The hike to Nageiredo is the main feature of a visit to Sanbutsuji Temple, nestled into the mountains of central Tottori. However, there is an array of statues and other little quirky things to keep an eye out for. One of my favorite things about visiting old rural temples throughout Japan is keeping an eye out for all these details.

Some are more or less obvious in subject matter, others are more interesting once you know what they mean. Some are hard not to notice, while others blend in the world around them either for subtlety or because they are such a common sight that you would hardly think to notice.




Jizo, a patron of children (in this case, likely deceased children), surrounded by the Seven Lucky Gods


For the people whose shoes were not appropriate for the hike, they had thick socks and waraji (straw sandals) available.


“Misfortune is something you recognize right away, but happiness is something you do not recognize until its gone.”



I love how much character Jizo statues can have.


The prayer beads make a loud clack when they fall as you pull the loop downwards. This wards off bad luck.


“Rather than the things you do for yourself, the things you do for others wind up being for your own sake.”


Pillars baring names of donors


Hey there, Daikokuten!


That was the main temple area rather than the hiking area, though. Beyond the red gates to hiking route, I only noticed one statue.


I liked his face.

My favorite interesting find was this tree, which was situated at a tight turn on the trail back down the mountain. I was puzzled about the shape until I ran my hand along it as I took the turn, and I noticed it perfectly followed the grooves in the tree trunk. Like the footsteps worn into the stone by thousands of pilgrims, I suspect that this tree has also been shaped by thousands and thousands of hands using it for support.

Just goes to show that dedicated effort, however slight each action might seem, clearly can change the world.

Pretty much anywhere in Japan, you tend you see a lot of Jizo. He’s a very merciful Buddha especially known for looking after children, and there are statues of him everywhere. It’s not uncommon to find them in seemingly random places in the middle of a field or standing in an onsen, outside of shopping centers, or huddled together near temples.

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Although they follow the same basic pattern–dark stone build, pleasant face, red frock and hat–there can be some variation in the poses and styles. Some are solemn, while others are downright chibified. Then you get some strong ones, ready to take on all the burdens of those who seek their aid. Superhero-like Jizo-sama such as these aren’t afraid of anything!

Take, for instance, Genki Jizo, a local hero of Matsue’s Hokki district, striking what is known in Japan as the “guts pose”!

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Almost anyone with any experience using Japanese–or even just living in Japan and not knowing much Japanese–will smile at the sound of the word genki, which slips just as well into English conversation because there’s not really an appropriate equivalent term. The kanji, 元気, could be clumsily translated as “base mood” or more whimsically as “source of spirit” but neither really catches the meaning of the basic greeting, O genki desu ka? “Are you well?”

Appropriately located outside of a center for genki old folks.

Appropriately located outside of a center for genki old folks.

But someone described as genki is not only well–they are healthy, they are cheerful, they are spirited. This isn’t usually only a state, it’s a disposition. Japan doesn’t strive to raise healthy kids, it strives to raise genki kids. It doesn’t encourage friendly greetings, it encourages genki greetings.

And you, readers! Are you genki?

Genki Jizo wants you to be genki!

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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.


Just one variation on an iconic shot.

Despite being Matsue’s most festive month, October is passing me by and I’m not making it to many events due to being busy elsewhere or too busy doing things at the events to hold a camera! That means I have nothing to show for this year’s Little Mardi Gras parade and live jazz events to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Friendship City relationship between Matsue and New Orleans (besides saying it was great), and only have my memories and few photos of last year’s Dai-chakai and Do-gyoretsu Drum Parade.


October is also one of the only times of year when you can set foot on an iconic piece of Matsue, Yomegashima, the only island on Lake Shinji. Stretching 110 meters east to west and 30 meters across, the island near the southeast bank of the lake and looks like a round slab of flat island that flung onto the surface of the water and stayed there. Actually, that is the scientific theory–possibly lava from someplace like good old Daisen? That would make it very similar to Daikonshima, the volcanic island on Lake Shinji’s sister lake Nakaumi that is famous for its peonies.

