I would hope it’s pretty obvious by now, but the view of the sunset from Lake Shinji is pretty famous for being spectacular, especially around the Shimane Art Museum.

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It’s also well known for wild swans, called “Hakucho” (白鳥, literally “white bird”) in Japanese.

hakucho-boat

Not that Hakucho! Though I suppose that can be a wild ride on a very windy day. I meant these hakucho:

hakucho-birds

…have I never written about shijimi clams?

………how could it be that in over 3.5 years of writing this blog, I have never written about shijimi clams!?

shijimiiii

It might be because they are such a ubiquitous part of life in the San’in region–especially the Lake Shinji area–that I take them as given as good rice. Sure, I’ve mentioned them here and there a lot, but I’ve already given Nita rice its own introduction, so it’s about time I do the same for shijimi clams.

…hmm. Where to start?

Best to start where they do: Lake Shinji.

shijimi2

The early morning sight of shijimi clam fishers on Lake Shinji is a familiar and iconic sight from around the central part of Matsue. The lake is home to Japan’s biggest source of yamato shijimi, and there are so many of them acting as a natural filtration system for the brackish water that they can clean the entire lake in three days’ time. Or was it three hours? I forgot, as it was part of a quiz that a proud shijimi fisher gave me one time when he very enthusiastically shared a lot of clammy trivia with us. To illustrate how fast they work, he said, they have a tank of them near the boarding point for the Hakucho boat tour of Lake Shinji, and before departing they pour a bunch of cloudy, dirty water in, and by the time the passengers get back, they get to see that the water has already turned clear thanks to the hardworking clams.

The hardworking, tasty clams.

shijimi3

Miso soup is a standard part of the Japanese diet, pairing well with almost any kind of Japanese food, and there are limitless in the ways you could prepare it. Here in the Lake Shinji area, that means shijimi soup. There’s no question about it, really. If you go to a fancy restaurant in Matsue or Izumo or Unnan or Yasugi, you’re getting shijimi soup near the end of your multi-course meal of local delicacies. If you go to a more home-style place with a lunch set or dinner set, you’re getting shijimi soup as part of it. If you’re staying over at a friend’s place and they bother cooking Japanese style, you’re getting shijimi soup with dinner and breakfast the next morning. More likely than not, these will all be filled with lots and lots and lots and lots of these little creatures.

Are there other ways to eat shijimi clams, besides in soup? Sure, but I think the only other ways I’ve eaten them were when they were cooked into rice (delicious), and when I prepared them with pasta after I won a huge bag of them and didn’t feel like making soup with them. And yes, it can take some time to get each of them out of the shells with either a pair of chopsticks and some talent or with your tongue and teeth. After so much practice now, though, I don’t usually consider it a struggle. After all, I’ve probably eaten hundreds of these things by now.

Whenever anyone introduces this local specialty product to you, they usually mention–perhaps more than once–how good they are for your liver. Hence, they give people a good excuse to break out the sake with their meals.

They’re hiding in there… and there are lots of them.

If you have a passion for these tiny mollusks you can find out more at Shijimikan, the Shijimi clam center nestled among the ryokan of Matsue Shinjiko Onsen, lining the northeast bank of the lake. I don’t know what you’d find there, though. I haven’t been. Maybe shijimi-flavored ice cream? Actually, now that I think of it, I think I have heard of that.

Even though I don’t exactly have a passion for them, I still find the sight of their tiny black shells familiar and endearing. They wash up along the statue-laden shores surround Shimane Art Museum and lonely island Yomegashima, and I’ve even found some in the parking lot of my apartment, possibly dropped there by the large birds of prey surrounding the city life. It’s considered good luck to leave the shells in front of the second hare statue around the museum (no, I have no idea why), and there are a number of accessories made with them as local souvenirs. They have a bit of an En-musubi meaning to them too, because like a perfectly matched couple, the two halves of each shell will only match with each other.


When introducing Matsue to foreign digintaries, the mayor and vice-mayors frequently mention that Lake Nakaumi and Lake Shinji, Japan’s fifth and seventh largest lakes respectively, are Ramsar Convention Wetlands of International Importance. And seeing as February 2, 2016, is World Wetlands Day, I figured they would make a good theme for today’s post.

