As part of my ninja romp through the obstacle course at Adventure Forest in Gotsu City, I also checked out Arifuku Cafe in the Arifuku Onsen area. It’s one of three places in the very charming, tiny townscape that I wish I would have saved more daylight to walk around and take pictures of. I sort of blame the cafe, because even for having only seen a tiny portion of the stylish amenities, my friend and I stayed there a long, long time, completely swept up in the quiet, relaxing atmosphere and our conversation.

Here in the regular cafe space, there are some roof tiles to write wishes on. The Iwami area–that is, the western block of Shimane Prefecture–is a well-known spot for producing quality rooftiles.

You can enjoy a view of some of those roof tiles by sitting outside with your feet soaking in a little basin of hot onsen water, which flows throughout the little town area and sends steam up from the streams.

Ah, the charming townscape.

But what’s back through that door?

An indoor hall of rooms, behind which are the decorated rooms with beds which you can rent out for nighttime or daytime use.

And parallel to it, an outdoor hall with doors leading to the onsen rooms named after the Seven Lucky Gods, rented out by the hour for private use.

These make a great little introduction to onsen culture for visitors to Japan who are shy about bathing with strangers, and who don’t want to pay for a full ryokan experience. The sizes of the rooms and characteristics are reflected in the prices (the lowest ones run 1,500 yen per hour for one to two people), and not all have access to the outside. Even the indoor ones, however, are situated by sunlight windows. The bath water, naturally extremely hot near its source, can be adjusted with cold water to suit your preferences, but the natural light and wood tones give it a warm atmosphere as well. The pH 9.0 water is known for its cleansing properties and gives your skin a soft and springy texture like rice cakes.

After a dip in the onsen, my friend I thought we’d just get drinks in the cafe and then be on our way, but as I mentioned before, we stayed quite a while. I specifically chose the chairs I thought I’d be least likely to get cozy in and doze off in, but we got too comfortable anyway! Along this cafe is supposed to be a good spot for specialized coffee roasted with bamboo charcoal, my friend went with a hot cocoa and I went with a ginger ale with a generous amount of very tasty fruit.

For being a relatively small city, sandwiched between Hamada and Oda, Gotsu has no shortage of stylish and satisfying cafes or fancy onsen facilities. Kaze no Kuni Onsen Resort was also a favorite!


Way out along the mountains overlooking the beaches of the little town of Gotsu, there are ninja lurking in the forest…

…or at least, you’ll feel like a ninja as you make your way through “Adventure Forest,” an obstacle course that is free for both children and adults to use, and provides a good workout no matter what your age. There are occasional challenges in addition to the course of 20 local mythology themed (or at least, name-inspiring) obstacles, and although there are detours for all of them, where’s the fun in that? I did them all and had a great time, but I wish I made use of some of those small muscle groups more often–they get so overlooked when you’re not climbing ropes or scaling trails of logs!

One hot summer day in July, my Forest Therapy in Iinan-cho began with waking up in a hotel called Mori no Su, a stylish “nest in the forest.” The food had been imaginative and delicious, and the night had been comfortingly dark, save for the active fireflies around the windows. The warm tones of the interior, the woven design of the furniture, and the understated calmness without distractions like televisions and computers made it feel like a comforting place to nestle into the forest, breathe deeply, and let go of my stressors.

This put me in the right mind set for the guided Forest Therapy that Iinan-cho specializes in. Our guide brought my attention to little things I often overlook in the woods. We learned about different kinds of trees and shrubs, and I found myself looking for new little mysteries among the dirt and greenery. What sort of bug had made those bubbly nests? What sort of flowers was that fragrance coming from? I could hear many kinds of birds, to my chagrin I could not spot a single one among the lush ceiling of leaves. No matter, I thought as I swayed in a hammock prepared in advance for us. Nature is not about seeing everything; sometimes it is about closing your eyes.

