One day, a friend asked me to go to Manai Shrine and Rokusho Shrine with her.

What? I thought. Usually I’m the one asking people to drive me out into the countryside hunting for mythological shrines.

Naturally, I agreed, as these two have been on my visit list since I wrote that first Kojiki manga about Izanagi and Izanagi. Manai Shrine is up a long flight of stone steps and quietly hidden away against a mountain, which made it strike me as a counterpart shrine to Kamosu Shrine, which is dedicated to Izanami and located in the same general area. Rokusho Shrine was located directly next to the local Izumo government offices back in the Heian period, so it was used as an organizational base for all the shrines in the area.

All three of them have the same crest, the character 有 (ari, “to have”) inside of a tortoise shell. The tortoise represents longetivity and is therefore lucky, while 有 is made up of the characters 十 (“ten”) and 月 (“month/moon”), which, when paired together as 十月 mean “October” (or at least, they referred to the 10th month of the agricultural calendar beforehand, but that’s been a mess since the Gregorian switch). Of course, the 10th month is special here in the Izumo region. While it is traditionally referred to as Kannazuki (“the month without gods,” written 神無月 (gods-nothing-month)), only here is it referred to as Kamiarizuki (“the month with gods,” written 神在月 (gods-exist-month), but can also be written as 神有月–there’s that 有 again!). This is because the 8 million gods from around Japan congregate at Izumo Taisha during that time.

Back in the old days…

We visited Manai first, and found it quiet and sparse, in a refined sort of way.

Rokusho turned out a bit more interesting, as we found the remains of some recent festival. “Nan darou…” we both trailed off many times as we noticed things around the shrine, the straw weavings and the gohei (paper streamerson small sticks) left around the trees. “Nan darou… I wonder what this is…?” We found other little things, such as a handwashing font partially hidden under the trees at a back entrance, a boat possibly for use on the nearby Iu River, and a basketball hoop. “Nan darou…”

What really brought my friend out to those southern hills and valley at the outskirts of Matsue was not the shrines so much as the Manai Waterfall, which the nearby shrine was named after, and is said to be holy water with healing properties. It is about three meters high, and nestled away up into the hill, and we made a few rounds around the neighborhood following a handful of different maps trying to find it. “Doko darou… where could it be…” we said over and over.

We asked directions from an old lady taking a break from her gardening who answered us in very thick Izumo dialect, and later on we asked directions from an old man with a dialect almost as thick. He was cheerful and helpful, but trying to be those things sometimes comes off as discouraging. “You’ll see that sign for the soumen shop, and it’ll be right up behind it, you can’t miss it! But nobody’s used it for years, they don’t make nagashi-soumen there anymore. Nobody bothers with the waterfall anymore. It’s nothing much. But yeah, there’s a parking lot, and you’ll find the waterfall right there! It’s too bad about the soumen…”

Little did we inner-city dwellers know about this supposedly famous nagashi-soumen (soumen is a type of thin, white noodle, and when served nagashi-soumen style it slides with water down a bamboo shoot and you try to catch it as it goes by–a popular thing to do in summer). I saw one big sign for it by the road as we passed around the tiny neighborhood and the hill a few times, but mistakenly thought it was referring to the building it was fixed to instead of to the little abandoned stall we found by the other sign the old man told us to look for.

The view from the parking lot

As soon as we stepped out of the car, we heard the sound of water, and found its source much sooner than we expected. Filled though the neglected pond was with fallen leaves, the water was perfectly clear.

“Maybe we should wash our hands with it?”
“A rinse couldn’t hurt.”
“You think it’s safe to drink? Dou darou… I wonder…”
Dou darou… maybe fill your water bottle and then take it home and boil it?”
“Ah, good idea.”
“What will you do with it?”
Nan darou…
“I wonder if it works. Dou darou…
Dou darou…

I took a look around the forested area and noticed this little sight next to the pond.

“Hey, it’s an Inari statue… hhm, the head’s fallen off. That’s unsettling.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

And then we found another by a tree behind us.

Nan darou…”
Nan darou ne…”

Beyond the tree, there was a little blocked off clearing of mysteriously placed rocks, and the carved ones were not legible.