I’ve already been busy lately writing an article about them (or more broadly, about Matsue as a City of Water) as part of my series of articles about Matsue in the Asahi Shimbun’s online English newspaper, Asia & Japan Watch, which is included in their From Around Japan feature. For as many basic infobites one could say about them–like that they are both brackish lakes, and the famous islands found on them, and the foods for which they are wellknown–I figured it would be more fun here to write about what they mean to me.

daisen

Lake Nakaumi:
–Home to Daikonshima, land of amazing peonies.
–The view I always get to enjoy on the way to Mihonoseki, or to Sakaiminato or to Yonago or sometimes to Yasugi
–The spotlight of the incredible view I get from Mt. Makuragi (yet have never managed to get my own photo of)
–A part of the wide view while climbing Mt. Daisen (which I also have yet to take a photo of)
–Home to the recently famous “scariest” Eshima Bridge
–Birthplace of Benkei, near-legendary warrior of the 12th century (who was thought to weild a naginata, yeeeeah, rock on, Benkei)
–That lake I don’t see as often because I have to cross a few mountains to get to it

Lake Shinji:
–That lake I see pretty frequently because I live and work right by it
–That lake people go jogging next to
–That lake people set off little fireworks next to
–That lake with the really, really big fireworks display
–That lake where I’ve seen every romantic scene from couples walking hand in hand to musicans strumming on their guitars and singing as if to the ducks
–That lake I eat my lunch next to
–That lake I walk by on the way to the art museum
–That lake with really, really nice lakeside landscaping
–That lake that provides shijimi clams
–And that made it into a viral video about a guy standing there in winter fishing for clams and giving viewers a pep-talk that they should never give up
–That lake you can see from the highway when riding a bus up from Hiroshima
–That lake you can see from viewpoints in Tamatsukuri Onsen
–That lake you can see even better from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen, because the lake is right there outside the windows from the onsen
–That lake you can see from Matsue Vogel Park
–That lake you can walk down and touch from Matsue English Garden
–That lake that looks like an ocean on a stormy day
–That lake where a swam calmly glided along next to me one day while I was out there eating lunch
–That lake covered with all sorts of migratory birds in winter
–That lake with fish jumping out of the water in summer
–That lake with the exciting sunset boatride on a windy day
–That lake that looks like a painting when all the shijimi clam fishing boats are out there on a sunny morning
–That lake that defies being captured well on panoramic shots taken on my phone
–That lake that has the sad “bride island”
–That lake that mysteriously fades out towards Izumo, the heart of the Land of the Gods
–That lake which is kind of famous for its sunsets

When I write about traditional culture here in Matsue, I try to show some amount of nuanced appreciation for the aesthetics and history involved.

Sometimes, however, I just need to be a squealing fangirl for pretty things.

Please allow me to indulge a bit in this entry about a local wagashi shop called Tachibana, located off the southeastern banks of Lake Shinji, very close to the scientifically determined best sunset viewing spot (made obvious by the theater-like steps from which large crowds of people gather to admire the free show), a short stroll further south from the Shimane Art Museum. I had gone there after work one fine Tuesday to go see the Atelier Mourlot and 20th Century Lithography in Paris exhibition, and stopped many times a long the way to attempt to capture Lake Shinji’s late afternoon soft, glittery hues on my phone. A hopeless venture, really.





Upon arriving at the museum, I remembered that it is closed on Tuesdays. Oops.

I wandered around a bit, thought I might check out a restaurant in that area for dinner and then catch the sunset before going home, but I couldn’t spot the interesting looking restaurants I thought I had seen from car windows before. I found myself at Tachibana instead, and it was my second time there. I had been there before earlier this past January for this year’s Hatsugama (first tea ceremony of the new year) in the tea ceremony space upstairs. I was already charmed by this entrance way then in the middle of winter:

But being busy with the ceremony, I didn’t even notice this entry way.

Or this area facing the lake.

I’m glad no one was out there at the time so that they didn’t overhear my squeal of excitement, or exclamation of admiration, or whatever the sound that came out of me was. Forget restaurants, I decided. I was getting some sweets instead and I’d just backtrack to a combini for dinner.