What a wonder, though, that nature provides so much for us! Oxygen, raw materials, and food. I was struck later by how much I take that for granted when we went fishing for yamame (landlocked salmon). A little pool was filled with them, and fishing lines and bait, charcoal pits, and experienced fishermen were all immediately available to ensure that even the most inexperienced of fishers could catch something. I count myself among those fishers.

My friends pulled out fish after fish, it seemed, all healthy and wriggling at the ends of the lines. The fish at the end of my line, however, were healthiest. By this, I mean they all got a free lunch and swam away.

Soon, all of my friends were waiting for me in the shade as I continued to let after fish after fish get away. I was ready to forego a fresh-caught lunch, but my more experienced supporters stayed with me—going so far as to prep the bait on my hook for me, and coach me through the whole process. Unluckily for one single fish, I was at last successful.

My sojourn in the depths of nature was certainly pleasurable, but perhaps I need more practice before I can be a little more self-sufficient. For now, I will happily accept all the pampering and coaching the locals provide.

[Originally published on Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan, but I have embellished a bit on the photos here. All photos were used with permission.]

(Note: This article was also published on the official Shimane tourism website, Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan. All photos were used with permission.)

As much as I have always loved clear mountain streams, green forests, and fresh air, I never thought I had much of an interest in straw. The bright green rice paddies this time of year are charming and Shimane’s rice is delicious, but their dried remains? Although I expected to enjoy the nature, cuisine, and onsen of Iinan-cho, I was taken by surprise by how fascinating long strands of dried rice plants can be. Granted, the 16 meter shimenawa at the Kagura-den of Izumo Taisha has always been my favorite part of the shrine, so perhaps I should have taken an interest sooner in the amazing things that can be done with simple materials.

We started our visit to Ohshimenawa Sousakukan, where the shimenawa at Izumo Taisha is constructed, by making small shimenawa charms to take home. In my daily life I mostly do computer related work or create two-dimensional art, so it was a step outside of my usual activities which required me to pour my energy into a material I had always overlooked.

Even more engaging was when we all worked together to weave a giant shimenawa destined for a shrine in Hiroshima. I literally felt the full weight of the amount of work that the artisans there had already poured into assembling so many individual straws! I may have broken a sweat twisting the ropes (which I could barely fit my arms around), and carrying them back and forth as we wove them together and it took shape. The hard labor made the finished product all the more satisfying. It was one of the most unique and memorable experiences I have had in Japan yet.

The little shimenawa I was so proud of is now hanging in my room, a reminder to step away from my digital life, breathe fresh air, and note the wonder in simple things.

Samurai. Horses. Feats of martial prowess. Sounds like a good time to me.

Especially if it involves period dress, you can bet I want to be there. I don’t often see processions in Kamakura style outfits, so that made me very excited!

This is Yabusame, a horseback archery started first for keeping warriors sharp in times of non-war, and continued in many spots throughout Japan today for the entertainment of the gods. However, Tsuwano is home to one of the oldest Yabusame ranges still in use, making it one of the more impressive places to see this event as well. (I’ve also seen Yabusame at a neighborhood shrine festival and it was… not as riveting, to say the least). You can read more about its history and practice in these articles:

“Tsuwano Yabusame Festival” by Jake Davies
“Witnessing the ancient yabusame ceremony in Tsuwano, Japan” by Clyde Holt

I’ll write more about my experience!

It was the second week of April, so many of the cherry blossoms had already fallen, but many were still scattering–enough that I found a few in my bag and in my hair. The weather was between warm and cool throughout the day, and it was a good day to stand outside for an outdoor event. Unlike other Shinto rituals I’ve stood outside and waited for, this one started right around the time it was promised (once at 11am, and again later at 2pm).

It started with a procession of the horses, warriors, and various footmen and attendants. They walked one way down the track, and then back up the other way.

These outfits are called “Suikan” and I love them.