Yomegashima is not famous for its scientic origins so much as for its legendary origins, though. It is said that a young bride was married off to a cruel family across the lake, and unable to bare it any longer, she decided to runaway and go back home. In her hurry, she took a short cut across the ice that had formed on the surface of the lake, but just as she was close enough to see the lights of her home village, the ice broke and she fell in and drowned in the icy waters. The gods that were watching took such pity on her that they made the island spring forth in her honor. Hence, it is called “Bride Island.”

I don’t know how long it’s been called this, though–back in the 8th century when the Chronicles of Ancient Izumo was being compiled, it was called something more like “Snake Island,” but it was already called “Bride Island” by the time Lafcadio Hearn arrived at the turn of the 20th century.

The poor drowned bride doesn’t always need to be lonely, though! I went just after the rain had cleared on a day last October when they were sending boats out (they did the same this October too, but I was busy!). Local guides explain scientic and legendary aspects of the island to visitors, and then you can take your time to wonder its 240 meter circumference and then stop and enjoy some matcha (because that’s what all the cool people do out here).

The view from the shore


The view from the boat


The view from the island

One of my first impressions when I arrived was how flat it was and that there were shijimi clam shells underfoot. It’s the most famous of the seven (tasty) wonders of Lake Shinji.


While apparently not totally resistant to waves on stormy days (unless those were very athletic shijimi), the island has been protected by rows of Jodei-ishi, designed by Kobayashi Jodei, a famous craftsman of the Matsue domain in the Edo period when Matsue was actively ruled by the samurai class. The material is Kimachi stone, which is still taken today from the Kimachi area of southern Matsue to carve into lanterns are other such decorative items. The Jodei-ishi that surround and protect Yomegashima today are the same stones that were placed there in the Edo era, and photographic evidence from the Meiji and early Showa periods shows that they were also placed around the Sodeshi Jizo, a pair of Jizo statues by the shores which are almost as iconic as Yomegashima itself in Matsue’s famous sunset scenery.


As for some human efforts made to ease the loneliness of the mythical drowned bride, early photographs show that there originally wasn’t much on the island at all, but early in the Showa period a couple of citizens donated a large number of pine trees so that a small forest grows there now. At the front of the forest, facing the sunset viewing spot on shore, is a torii gate so as to dedicate the island as a shrine to the goddess Benten.

I’ve been to the island by boat, but there is also an annual event you can sign up for to walk out to the island. They set up a walkway just below the surface of the water. I’ve missed this twice, but I hope next time both to try it out for myself and see what a trail of people walking on water would look like! With my luck I won’t have my camera with me, though.

The Japanese approach to religion is sometimes a little more worldly than eternity-focused. That’s not to say there isn’t a deeper side of religious practice, as there certainly is a depth and variety of it, but practices like leaving beer as an offering for Buddha are completely normal.

Alcohol is a somewhat universal offering, is it not?

The requests you can make of a Buddha–in this case, the very merciful Jizo-sama–can be surprisingly shallow in light of other religious practices, but nonetheless very popular. There is plenty of scholarly research about Japanese perceptions of beauty and beautiful people which I don’t need to go into here, but suffice to say that people–especially young women–can and do go on beauty tours. One of the places they come to is Tamatsukuri Onsen, on the southeast bank of Lake Shinji.

Our local hot springs--highly recommended!

Shimane is known as the best prefecture in Japan for beautiful skin, but the Tamatsukuri hot springs in particular are known as the Baths of the Gods. Besides mythological records of the Izumo region like the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, we also have the 8th century encyclopedia of the Izumo region, the Izumo-no-Kuni-no-Fudoki (one of the most complete anthropological and geographical records of Japan for that time period), in which these hot springs were described as a place where the young and old alike would party in the baths that kept their skin looking young and pretty. Today it’s not just the locals, but vacationers staying at the ryokan (fancy inns) or just strolling through the area who take advantage of these waters and beauty products made from them.

That’s why signs like this on the outskirts of the ryokan area are only slightly surprising.