Lately I’m a big fan of jellies (think gelatin, not jam) and yokan, as these aren’t too filling, they’re refreshing in hot and humid weather, and they last a long time so I can purchase them spontaneously but wait to enjoy them until later. That said, there were quite a few to choose from so I went back and forth for a long time before eventually deciding on a brown sugar yokan with kinako (roasted soybean flour–more appetizing than it sounds) topping, and a tomato and peach jelly. As suspected I wasn’t a big fan of tomato as a sweet when I tried it a week later, but the brown sugar yokan was the perfect amount of sweetness when I just needed a light pick-me-up. I would said I’d get it again, but the yokan served in little bamboo-model containers also looked tempting…

Speaking of tempting, I had to keep myself from squealing with delight over everything on display in there, much less splurge on all the other sweets on display as well. After making my I-sort-of-kept-myself-under-control-by-only-buying-two purchase, I asked the lady at the counter if I could take pictures, and when she said yes, I allowed myself to go a little crazier.

Ahem. Please excuse my excitement, but…

LOOK AT ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL NAMAGASHIIIII!!!!!!! I was so tempted to get one of those clear ones to hold up against the sunset scenery!!

And speaking of sunset scenery, look! THEY ALREADY MADE MATSUE SCENERY IN EDIBLE FORM!!!

And look! LOOK!! There are so-o-o-o-o-o many adorable higashi here!!


There are even MORE displays of sweets over here, and–what are those on the wall beyond them? Oh no, they don’t just sell sweet things here, they sell silk things too!! Too much aesthetic, ah, I can’t handle it!!

And right behind you, look, look! EVEN MORE SWEETS—and ceramics, kyaaaa!

I need to calm down. Well, I could certainly do so in the cafe space right there, but what sweet would I even choose to enjoy with some tea there? No, Buri-chan, resist, resist! You already made your purchase, get out of there! You still want to catch the sunset back at the art museum. Ah, but I suppose the view from these windows would be just as—no, Buri-chan, go, go! Get out of there!

I did talk myself out of staying there too long and indulging in wagashi all by myself. It’s not as if I don’t have a history of indulging in sweets all by myself when I’m out and about, but I’d like to avoid doing that too often. Besides the whole saving money and not eating too much sugar stuff, it’s such a waste to eat wagashi all by yourself too often. They’re meant to be a conversation piece. They’re made such that you enjoy them the presense of other people, to observe and appreciate them, and discuss their timeliness as a way of enjoying the moment with the company you have in that very moment.

Wagashi are best squealed about in company. Though we are divided by time and space, thanks for enjoying these with me to the limited extended that the virtual world allows and squealing with me in spirit.

It’s that time of year again, when everyone is getting ready to celebrate their favorite Irish person.

St. Patrick? What? Of course not, he wasn’t Irish.
I’m referring to Patrick Lafcadio Hearn!

Well, not that he was born in Ireland, he was born in 1850 in Lefkada, Greece, as his mother was Greek. After soap-opera levels of complications between his parents he was cared for by his great aunt in Dublin, where he spent a good chunk of his childhood, but he spent most of his life outside of the country. Plus, he dropped the Irish “Patrick” name in favor of his more exotic middle name inspired by his birthplace. Although he was technically one of many, many Irish immigrants to the United States, he never identified much with the mainstreamers, and instead chose to write about the gritty ways of life that countered western white man’s culture. Maybe we’re not so much celebrating a Irishman as we are celebrating a hipster.

Biographers around the world often point out how Hearn never seemed to feel at home and embraced various subcultures and ways of life even if he never quite fit in, and it wasn’t until he came to Matsue and met his wife Setsu that he found his place. His writings about Matsue, Izumo, the Oki Islands, and parts of Tottori in “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (1894) gave him world-wide fame, and he lived out the rest of his days as a respected writer and teacher. Though his attitudes toward Japan became more nuanced over the fourteen years he lived there, Matsue remained a city he loved and looked back on fondly, especially places like the garden of his former residence, which faced the northern moat of Matsue Castle.

The garden is preserved as it was in Hearn's time, as is the home itself.

The garden is preserved as it was in Hearn’s time, as is the home itself.

Not to worry, you lonely hipster, Hearn. Matsue still loves you back.

