sure enough, I was wrong! Oku-Izumo makes more sense, giving the iron production history there. I feel a little disappointed, but whose to say forest spirits wouldn’t spread out to the surrounding areas?

I see a lot of piles of rocks like this in forests around here, and they always remind me of Lafcadio Hearn‘s essay about another Shimane sight, “In The Cave of the Children’s Ghosts”:

From the sea the ribbed floor of the cavern slopes high through deepening shadows hack to the black mouth of a farther grotto; and all that slope is covered with hundreds and thousands of forms like shattered haka. But as the eyes grow accustomed to the gloaming it becomes manifest that these were never haka; they are only little towers of stone and pebbles deftly piled up by long and patient labour.

‘Shinda kodomo no shigoto,’ my kurumaya murmurs with a compassionate smile; ‘all this is the work of the dead children.’

(Buri note: Haka = grave(stone), Kurumaya = driver)

Given the circumstances, these rocks made me think more of Kodama!

…but maybe the nearby neighborhood puppies lived here instead?

Thus ended my charming visit to the gateway to the underworld. Given it’s ties to Yomi, the story of Izanagi and Izanami is rather dark and places associated can be on the somber side, but other Kojiki stories that took place in the San’in region tended to have happier endings. Now that we have this tragedy out of the way, look forward to more love stories and heroism ahead.


The road to hell is lined with good intentions, they say. Good intentions and flowers.

Following Part 1 of the trip to Higashi-Izumo, I took a short hike from Iya Shrine to Yomotsuhirasaka, otherwise known as the entrance to Yomi. There was no chance of getting lost, what with all the signs pointing to the underworld of filth and death (though that being said, there are two ways to get there–I took the spookier route on the way back to civilization).

Once you leave the main road and go up a steeper neighborhood road, Higashi-Izumo gets even more quaint. Who would expect the entrance to Yomi to be among such charming farming villas? Strangely quiet farming villas, but charming none the less.

Then I found Yomi, up the hill and at the end of the forest, next to an eeriely silent pond. There were two or three large orange and white koi swimming very slowly, but the surface of the water was never disturbed. Hmmm. Did Izanami keep pet fish?

And then I entered. Well, not Yomi itself, but the area that seals it.

There is a carved stone to state what the area is, and next to that is a regular-looking tree with an obscure label. It’s none other than the peach tree Izanagi took peaches from to throw at his pursuers from Yomi! Though the time I visited was not the season for peaches, it was looking fairly lively among the deathly atmosphere.

There is series of boulders after that, but I’m willing to bet it was the tallest one that Izanagi used to seal the entrance.

Suspiciously enough, you can walk all the way around this boulders–though Yomi is thought of a cave, these don’t lead to any apparent cave above ground! Was Izanagi’s aim that terrible? Well, I guess he deserves a little credit for moving it in the first place, and we can’t criticize a job half-way done. That entranced is used later on in the Kojiki anyway, so maybe it was Oonamuji’s mother who moved it out of its original place–oops, that’s a spoiler!

I choose the largest boulder based on the surroundings. Similar to how torii signify a separation between the mundane world and the pure space of a shrine, those trees seem a little suspicious. This is, however, just my own opinion and desire to find ways to tie up plot holes.

My spookiest experience of the day came right after I left Yomotsuhirasaka.

Having finished re-telling the story of Izanagi and Izanami, introducing some places associated with them should now make more sense. Some of places have not only been listed in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, but have also been listed in the Izumo Fudoki. The Fudoki was like Japan’s first encyclopedia, written 713-733, and today the Izumo Fudoki is the only one remaining nearly fully intact. That means most of these places are really old and have fairly reputable roots, though it is worth noting the Shinto scholars’ impact in the Edo era (1603-1868) on cementing these places’ claims to Kojiki fame.