There was a bit of a crowd, but it was easier to see the whole thing than I expected it would be. It’s a very long track, which provided the crowd lots of space to disperse, and there is a slight slope along which people in the back stand to get a few over people’s heads. There are three targets down the track to stand near and watch, so as far as crowded Shinto rituals are concerned, this one provided a number of good vantage points.

With no time wasted, they began having archers-both men and women–ride their horses down the track every few minutes. That means, with my cheap old point-and-shoot camera, I had plenty of chances to snap pictures. Which is good, because many times I didn’t get a photo until the horse was already long gone.

By each target, there was a group of people dressed like this. If they hit the target, the guy with the stick would raise it in the air.

The arrows had big, blunt tips that made big thumping sounds when they hit the targets, and quite often when they were hit, the boards–at about the height of a warrior’s face–would break. The boards, including the ones that were not hit, were collected after each run and later sold, I believe, with the ones that were hit being an especially nice good luck charm. By that time, the boards were already covered in calligraphy.

Thankfully, people like my friend Melissa had much better technological skills. This is a slow-motion video she took of an archer breaking a target (thanks for letting me post it, Melissa!):

Overall, the event took about 45 minutes, which left us both satisfied and with plenty of energy and time left to see the town. I’ve been wanting to see this event ever since I came to the San’in region, and it was a well-spent 45 minutes.

Going east to west, Shimane is a rather long prefecture, and Tsuwano is a few hours away from Matsue by train. It’s so far to the west that it is commonly mistaken as being part of Yamaguchi. Make no mistake, though. This little gem of a town is part of the San’in region, and is completely nicknamed “Little Kyoto of the San’in Region.” It’s compact, but packed full of charm.

One of the first things visitors notice is that many of the buildings are classic in style or otherwise fit Tsuwano’s theme.

One of several wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery) shops where you could find signature genshimaki. But, you know, living in Matsue I’m a little spoiled when it comes to wagashi.

This is a back alley, not one of the main tourist streets.

A bank building that ventured not to be boring.

Why the egret? Because one of the things Tsuwano is famous for is Sagi Odori (“Heron Dance”, though I’m told the costume is more like an egret). This is originally a famous Kyoto custom, but the Tsuwano version is deemed national Important Intangible Cultural Property. I have not seen this dance, but I’ve seen traveling Yosakoi dance group with the egret similar in style to the Sagi-odori costumes as their theme.

One of the other things you might notice is the Catholic church on the main tourist street. This is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, and there is another chapel elsewhere that is a memorial to persecuted Christians.

I had been curious about this chapel for a long time, because I wanted to see the tatami mats inside!

I image sitting through mass in seiza would be quite the penance.

But there is something else along the main tourist road that keeps every looking down.

Carp! Lots and lots of carp.

In Japanese, these fish are called koi. This is synonymous with “romantic love” but it’s also synonymous with “come here.” Hence, the taxis in Tsuwano are called “Koi Koi.” Come here, fishy…

There is cheap fish food available for sale all over that part of town, but if you take great joy in making fish go on feeding frenzies, you should do so as early in the day as you can. For as many fish as there are along this street, they are very well fed, and by later afternoon there are the most disinterested carp I’ve ever seen. It was very strange watching them give the fish equivalent of a shrug to the food floating above their heads before very slowly proceeding to eat it.

However, that may have had something to do with the day I went, as there was a big event going on in April and a lot of people were in town. Also, because it was April, the just-as-iconic irises in the canals with the carp were not quite blooming yet.

The cherry blossoms were barely hanging to the trees, but still filled the air when the wind blew. That day of alternationg clouds and sunshine, I still had more to see besides the quaint townscape. We’ll touch on more in the next entries.