A semi-official photo of one of the many faces of Hearn found through the city

A semi-official photo of one of the many faces of Hearn found through the city

Besides Hearn’s influence felt throughout the city, the Hearn ties have been binding Matsue cities around the world together in 111 years since Hearn’s time. New Orleans, where he worked for ten years, has been in a lively Friendship City relationship with Matsue since 1994, and in July 2014, the city contributed to the opening of the Lefcadio Hern Historical Center in his birthplace of Lefkada. Matsue has had unofficial ties with Dublin for even long than that, and as a result, there are many people here who enthusiastically embrace traditional Irish culture. Perhaps Hearn never would have expected that his influence would lead to the annual Irish Festival in Matsue!

This year’s festival will be on Sunday, March 8, 2015, and it kicks off with a water parade on the castle moats and then a green and wildly costumed parade through the streets, followed by performances and food. The Shamrock, an Irish pub held in the Karakoro Art Studio Vault, will serve Guiness on tap and Irish dishes to enjoy with the live evening performances on the 7th and the 8th. I have entries posted about the 2013 and 2014 Irish Festivals.

Also, just a little plug for a new book coming out from Harvest Publishing which pairs photos from around the San’in region with Hearn’s writing about them, both in Japanese and English. The book announcement poster is in Japanese, but it’ll give you a sense of the style they’re taking with the approach. The title, “Shoukei,” refers to a longing or aspiration. I made sure to read a handful of Hearn’s books (available for free via Project Gutenberg) before moving here to Matsue and largely forgot about them while making my own impressions, but every so often when I look back at the descriptions, I’m struck by how accurate they still are.

“Roused thus by these earliest sounds of the city’s wakening life, I slide open my little Japanese paper window to look out upon the morning over a soft green cloud of spring foliage rising from the river-bounded garden below. Before me, tremulously mirroring everything upon its farther side, glimmers the broad glassy mouth of the Ohashigawa, opening into the grand Shinji Lake, which spreads out broadly to the right in a dim grey frame of peaks…
“But oh, the charm of the vision—those first ghostly love-colours of a morning steeped in mist soft as sleep itself resolved into a visible exhalation! Long reaches of faintly-tinted vapour cloud the far lake verge—long nebulous bands, such as you may have seen in old Japanese picture-books, and must have deemed only artistic whimsicalities unless you had previously looked upon the real phenomena. All the bases of the mountains are veiled by them, and they stretch athwart the loftier peaks at different heights like immeasurable lengths of gauze (this singular appearance the Japanese term ‘shelving’), so that the lake appears incomparably larger than it really is, and not an actual lake, but a beautiful spectral sea of the same tint as the dawn-sky and mixing with it, while peak-tips rise like islands from the brume, and visionary strips of hill-ranges figure as league-long causeways stretching out of sight—an exquisite chaos, ever-changing aspect as the delicate fogs rise, slowly, very slowly. As the sun’s yellow rim comes into sight, fine thin lines of warmer tone—spectral violets and opalines-shoot across the flood, treetops take tender fire, and the unpainted façades of high edifices across the water change their wood-colour to vapoury gold through the delicious haze.”
Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, The Chief City of the Province of the Gods

Sunrise over Ohashigawa

Sunrise over Ohashigawa


Sunset over Lake Shinji

Sunset over Lake Shinji

The most recent installment of the Kojiki manga I wrote was rather long, but seeing as a lot of it takes place in the Underworld, I won’t be introducing that here (I staying in the world of the living, thanks).

That said, was Susano-o the lord of the Yomi, where his mother he so wanted to see was residing? Or is Ne-no-Kuni a different place? The interpretations of this vary. Some say he took over some sort of job for Izanami in the land of the dead, other say Ne-no-Kuni is different Underworld from Yomi and they just happen to share the same exit (which strikes me as funny that Onamuji/Okuninushi could escape so easily, seeing as Izanagi supposedly plugged that up). I’m inclined to say Yomi and Ne-no-Kuni are entirely different both just happen to be dark places under the normal realm, because although Izanami had become part of Yomi and, being a rotting corpse, could not reintegrate with this world, there was no such trouble for Okuninushi and Suseri. Whatever the case may be, the San’in region’s links to the Underworld(s) stand, and in addition to Yomotsu Hirasaka in southeastern Matsue, there is another cave in Izumo that, at least according to the Izumo Fudoki, claims a link to Yomi.