Manai Shrine (in red) is a shrine to Izanagi, Iya Shrine (blue) and Kamosu Shrine (purple) are both Izanami shrines, Izanami’s grave on Mt. Hiba (green) and final resting place of her soul on the restricted grounds of Kannoyama (yellow) are both relatively close by, but Yomotsuhirasaka (orange) in the Higashi-Izumo part of Matsue was what I was most interested in visiting.

Simply put, I live near the entrance to the underworld.

I started my Higashi-Izumo daytrip at Iya Station, where there is a friendly little place to kill time while waiting for the train, full of tourist information and ice cream and chatting old ladies and books–lots and lots of old books! This is the NPO known as Higashi-Izumo Machi no Eki: Metora, run by a kind lady happy to make your visit to hell–I mean, Higashi-Izumo–pleasant and well-informed. She named the place after a local kabuki actor from the Meiji era, Oonishi Seitarou, whose stage name was Metora (“Lady Tiger”).

The neighborhood is old and quiet, and definitely feels like a small town (which used to be a distinct municipality from Matsue, until a merger in 2011). It was a pleasant walk with a little Jizo shrine, flowers, and fish to discover–which I found so pleasant that I almost didn’t notice Iya Shrine when I passed by!

Iya Shrine, as stated before, is an Izanami shrine.

That being said, it’s not the most decadent shrine–even is the main building in which she is enshrined is hidden behind a bunch of trees, and the parts that you can walk right up to are very sparsely decorated.

Not that I am complaining–the atmosphere was very other-worldly, as Shinto shrines are set apart to be. Notice the mirror? In Shintoism, mirrors are frequently used instead of idols. Go ahead and take a minute to ponder that. Unlike shrines in more metropolitan areas, the torii here looked and felt old–just like the stone gaurdians at the entrance with their faces worn off by time. The gohei were also noticably unkempt.

Perhaps that atmosphere is appropriate, seeing as it can be considered a shrine of the dead–which I also find highly interesting, considering death is such a taboo impurity in Shinto shrines. Speaking of impurity, let’s take a trip to the entrance to Yomi in the next entry!

How did the city of Matsue get its name?

First, let’s take a look at the kanji: 松江
松: pine tree
江: bay, inlet

It would be too simple to write this off as “Bay of the Pines,” because someone had to think of that at some point. There are two possible stories.

The first took place in 1534, 70 years before the founding of the city, when a man named Oomori Masahide (or Tadahide? we aren’t sure…) from Fukui Prefecture went on a pilgrimage to Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine), and left records of where he had been. He wrote, “On the second day of the fifth month, I reached Izumo’s ‘Bay of the Pines’ (Matsue) area.” This area was likely around the mouth of the Iu River in Higashiizumo, where there were pine planted around the “Brocaded Bay.” The area was named for this scenery.

You can see flying fish in Matsue all the time, but these flying fish only come out once a year.

The Iu River in relation to the rest of Matsue

However, that’s a pretty narrow area, and even today, a good 20~30 minutes drive from, say, Matsue Castle. The other story (and probably more common one) goes that Matsue’s founder, Horio Yoshiharu, was given the following advice (more or less) from his trusted Buddhist monk friend, Shun-Ryuu-O-Shou: “So, Yoshiharu, I was looking at the scenery around Lake Shinji, and it reminded me of the scenery around the Songjiang (淞江) area in China. The character for ‘Song’ (淞) is pretty much like ‘pine’ (松), you know? They sound the same, too! Anyway, Lake Shinji also has the same sea bass and water shield plants that their river does, so I was thinking, you should totally name this place ‘Songjiang’ as well! Just write it as 松江, and it will be pronounced ‘Matsue’ in Japanese instead of ‘Zunkou’ (like 淞江). Cool, huh?”

Most of my research points to this being the modern day Songjiang district in Shanghai. In general, the natural scenery in Matsue still resembles that of southern China. My biased opinion is that it’s more like Hangzhou than Shanghai, though. Since they are Friendship Cities, someone else must have thought so, too.

Either way, the connection between pines and water is pretty clear.