“There are lots of BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE around this area, so keep your eyes peeled!”

While the historic shinto shrine, charming shops, foot baths along the Tamayu River and the luxury hotels are probably the things that first come to mind when people think of this area, I thought I’d introduce Seigan-ji, a temple built around the year 1500 and known for its Oshiroi Jizo. It is the 33rd of the 33 Izumo Kannon pilgrimage spots.

More general pictures of Seigan-ji are here (Japanese page), but they don’t have pictures of how to make a very specific request of the Oshiroi Jizo-sama. You start by buying a little prayer tablet, either for your face or your body, on which you write how you’d like to change your body image on one side, and indicate the area on the picture on the other side. You then hang this board next to the Oshiroi Jizo.


After doing so, you apply some white powder to the spot on the Oshiroi Jizo-sama that corresponds to the spot you’d like to change.

The story goes that a high priest did this and the ugly birthmark on his cheek disappeared. People not only do this to remove shallow imperfections, but also for to heal ailments and injuries.

I didn’t do it because I was too flustered with people I knew watching, but as soon as I walked away I suddenly though of everything I would have asked for! Oh well, can’t push my luck. I went home with a little bottle of Tamatsukuri beauty water anyway.

There’s something wrong with this picture–you don’t rinse your hands above the fountain, but in a lower basin next to it so as not to contaminate the water!


I got my bottle for free–and the little old lady taking some for herself was very enthusiastic about the water’s effects.

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!

This is a folk tale from Yoshiga Village, in southwestern Shimane Prefecture. It mentions a Jizo, which can be thought of as the patron Buddha of children (particularly deceased ones). Jizo statues are fairly recognizable, not just for his merciful face, but for the red scarf he wears. Jizo statues are found throughout Japan, and this is only the first of the Jizo stories I’ll be covering. Lafcadio Hearn, a famous author who lived in Matsue in the 1890’s, also wrote extensively about Jizo.

A long time ago, there was a boy whose mother had died. When he was about six years old, his father married another woman, and when his father was away, his step-mother would not let him eat any food. When he was out and about and saw others eating, he would sigh to himself about how tasty the food looked, and then he would return home and ask, “Mother, could I please have some food?”

“No, no, you can’t have any food right now, foolish child. Go out and play, and don’t say such silly things.”

And so he continued to go without food while his father was gone. Again and again he would ask, but to no avail, until one day his step-mother replied, “Fine, fine. If you want to eat so badly, take this riceball and feed it to the Jizo down there. If the Jizo eats it, then I’ll let you have some food. But if the Jizo doesn’t eat it, you can’t eat anything either.”

Overjoyed, the boy took the riceball and ran down to the Jizo. He cried, “Jizo-sama, Jizo-sama! I beg you, please eat this riceball. If you do, then I can eat something too! But… but if you don’t eat it, then I’ll never be able to eat while my father is away!” As he started to sob, the statue reached out a stone hand and took the riceball, with a crunch crunch he began to eat it.

The boy ran home and told his step-mother, “He ate it, Mother! He ate it! Jizo-sama ate the riceball, so I can have some food too!”

However, his step-mother replied, “Don’t say such stupid things! It’s impossible for a stone statue of a Jizo to eat a riceball! No matter what you say, I’m not giving you a thing!”

“I’m not lying!” he pleaded. “Come see for yourself! Get the old lady next door to come see, too! Quickly, while it’s still eating!”

Unable to calm him down while he was making such a fuss, they went along with him and say that the stone Jizo was still eating eating the riceball with a crunch, crunch, crunch.

The boy’s step-mother was shocked. “I’m such a horrible person!” she cried. “I never gave him any food, and told him to feed the stone Jizo even though I knew it was possible. Little did I think Jizo-sama would actually eat it! From now on, I’ll make sure to feed this child!”

From that time on, she always fed the boy, and she began to love him and treat him as her own child.


This is a famous Jizo in Matsue, “Oyukake Jizo.” It semi-literally translates to “the Jizo to pour hot water on.”