We’re off to a very Kyoto-like place next time…

I recently saw a link going around to this article on, titled “The SCARIEST Looking BRIDGE Is In Japan! Could You Handle Driving Over It?! Watch The Exclusive 2 Videos!” My first thought was, “Hhm, I wonder if that’s the Eshima Bridge?” Little surprise that I was right, as it is the third longest PC Rahmen style bridge in the world, so high at its apex–44m, 70cm above the surface of Lake Nakaumi–that 5,000 ton capacity ships can pass underneath.

Click for source (Asahi Shimbun). What I find more notable is the FamilyMart at the bottom. It has the biggest combini parking lot I've ever seen! Any time I'm in the car with someone we always have to wonder why it needs such a massive parking lot, though one guess is that it's for the photographers you sometimes see lined up at the side of the road to take shots like this one.

Click for source (Asahi Shimbun). What I find more notable is the FamilyMart at the bottom. It has the biggest combini parking lot I’ve ever seen! Any time I’m in the car with someone we always have to wonder why it needs such a massive parking lot, though one guess is that it’s for the photographers you sometimes see lined up at the side of the road to take shots like this one.

However, it seems the name has changed to “Betafumizaka”–“Floor It Hill”–after being featured in a car commercial in December of 2013 as a steep incline where you have to put the pedal to the medal. The Japanese blogosphere refers to it that way, but all I hear here is still Eshima Bridge, seeing as it connects Sakaiminato City, Tottori Prefecture, with Eshima Island of Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture. eshima2 Scary though it appears, I can’t remember if I felt nervous my first time crossing it or not. Any time I’ve ridden a bus between Sakaiminato and Matsue or between Yonago Airport and Matsue it’s been on this route (making it very accessible to tourists), and I’ve gone a number of times in private cars as well–including getting stuck in a traffic jam once during Golden Week. It’s high, but it ceased to feel special long ago! You can get more of the sense of a commuter’s view of it on this blog. That said, on a good day, it’s one of the best views of Mt. Daisen around, and Lake Nakaumi and Daikonshima are already so scenic that views of the bridge accentuate that. The Sanin Department Store Blog has a lot of nice photos!

Click for source.

Considering its safe track record, it’s not the scariest bridge in Matsue. That award would have to go to Azukitogi Bridge, leading to Fumon-in Temple, or Matsue Ohashi Bridge across the Ohashi River, as both of those bridges have ghostly stories attached to them.

Look! My socks have the White Hare of Inaba crossing the Sea of Japan!


These were a gift from Kimono-sensei. Water, as a motif, is often expressed in this sort of traditional pattern. The Hare is based on a local legend and is found over and over and over in Shimane Prefecture and still more in Tottori Prefecture. For as much as I am inundated with this White Hare, and for as much as I tend to prefer dull socks over expressive ones, I was excited about these. Thanks, Kimono-sensei! They’ll be a nice San’in souvenir some day.

One of the first San’in souvenirs I got for myself was a magatama–that is, a common shaped bead of ancient, but not precisely known origin. These have been a sign of spiritual power since early times in Japan, and there are large collections of them in museums that have been unearthed from 8th century dig sites and beyond.

While not unique to the San’in region, this area was a major producer of the carved beads, especially those made from agate. The Tamatsukuri Onsen (玉造温泉) area is so called because many magatama were made there (玉造 means “jewel making”). Besides workshops to carve your own magatama, there are many gift stores throughout Matsue–and nearby places like Izumo Taisha–that specialize in magatama and related stone accessories. Although green agate, and to some extent, red agate are most representative of the region’s production, you can find these so-called power stones carved out of many other types of stones as well, varying in quality to suit low and high budgets.


Although the agate products are very, very shiny, I got a lapis lazuli one to commemorate my stay in Matsue (the stone being one of my favorites, and the shape being characteristic of the region). I like it, but I do feel a little self-conscious when I wear it here. I feel like I’d look more like a tourist than a local…

However, as a local, there’s a t-shirt I’ve had my eyes on for a long time. It sums up so much about the quirkiness of the region succinctly.

