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


Ginger has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes across many cultures, and Japan is no exception. In fact, the variety of ginger grown in Izumo’s Shussai region around the bed of the Hii River was mentioned in the 8th century records of the region, the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki. The Fudoki were like encyclopedias of every region of Japan, and were a massive project. Despite the years of work poured into them, most have been lost or are largely incomplete. Only the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki is mostly intact, so we know about 8th century life in this region in the most detail (and on that note, the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, near Izumo Taisha, is a must-see for ancient history nerds).

When I’m not spending winter being a history nerd, I’m spending it whining about the cold. However, since incorporating more ginger into my diet, I’ve found I’m not as bothered. In addition to heating properties, I also drink ginger tea to soothe my throat after days of relentless interpreting or going all-out at karaoke. It tastes a little strong to drink ginger tea straight and it takes some getting used to, but I am a big fan of the local brands–they are so much more potent than the generic ones! You only have to drink it once when you have a bad cold to be a believer.

This is because Izumo Ginger–more properly referring to as Shussai Shouga–is like ginger with a power-up in both health and taste. This might make you think of a burly root that looks like a body builder, but it more so resembles a young maiden. The color is fair and the fibers are finer than they are in other types of ginger, making for a softer texture when used in recipes.

Click for source.

No one knows for sure why the ginger grown around this spot is super ginger in a pretty package. Some think it’s because of the properties of the soil or the waters of the Hii River floating in from the Chugoku Mountains on their way to Lake Shinji, but even the farmers aren’t entirely sure.

This spot is very close to Yunokawa Onsen, one of the top beauty onsen of Japan. Therefore, the Michi-no-Eki (like a rest stop and local products center rolled into one) is filled with ginger products–everything from ice cream (no surprise) to cookies to curry. Mmm, curry. Yum. The thought is that taking a dip in the onsen and enjoying cooking with the ginger warms you up through and through, and the warm and fuzzy feeling is aptly described by the Japanese onomatopoeia: poka-poka~~

I live closer to Matsue Shinjiko Onsen instead, and with it the furthest east station on the Ichibata Railway line, Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station. There is a cafe facing the taxi stand called “Gallery Fleur.” This is my recommended spot to chill (or warm up) while waiting for a train to Izumo.

This is where I go for ginger curry. I repeat: yum.

While I’m still on the topic of ancient history, Japan is often criticized for not having much in the way of cheese, but they already had their own version of cheese back in the 8th century–and I bring it up because it’s one the menu here. It was called so, was soft and slightly crumbly and full of protein, and had a slightly sweet taste. It’s usually much darker than this. Even though I tend to be apprehensive about offensive cheeses, my inner history nerd could not pass up the desire the try it. This felt like a large serving, but it was alright. It reminded me of other cheeses and yogurts, but it’s hard to compare to anything specific.

Fleur also sells an array of decorative items (the layout is different every time I go), and a number of Shussai Shouga products, including the ginger tea I like available by the single pouch instead of in bulk like it would be sold in local product centers and gift stores. The lady who runs the place is very nice and frequently throws in something extra, like ginger candies. They also have a lot of information about Ichibata Yakushi Temple and the Izumonukuni Shinbutsu Reijyo pilgrimage, which combines both Shinto and Buddhist sites.

You can find Shussai Shouga candies, baked goods, teas–or even ginger wine!–at retail-centric places, or purchase the ginger stalks and root whole for pickling in soy sauce as a topping to go with rice. Although I prefer the straight ginger-flavored products, there is a type of ginger red tea in tea bag form that makes me giggle: “Izanami‘s Tears.” I guess being an inhabitant of Yomi made those tears pretty spicy.

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

February 3rd was Setsubun, a holiday in Japan to mark the changing of the seasons and ward off bad luck to make room for good luck. Even my tea ceremony lesson room is decorated with a painting of a sad and comical looking oni. This creature of Japanese folklore is sometimes translated as “demon,” but I prefer “ogre” as sometimes they’re more misunderstood than evil. On Setsubun, the basic practice is to have a member of the household wear an oni mask and the other members of the household chase them around throwing dried soy beans at them, shouting “out with the oni, in with the luck! Out with the oni, in with the luck!” Then everyone eats however many beans for however many years they’ve lived–an 8-year-old would stop at eight beans, but an 80-year-old would have to eat eighty of them.

This was how I celebrated my first Setsubun last year, just hanging out with friends.

However, Setsubun can be a big deal for many shrines and temples, too. In Matsue, the biggest Setsubun festivities are at Kumano Taisha. Like Sada Shrine, it’s historically had a strong influence on the region and has close ties to Izumo Taisha.