“I wonder why we can’t go here?”
“I wonder if there’s something buried.”
“I wonder what it says.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

Neither of were particularly wary, merely curious. We stood and looked up at the branches and fresh spring leaves high above us, rustling in the wind on that cloudy April afternoon. The light and sounds were different in that space from the sleepy neighborhood and rice fields below, the forgotten gathering spot for catching noodles sliding down the supposedly holy water.

“That’s pleasant.”
“I’m glad we found it.”
“Yeah, me too.”

We went on trading our darou‘s throughout the rest of that shrine hopping afternoon in the southern stretches of Matsue, and the heart of where the Izumo region used to be ruled from.


Continued from Part 3

Refresh yourself on their story here.

Okuninushi’s troubles with Susano-o start here.

We’ll end here on that ambiguous note for now, but there are still two more stories to come!

In the meantime, we’ve got some explaining to do about all these mysterious identities, as all of them are wrapped up into the local San’in culture.

Learn about the sites and culture associated with this legend!
Daikoku and Ebisu, the lucky gods
Ebisu’s home, Miho Shrine

Or start reading the next story!
The birth of Sada-no-Okami
(Or keep reading to the conclusion of Okuninushi’s story)

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

One of the specialty products of Matsue is 八雲塗 (Yakumonuri), aka Yakumo Laquerware. Laquerware has been popular in Japan since the Edo era, as the craftsmen typically were hired to make speciality dishes and utensils for the samurai (the top of the social food chain–though not always the most wealthy!). Around the start of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), one such craftsman named Sakata Heiichi invented the Yakumo method (named after a town south of Matsue, which has since merged with Matsue).

This method requires a series of applying laquer layers and decorative powders (such as gold or silver), and polishing said layers. It requires about ten years to learn. One of the things that makes Yakumo laquerware special is that with time, the gloss becomes more translucent and the colors become more vivid. In 1982, it was designated as a Shimane Traditional Local Craft.

Not that I can tell you much more than that! I’ve found that my talents lie more in 2D art than in 3D art, so I’d best leave this to the masters. While I can’t tell the difference between someone who has mastered the art of laquerware and someone who is simply much better than I am, there are plenty of laquerware artisans in the area.

On an outing to Hirata (an old town facing the Sea of Japan that has since merged with Izumo), I stumbled upon the Shitsugei no Watanabe monthly art show. While Mr. Watanabe himself has been producing laquerware since he was a youth, Mrs. Watanabe gathers works from several local artists and hosts these shows from their home/workshop.

The entrance and welcome sign

The garden in late November

This is the true meaning of an open house, isn’t it?

A selection of chopstick rests

Lots of art to welcome the Year of the Snake

Watanabe-san even had coffee, tea, and a few fine dishes to serve her guests! Sweet red beans, daikon radish, konyaku (a gelatin-like block made from potatoes), fish cakes, and orange peels might not sound appealing to Western palates, but I found it rather nice and a step above everyday fare.

There were more dishes to be found in Hirata than just that! All around the neighborhood, there are lifesize displays of scenes from the Kojiki, sculpted out of dishes!

Look! It’s Izanagi and Izanami being creative!

That’s enough about dishes for now. For now!

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!

Continued from Part 5


Here ends Izanagi and Izanami’s tragic love story, though the siblings have plenty of battles ahead of them.

Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
Iya Shrine
Yomotsu Hirasaka (the gates to Yomi)
Kamosu Shrine
Manai Shrine

Or start reading the next story!
Start reading Susano-o’s story and how he fought the Yamata-no-Orochi.

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

Continued from Part 4

Continued in Part 6 (the conclusion)!

Continued from Part 3

Continued here in Part 5!

Continued from Part 2

Continued here in Part 4!

Continued from Part 1

Yes, you could think of Yomi quote simply as “hell”–as in, the place everyone is doomed to go to once they leave the world of the living.

In same ways, being in Yomi is like still being alive, because you have a body and there is food to eat, but unlike the living world, it’s unclean and filled with not very handsome creatures. In Shinto, cleanliness is practically a moral code, so that makes it a despicable place.

Continued here in Part 3!