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.


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

As I continue to flirt with starting real tea ceremony lessons in a city steeped in tea culture, I’ve nonetheless been enjoying lots and lots of tea. I am especially fond of the flavor of matcha, a powdered form of green tea picked and processed in such a way that it has a higher concentration of amino acids than its steeped counterparts, and since it is ingested instead of left in a tea bag, it delivers a greater antioxidant punch. That’s not to mention the taste–though it may be more fiercely bitter than other forms of green tea, it has a deeper and more complex flavor profile. As you can imagine, it is an aquired taste, but once acquired life gets that much more enjoyable.

Matcha’s partner in presentation is none other than wagashi, handmade Japanese confectionaries, which Matsue is a well-known producer of. Despite how much I like sweets, these were also an acquired taste for me, as I didn’t exactly grown up eating sweet bean paste. But now I’ve acquired that taste and can appreciate their wide variety of shapes, colors, and ingredients! Not to mention the combination of intense sweetness and bitterness when paired with matcha–it really wakes up the senses.

While I still can’t call myself a formal practitioner of wagashi or tea, I can still try. On a bit of an impulse a few weeks ago, I finally bought myself some matcha for personal use and the tools needed to keep and prepare it (and while I was at it I got a set of napkins and a utensil for eating wagashi so that I wouldn’t be caught without them again!). This was brought on by a brief wagashi-making workshop I participated in, and it also gave me a chance to use the dorei pottery I made in Izumo last fall!

My first homemade tea ceremony! Except that I was both the host and guest, so it wasn’t really a ceremony (not to mention all the tools and steps I skipped). It was simply nice to be able to combine the matcha and wagashi flavors at home.

First, this is the tea bowl I’d like to say I made myself when the other Shimane CIRs and I were having a training period last fall, but it was mostly me making a mess and the far more talented Sensei fixing it for me. The little carved design was my own doing, at least.

This is more so where my brand of creativity lies…

Furthermore, I made the wagashi myself! Well, the shape of it anyway–in the short class I took part in, the sweet red bean paste and soft colored fondant were already prepared by the people who know what they’re doing. There are longer classes available at the Karakoro Art Studio, which I’m sure I’ll try out at some point. This particular wagashi is modeled on a tsubaki (camellia), which is one of the flower symbols of Matsue.

Click for photo source–this variety isn’t blooming quite yet! There are plenty of another couple varieties blooming around town, though.

I could see myself making wagashi more often than making pottery.

The one in the middle (a chrysanthemum, I think, if not a peony) was prepared by the pros ahead of time, but I made the tsubaki and sakura (cherry blossom). They’re not perfect, but they were pretty anyway~

Since I had a couple more wagashi to work with, the next morning I made it again with the cup I bought at the Watanabe open house late last fall.

It was also nice to already have matcha and a few tools on hand when someone gave me gave me a local brand of wagashi, known as 湖の雲, or “clouds above the lake,” a rather sweet interpretation of the famous sunset scenery at Lake Shinji.

Informal though this little tasting experience was, it was worth a haiku:

In warm hues and tastes
Daylight sweetly melts away,
Consumed in brief time.