Kumano Taisha, Matsue

This is one of the famous shrines dedicated to Susano-o (he’s a pretty big deal in the San’in region). Not only did he rid Japan of the terrible Yamata-no-Orochi, but he taught the earthy inhabitants of the lands how to create fire using tools. Hence, Kumano Taisha is known as a special place for the spirit of fire, and is also famous for its Sanka-sai Fire Festival in mid-October. There is an auxiliary hut on the shrine grounds dedicated to this, known as the Sanka-den.

Speaking of auxiliary shrines, Izanami–both considered Susano-o’s mother and the mother of many other lands and gods–who was killed giving birth to fire has a pretty sizable one here. She’s also kind of a big deal in the San’in region.

Ah, and those vermillion torii gates mark a spot for Inari, too. Commonly known as the fox god (though not necessarily a fox), this kami is thought to provide good harvests and riches, and the Matsudaira clan that ruled over the Izumo domain through most of the Edo period was especially dedicated to him (but sometimes argued “her”). One of the old men at the shrine this day awaiting the Setsubun festivities excited asked if I could read the sign over there. “Do you know this kami? It will give you lots of money! Haha!”

So just what were some of the festivities going on? Setsubun is like the sequel to the Hatsumode New Years visits, with a special emphasis on making sure you’re totally rid of all the impurities or bad luck or illness or disasters that piled up over the course of the previous year. It’s sort of like resetting your luck to start with a clean slate. As part of that, old good luck charms from the previous year are deposited at the shrine to be burned.

Some of the faithful pay to undergo a purifying ritual before the main event starts, while others just make their offerings and say their prayers.

Alcohol is useful for purifying things, so sake is served.

And household hygienic products are useful for similar illness-warding measures, so upon arrival everyone was given a lottery ticket to see what kind of cleanly item they would get to take home. I got soap-scented toilet disinfectant.

As the people gathered in anticipation, I overheard some interesting conversations. Some of the people who received big boxes of tissues complained, “how am I supposed to catch things while I’m holding this?” A man had brought his adult daughter who kept her hoodie on in the light rain, and demonstrated while he suggested how they should dive for fallen items in the crowd. She just have him a flat “no way” in response. Someone who seemed to be in-the-know instructed a guy with a camera about angle the first item would come and where it would hit the crowd. However, no one looked as fired-up as the elderly people, who turned out in the greatest numbers. That may have been because it was a weekday, it may have been because they’re really serious about their Setsubun and have years of perfecting their prize-catching techniques.

The sounds of the drums and flutes within the shrine grew louder, and the priest and the procession of dignitaries wearing traditional Japanese garb on top of their business suits entered the auxiliary hall beside the main hall. The prizes started with an arrow, a traditional good luck charm to pierce through evil influences, shot out into the audience at precisely the angle and distance I had overheard predicted, and people scrambled for it like a home run ball in a baseball stadium. A second arrow was fired after that one.

Then the mayor of Matsue Masataka Matsuura (say that five times fast–I do quite a bit when I’m interpreting) and other dignitaries starting tossing bags of dried soy beans (mame) and small pounded rice cakes (mochi) things got crazy. I couldn’t help but be reminded of our Friendship City, New Orleans, and the shouts of “throw me something, mister” at Mardi Gras. Sure, the scale was different, but the seriousness in catching throws and pocketing as many as you could was perhaps just as enthusiastic. The old people had to make sure they’d take home enough mame to match their years, after all!

As for the mochi, it was still edible but had grown a little hard by then. You know how I know this? Just as I was thinking, “hmm, this is perhaps a little scary” I got smacked in the forehead with a bag of them. Somebody snatched that bag before I could, though. It didn’t hurt, but it was a little red after that (which thankfully cleared up before the TV news crew interviewed me later. I tend to be reporter bait at these kinds of events). At last when the man in front of me bend out to pick something up, I was able to snatch the bag that was on his back, and then I retreated for a better view.

I’m not sure how long it lasted, maybe only ten minutes or so, but they went through a lot of mame and mochi in that time.

When being interviewed on my thoughts later, I was asked what I wished for this year. What? I was still supposed to be making wishes? I just wanted to get my mame! One of the reporters filled in with a typical local catch phrase, “Maybe some En-musubi?” “Uh… sure, yeah!”

Too bad those poor oni don’t get to make any New Year wishes.

Izumo Taisha is famous for hosting 8 million gods from around Japan for their annual meeting during Kamiarizuki, but for every big conference there’s always a lot of spillover into the surrounding hotels. Actually, some records indicate that the gods may have been gathering at Sada Shrine before gathering at Izumo Taisha!