Allow me to introduce the best Shimane t-shirt I’ve ever bought in Tottori:


The scowling character is Yoshida-kun, from Frogman’s flash animation cartoon Eagle Talon. This cartoon is known throughout the country, and although he is not from here, Frogman has a passion for Shimane Prefecture. So much so that he’s volunteered Yoshida-kun, one of the team of characters bent on somewhat Pinky and the Brain style world domination, to be a PR ambassador for the prefecture’s tourism attractions, landscape, and culture. Granted, that means he makes simultaneously proud and sarcastic comments about how well kept of a secret Shimane is.

In a Land of the Rising Yura-kyara, where mascots teetering around with big smiles and silly dances have taken over much of mainstream culture, Yoshida-kun is a refreshing dose of cynicism. No offense to Shimanekko, who is quite adorable and deserves to win 1st place in one of the upcoming national popularity contests, but the landscape of local mascots could stand to have more characters like Tottori’s Katsue-san, a starving mascot who represents a 16th century historical event.

Shimanekko, who also has the best dance! Click for source.

Besides Toripy, Tottori’s office bird-pear (or is it pear-bird?), the least populated prefecture of Japan has an unofficial mascot who has had a place in the hearts of the Japanese public since the 1960’s, long before happy, round mascot characters began their dominion over the islands. That is none other than Kitaro, as well as much of the rest of cast of Gegege no Kitaro. This is because the creator, folklorist and adventurer and historian and story teller and veteran and one-armed artist Mizuki Shigeru, is from the port town of Sakaiminato on the western tip of Tottori. The city is laden with reminders of this.

In addition to my Yoshida-kun t-shirt, there is a partner t-shirt featuring Tottori and Kitaro, captioned “Tottori is to the right of Shimane.”

However, long before that, I picked up a Tottori souvenir featuring another iconic member of the cast: Medama Oyaji (“Old Man Eyeball”), Kitaro’s father.


There’s no shortage of clever Medama Oyaji products both in Sakaiminato and throughout the San’in region, and there is no shortage of other Gegege no Kitaro t-shirt designs. Actually, there are a number of nicer shirts and ties with more subtle use of the ghastly cast, so you could get away with looking very dressed up until people take a double-take at the spooky imagery.

Granted, you can get away with anything on a tie, I guess. The Shimanekko ties are not surprising in the least, but a co-worker’s Hello-Kitty-meets-One-Piece tie did surprise me a little. It might still be a little while until we see Yoshida-kun ties or Shimanekko kimono accessories, though. When it comes to items I wouldn’t just wear around the house, there are still many options, such as traditionally dyed indigo items or even Orochi Jeans. Next I think I have my eyes on a peony-dyed item from Yuushien Garden, because there’s nothing like Daikonshima in spring.

While population density is one of the first things that comes to mind when people are thinking about life in Japan, it’s important to note that there is a big difference between the toshi (city) and inaka (rural) ways of life. Most people will tell you these are the two faces of Japan, but people in Tokyo might tell you that there is only Tokyo and inaka.

We’re talking stumbling upon an old bus in the middle of mountain rice fields while you’re lost and hunting for a somewhat mythological shrine kind of inaka.

While comparing the mindsets of Tokyoites and Osakans, or comparing the mindsets of Kyotoites and everyone else is always fun, there is also perspective to be gained within other regions as well. For example, the term “U-turn” refers to young people who move away to the big city for a while, but soon find themselves returned to their inaka hometowns. On a smaller scale, an aquaintance here once boasted that even if this region seems far away, living close to an airport means that it’s easy to fly out to Tokyo for a weekend to play and shop, and that is just enough time to receive a shock and be happy to come back home just as easily.