Back to the world of the living!

trials-shrines

Well, temporarily, seeing as we’re about to discuss the site of one of Onamuji’s deaths. Unwilling to settle for uncreative methods of killing their younger brother, the 80 nasty older brother kami first had him go boar hunting so as to run him over with a burning stone that is said to be a boar. This stone boar just so happens to be enshrined in Nanbu-cho, Tottori, or what would have been the land of Hoki back in the day (right in between Inaba, where they had all traveled to try to wed Yagami, and Izumo, where they were from).

Akaiwa Shrine, which literally means “red boar boulder” (赤猪岩), is dedicated to Okuninushi, and in the back of the shrine they have a fenced off boulder said to have been the one that burned him to death. It’s never said to have crushed him–it was the burns that did it. Such was how Umugi and Kisagai were able to heal him with skin treatments, which some say were based on ancient folk remedies used in real life. We’ll briefly touch of the two of them again in later stories.

Click for source–and more photos!


Here is the infamous boar… or… boulder. Boulders? Click for source, and more pictures!

Boars being boulders is not a terribly strange idea in the world of Japanese mythology. Ishinomiya Shrine, in the Shinji district of Matsue on the south banks of Lake Shinji, is another Okuninushi Shrine with similar features. The origins of the shrine can be found in the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki. Besides generally being an encyclopedia of all things Japan at the time they were written (8th century, same as the Kojiki and Nihonshoki), part of their purpose was to name all of the geographical features of Japan and provide reasoning for those names. We can perhaps assume this takes place once he’s already comfortably living at the foot of Mt. Uka. I’ve paraphrased the story below:

One day, Okuninushi, the lord of the land, went boar hunting with his dog. They were chasing two boars, but then those two boars turned to stone. The dog also turned to stone. The end.

So… cool story?

Beside the name left behind (Shinji (宍道) is derived from Shishiji, “the path the boars took” (猪の道)), we also have more boulders left behind!


It’s hard to tell, but there is quite a drop here–watch your step!


Okuninushi’s dog


Okuninushi’s dog


A boar… looks big enough to feed a lot of kami.


A boar… they don’t always look like this, but Shinji is still known for the boars that live there.

This story highlights yet another animal relationship Okuninushi had–he got along with dogs, too. Although images of Onamuji/Okuninushi with the White Hare of Inaba are the most ubiquitous, he is also frequently associated with rats, seeing as they saved his life. Therefore, some Okuninushi or En-musubi shrines tend to have rats–especially white rats–incorporated in to the art. As seen at Kanayago Shrine, though, they can also signify good luck just due to being numerous. (However, Kanayago, the god(dess) of iron-working, hated dogs.)

Back to the story of Onamuji being repeatedly picked on by his brothers and revived by his mother, when Umugi extracted milk from the clams, that wasn’t all she used–she also drew water from Shimizui–the “pure water well” nearby the site of the red boar boulder.

Click for source–and more photos!

Next time, we’ll look at some shrines associated with Okuninushi’s family (though I am not aware of any dedicated to his nasty brothers–or his saintly mother, for that matter).

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.


This is a short and silly little folk tale from Matsue, around Lake Shinji. Eel is one of the Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji (宍道湖七珍), especially in summer. The birds who make an appearance in this story are also a very typical part of the Lake Shinji scenery.

Photo from Naniwa Honten, one of the more famous restaurants along the banks of Lake Shinji. Click for source.

A long, long time ago, there was an old couple, and one day, the old man said to the old lady, “I’m goin’ out to catch some eel for a tasty dinner tonight. Set up the grill while I’m gone.” With a smile, she saw him off.

He lowered his fishing line into the water and laid back and waited, relaxing at the banks of Lake Shinji. For a long time, nothing happened. A bird circled above him, cawing, “The eels are all asleep! They’re down in their holes! They’re all asleep!” However, the old man paid them no mind and continued to relax and be patient.