While the gods are absent from the rest of Japan and hanging out here in the Izumo region, they discuss romantically (or platonically) thrilling En-musubi, but when they gather at Sada Shrine in northwest Matsue, it’s for a purification ritual to ward off bad luck. It’s also as though they’re stopping by to visit the final resting of their mother, seeing as Izanami‘s tomb is located nearby on Mt. Hiba.

Speaking of Izanami, she’s one of the 12 kami enshrined here. It’s not uncommon for shrines to be dedicated to more than one kami, but it’s uncommon for them to have three honden (main hall which house the deities, normal people are not allowed in here!). While this shrine was likely originally designed with one honden, the north and south shrines were added later on to accomodate more gods, likely by the end of the Heian era roughly eight centuries ago. While Izanami and Izanagi are in the central shrine with Sada-no-Okami, the bickering siblings Amaterasu and Susano-o are seperated in the north and south honden respectively.

The current shrine architecture has been around since 1807, and have since been deemed Important Cultural Property. Like Izumo Taisha, it’s built in Taisha-tsukuri style architecture. While Izumo Taisha is the typical example, there are variations on the layouts of these kinds of shrines, and many of them (such as Kamosu Shrine, another Izanami shrine) have been quite famous and/or influential throughout history. Like shrines throughout Japan, they may have auxiliary shrines dedicated to other gods throughout the premises, and worshipers are typically not allowed to enter center parts of the shrines without permission, a good reason, paying money, or some combination of the three. Instead, you leave your offerings in the designated spaces, clap your hands, and then don’t get in the deities’ personal space.

Click to view larger version.

Click to view larger version. I’ve indicated where visitors go, and where the holy objects go while the shrine is under reconstruction.

Click to view larger version.

Click to view larger version. Note the four-square layout of inner shrine, a characteristic of Taisha-tsukuri shrine architecture.

As for that personal space, what’s there? It varies according to each shrine, but quite often there is a holy object. As opposed to idols signifing the physical appearance of the kami, one of the oldest items still used today is but a simple, circular mirror. At some shrines, such as Iya Shrine, these are in plain site from where you make your offerings. As for Sada, it happens to be home to Saiehiogi, one of the oldest paintings on a fan screen in existence.

Since the honden is a dwelling place for the gods and Sada welcomes millions of them, the floors must be kept clean. Hence, there is a ceremonious changing on the tatami mats every year. And by ceremonious, I mean song and dance known as Sada Shin-Noh, better introduced by way of a video. This is UNESCO intangible world heritage, a Noh-like performance that has a strong influence on the more sprightly performances of Kagura dance.

Performances are broken up over two nights, the first being more subdued, the second being more energetic. I’ve watched the first, but did not have permission to take photos (and wouldn’t have gotten good ones anyway). Hence, here are some photos of the empty performance hall during the daytime.

Excluding the interior of the honden, I did have permission to enter part of the inner shrine recently to see the reconstruction process on the roof of the southern honden. Pictures are in this entry.

A quick explanation and purification rite before we begin…

…and up we go.

I’ve passed by Suetsugu Shrine countless times, but never ventured inside.

This little shrine is dedicated to Izanami, and was recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki (Chronicles of Ancient Izumo, 713-733 AD), hundreds of years before the founding of Matsue as we know it today. It used to be on Mt. Kameda instead, but when the city was being laid out, Horio Yoshiharu had it moved to the Chamachi district and named the neighborhood after it (these blocks are still called Suetsugu today, though they use a more modern, abbreviated kanji compound to spell it: 末次 as opposed to 須衛都久). Many people visited Chamachi to pay their respects to the ancient shrine, but after it was damaged in the flood of 1674, the ruling Matsudaira fuedal lord ordered it moved to it’s present location a little further from the banks of Lake Shinji.

The edges of this shrine are covered with all kinds of plants–it looks different in every season when I walk by it.

Nobody’s here except for me in in the reflection, and Izanami hidden out of sight in the honten beyond this space!

The omikuji fortune slips are only 20 yen here, and sold on an honor system. Drop in your change, then reach in and grab one.

This shrine is seldom visited enough that can tie your fortune slip directly to the shrine building instead of to a fence or tree branch.

Good old Taisha-tsukuri style! But what is that under the honten?

Why, it’s a horse… of course.

What I’m really curious about is what used to be here that these gaurdian dogs are still faithfully protecting. Holy trees are pretty common in Shinto worship, but now maybe it’s holy flowers growing out of this very large holy stump.

She’s seen better days.

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)!