While many, many prefectures in Japan would proudly describe themselves as inaka, only the San’in region, facing the Sea of Japan and nestled behind the Chugoku mountain range as if hiding from the rest of the country, gets to boast of the lowest population of all the prefectures. Tottori Prefecture, to the east, wins in a lot of these contests: lowest population, as well as the last prefecture to get a Starbucks. Shimane Prefecture, to the west, only has the second lowest population and was only the second to last prefecture to get a Starbucks (as of about a year ago–we more recently got a Godiva right across from it, though!).

Furthermore, just as people enjoy trying to find any kind of unique(ish) claims to fame for US states, you find the same of push for fame for each prefecture in Japan. I heard of a list labeling each prefecture for something it is famous for, and while Shimane was quite appropriately named Shinwa-ken (Mythology Prefecture), Tottori was named Nashi-ken (Pear Prefecture). Tottori pears are indeed very, very, very tasty, but the problem with this nickname is that the word for pear (梨) is synonymous with the word for “nothing” (無). It doesn’t seem people were insulted. Rather, they laughed and took it with a sense of ironic pride–“Haha, that’s right, there is nothing in Tottori! We’re as inaka as it gets!”

That’s not true, though. Tottori is famous for–within Japan–very unique sand dunes, as well as for being the home prefecture of many famous mangaka, such as Mizuki Shigeru (who wrote Gegege no Kitaro), and Aoyama Gosho (who wrote Detective Conan). Thus, one of Tottori’s other nicknames is “Manga Kingdom.” If anything, because of Tottori’s reputation for being the most inaka of the inaka (and indeed, in many manga I’ve read where they want very a inaka setting, Tottori tends to be a popular choice), it’s kind of famous in its alleged “nothingness.”

And alas, Shimane, being second to Tottori in inaka-ness, is often overshadowed by Tottori’s supposed void. We joke that we’re the 47th most popular prefecture. Irony tends to be a strength of the region, though, as evidenced by Yoshida-kun, our scowling volunteer ambassador who tells it like it is and therefore doesn’t sugar-coat what really does make Shimane a cool place.

To break down regional attitudes a little further, I’ve written before about how the western portion of Shimane (Iwami) and the eastern region of Shimane (Izumo) tend to have different mindsets (and notice that this is completely ignoring the rather large, unique Oki Islands), illustrated in little things like offering and accepting tea:

A person from the Iwami region (western Shimane) goes to visit a friend in the Izumo region (eastern Shimane). The Izumo friend asks, “Do you want another cup of tea?” and the Iwami friend replies, “no thank you, I’ve had enough.” The Izumo friend then prepares another cup of tea, and the Iwami friend is surprised and then forces himself to drink it so as to be polite.

A person from the Izumo region goes to visit a friend in the Iwami region. The Iwami friend asks, “Do you want another cup of tea?” and the Izumo friend replies, “no thank you, I’ve had enough.” The Iwami friend pours no more tea, and the Izumo friend sadly wonders why he isn’t getting another cup of tea but says nothing so as to be polite.

Even breaking down the Izumo region even further into small cities and towns, you find even more different mindsets despite the higher level of integration. For example, the two largest cities in the Izumo region are Matsue City and Izumo City, respectively on the east and west sides of Lake Shinji, comprising the Shimane Peninsula. They are connected by various roads and train lines on both the north and south sides of the lake, and visitors to one city usually do not pass up the other. When it comes to tourism, however, you notice some of the following ways of viewing each other (I’ve emphasized and compiled general passing comments I’ve heard over my time here).

Matsue, when viewed from Izumo’s perspective:

Matsue is so lucky. They have Matsue Castle and all the samurai era history and festivals that go with it, the iconic Horikawa Sightseeing Boat weaving through the canals around town, and generally being a very walkable, welcoming place for visitors, always eager to show off its history with pride. What’s more, if they want to start a new city wide festival or even put on a weekend event in a shopping area, they have enough people that they can generally count on people attending! It’s just too quiet and spread out here for us to be able to put on big themed parades over five times a year… sure seems lively over there across the lake.