At last, there was a tug on the line. “Now I gotcha!” he smiled and sprang to his feet to grab hold of the pole. He pulled and tugged and soon an enormous eel sprang out of the water. “Gotcha!” he shouted as he let go of the pole with one hand to grab hold of its slimy body. As the eel wriggled around and shot itself upwards out of his grip, he grabbed on with the other hand.

Again, the eel surged upwards to try to wriggle free, and as one hand came loose, he grabbed higher.

The eel spurted itself higher. The old man grabbed higher.

Higher and higher.

The old man didn’t even notice when they had gotten so high that his feet had lifted off the ground. Soon enough, he noticed that Lake Shinji was below them, looking further and further away, smaller and smaller, as he and the eel went higher and higher.

Meanwhile, the old lady was starting to wonder what was taking him so long to return home. She grew anxious, then grew worried enough go out and look for him, but she caught no sight of him.

For days, he did not return. With a heavy heart, the old lady thought, “Perhaps he’s never coming back. But where could he have gone?” She began to cry.

At that moment, a large bird swooped down towards her and dropped a piece of paper, which floated down into her hands. Curiously, she took a peek, and saw that it was a woman’s handwriting, yet the words of her husband. It read:

Dear, I caught a big eel the other day, but while tryin’ t’ wrangle it, it shot up towards the sky. I’m still tryin’ t’ catch the dang thing!

Note: Seeing as he is preoccupied catching the eel, your husband was unable to let go and write this message, so I have taken his dictation. Signed, a heavenly maiden.

It’s Golden Week so people have time to travel, which means every pocket of Japan is flooded with visitors right now. Even better, this period of consecutive public holidays coincides with extremely pleasant, picnic-perfect weather.

I can’t stress enough what a great time it is to see peonies at Yuushien Garden while thousands and thousands and thousands more are on display than usual, but as we know, peonies tend to be show-offs, and there are plenty of other seasonal flowers to enjoy at this time.

One of my favorites I hadn’t seen much before moving here was fuji (wisteria, witten as 藤, not 富士 like Mt. Fuji!), and from the highway you can see large purple trees towering out among the forests, and one of my favorite seasonal sweets from Kiharu, a charming cafe inside the Matsue History Museum, is an original wagashi with a delicate fuji motif.

That photo is from the wisteria at Yuushien among all the peonies, but one of the most pleasant and easily accessed (and free!) places to view them is Matsue English Garden, which is what it sounds like: A garden in Matsue designed and maintained in English style, with varying heights and shapes and botanic selections around the meandersome garden paths. Located right outside one of the closest railway stations to Matsue Shinjiko Onsen station (the easternmost on the Ichibata Railway that leads to Izumo Taisha), you can walk right in and go straight to wandering the garden, or there are like displays and exhibitions or fairs going on within the glass-walled hallways surrounding the garden.

englishgarden

On a sunny day, light floods all of the enclosures, including the hot house or the stage area which is home to a couple of giant ficus trees I’m very fond of and some other unusual plants I still am not sure of the identity of. While I haven’t eaten at the restaurant there (but enjoyed ice cream or home cooked treats from food fairs), I imagine it is also well lit as it provides a view of Lake Shinji, which the garden is on the northern banks of.

But the upclose view of Lake Shinji is free, too. There is a grassy green lawn to stretch out or run around on at the southernment most point of the garden, overlooking the lake, or you could take a stroll down to the boardwalk. We held the closing ceremony and reception of the 23rd Japan-America Grassroots Summit 2013 in Shimane in this back area last July, and it proved to be the perfect space to accomodate so many mingling visitors and performances. It’s no wonder people plan weddings there.


But, you know, I live right by Lake Shinji too and have no shortage of good views of it. There is something in bloom all year around (most notably a wide variety of seasonal roses!), so I was there to see plants and English garden design!





And of course, early May means wisteria, which are best viewed from within the tunnels they hang from when arranged in gardens, observing the speckled sunlight and the purple hues in varying rays and shadows.


Miss Artemis from Otaku Lounge is a good model as always!

Those of you with access to them, go out and enjoy some wisteria. After all, in Hanakotoba (Flower Language), they mean “Welcome!” However, be careful! They also mean intoxication, including being intoxicated with love.

Speaking of those of you with access, the furry nanjyamonjya trees at Matsue Castle will be blooming soon!

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.