Izumo, when viewed from Matsue’s perspective:

Izumo is so lucky. They have Izumo Taisha! Everyone knows Izumo Taisha! Everyone comes here for Izumo Taisha. Everyone goes to Izumo Taisha for En-musubi. We have En-musubi too, you know! Sniffle… I wish we could have Izumo Taisha. Sure, we have Miho Shrine and Kamosu Shrine and Kumano Taisha and Sada Shrine… but nobody knows them like they know Izumo Taisha!!

So maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.

It’s okay, Matsue, you are loved and known.
Click photo for Facebook source and share the love for Matsue.

However, even within Matsue, you find that there is still some leftover cultural differences from before the 2005 and 2011 mergers with surrounding small towns and villages (there was a big push for mergers all over inaka Japan around this time). At the far northeast, Mihonoseki retains its Mihonoseki culture and pride, as does Shinji at the far southwest, though they are all collectively Matsue now.

However, I frequently hear comments about those oddballs out in the Yatsuka district–otherwise known as Daikonshima, the large island on Lake Nakaumi. The island didn’t use to be accessable by car, so the little peony and ginseng kingdom combined its occasional influences from Sakaiminato (a fishing port) and Yonago (a business area, the San’in region’s “Little Osaka”), Mihonoseki, and central Matsue to create a strange cultural mix and even stranger dialect. While you hear varying amounts of Izumo-ben (Izumo dialect) in the city center and in the outskirts of Matsue, or in Izumo, or the famous folk songs of Yasugi, or in the little mountain villages of Unnan and Okuizumo… you don’t hear Yatsuka-ben anywhere but the Yatsuka district. I haven’t actually spent enough time on Daikonshima talking with locals or anyone outside of Yuushien Japanese Garden to have noticed, but I certainly hear the people in the rest of Matsue talk about how weird it is.

And who knows… maybe the locals on Daikonshima talk about their weird neighbors on the even smaller island, Eshima.

In the previous entry, we addressed the historical origins of the Kunibiki (land-pulling) legend. Now to take a look at why it’s hard to come to the San’in region and not learn a little about this legend.

First of all, there is art like this everywhere:

Click for source

More curiously, this painting at Yakumotatsu Fudoki-no-Oka has a number of people/gods pulling the land. Ah, don’t mind me pretending to be Susano-o here. I have a weakness for dress-up and you can do that for free in the museum lobby. We’ll bring up Fudoki-no-Oka again in a few paragraphs.

There is art both inside the Ichibata Railway between Matsue Shinjiko Onsen and Izumo Taisha and along the stations, including one I saw on the ceiling of one of the little local trains with Yatsuka saying his catchphrase, “Kuni, ko! Kuni, ko!” This is literally “land/country, come!”

Yumeminato Tower in Sakaiminato, on the tip of the island/peninsula one of Yatsuka’s ropes turned into, provides a view of the mythologically added-on land, and labels for everything you’d be looking at from the observation deck. Unfortunately, I visited just as it started raining that afternoon, and right after getting one shot you couldn’t see very far. Thankfully there is plenty to do inside the tower, my personal favorite spot being dedicated to the history of early contact with not only Korea, but others throughout the Asian continent. It’s too bad I didn’t take anyone to dress up with me in so many ethnic costumes that day!

Click for source

On a good day, you should be able to see 360 degrees worth of sea and land.

While the story of Kunibiki is not included in the Kojiki, Yatsuka’s is listed among godly genealogy there (though this, like many elements of the Kojiki, if up to interpretation). Just as much a kami as any of the other eight million gods that populate Japan, he is enshrined at Nagahama Shrine along the coast of coast of Izumo, at the western end of the peninsula. Although sacred ropes are common in Shinto practice throughout Japan, this god’s use of ropes makes them a common theme at this shrine on their good luck charms. You know what else ropes can be used for? En-Musubi. Just one more way in which the San’in region finds ways to bind your fate.

Click for source

Click for source

Click for source

Also in Izumo City, there is a Kunibiki Marathon, the 33rd of which was held last month.

Over here in modern-day central Matsue, the very word “Kunibiki” is a common part of life. Kunibiki-doro is a major street leading north from JR Matsue Station, and Kunibiki Bridge is the easternmost of a series of four bridges that link the northern city center to the southern city center over the Ohashi River. Does singer/song-writer Mai Hoshimura ring any bells for anyone? Her song “Kunibiki Ohashi” is named after this very bridge! The music video also makes generous use of footage from the Ichibata Railway and other scenes of Matsue:

Furthermore, Kunibiki Messe is Shimane’s largest full-scale convention and exhibition center, located just across the Kunibiki Bridge from Matsue Station.

Click for source (and other nifty photos of a nifty building)

But this legend has had influence on naming conventions long before that. Way back when this legend was being recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, and for a few centuries surrounded that, the governmental affairs of the region were handled from a district in what is now southern Matsue. This district was known as… Ou!

Yes, that “Ou” which Yatsuka shouted when he declared his work a job well done. Not only does the interpretation of the utterance vary slightly, but the spelling varies as well, and is further complicated by how it was written then and how it was written later on and how it’s even written differently now.

Are you ready for some language nerdiness now? His shout, whatever it expressed, was recorded with the characters 意恵 for the sounds as opposed to their meanings. Phonetically, they were later expressed as おゑ, which may look strange to the hiragana-inclined readers among you. This is because we no longer use the character ゑ (ye) in Japanese syllabary. It’s usually replaced by え (e, like eh) now, which is why the lucky god (and San’in native) Ebisu is usually called えびす, but depending on what beer you’re drinking you might still see ゑびす from time to time. However, in this case, “Oye” (oh-yeh, not oi!) was not usually transcribed as “Oe” but as “Ou” (like oh, not oo) or… “Iu”?

Now we need to get back to the use of characters used for pronunciation, though when it comes to place names, you’ll find the general rules of standard pronunciation for Chinese characters mashed around to fit the Japanese language are not always followed. For our purposes here, it’s not worth trying to make sense of. Let’s just accept that although Yatsuka may have shouted 意恵, the area named after his shout was recorded as 意宇. Although in some place names it would still be read “Ou” in keeping with the desired pronunciation cast upon these unsuspecting characters stripped of their meaning in favor of phonetics, the more common sense reading for them is “iu” (ee-oo).

Still following? Good! Because you find both “Ou” and “Iu” throughout the region. While the district of Ou has been parsed out and reorganized into other little neighborhoods that retain many names passed down from the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, when the area is called “Ou” you’re usually referring to the ancient government center and its ruins and the historic shrines found throughout that area. The aforementioned Fudoki-no-Oka is the best place to go to learn about this, though so far I haven’t visited the indoor exhibits because I was running out of time the day I have visited (having spent too much time that day at the neighboring shrines and folklore village, Izumo Kanbe-no-Sato). On the eastern stretches of good old Ou, there is the Iu River flowing down from Lake Nakaumi.

But what of that forest, made from Yatsuka’s rake?

Well, it’s not so much of a forest anymore as it is a grove of trees, but…

Click for source

This is the main spot everyone is referring to as Ou-no-Mori (“The Forest of Ou”, written with an old character for forest: 意宇の杜), and has a few different kinds of trees. However, perhaps this is isn’t the only spot left over from the rake-forest.

Click for source

Because the legend involves various look-out spots and geographical features throughout the region, you’ll find the word “Kunibiki” everywhere from Mt. Daisen to Mt. Sanbe. Now just think of how smart and cultured you’re going to look when you visit the region with your friends and tell them the myth behind the word they keep seeing? What with all the historical, geographical, and linguistic tidbits packed into these two entries, you can also look like a know-it-all and drive everyone crazy. Have fun!