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.














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


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



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.

There are ducks that hang out on Lake Shinji all year long, but there seem to be quite a few in winter. As you can see, it’s a major spot for migratory birds of many varieties–not to mention it has been designated as a wetland of international importance.

I like living so close to the lake–it’s very easy to just wander across the street after work to see the scenery for a few minutes. In nicer weather, we’ll often picnic at the lakeside for lunch–though a few of my friends have had parts of their lunch stolen by the kites (birds of prey, not toys). I wish I had been there to see that!

What do you call a flock of kites? A party? There were two more of them hanging out here, too.

There was a day a few weeks ago when the lake was covered with thousands of birds all at once. I had noticed it while passing by the lake for something for work, and I went by after work to see them again–sure enough, still there, in no hurry. My photos don’t do the scene justice, but it was pleasant to watch for a few minutes.

Since I was taking my time on the way home anyway, I stopped by the Ichibata railroad station at Matsue Shinji-ko Onsen. This hot spring at the northeast bank of Lake Shinji is rich in sulphates and chlorates, and there is a long line of fancy hotels, but for people pressed on time (or money) there is a free foot bath right outside the station.

There’s also a Jizo here to pour some hot water on so he can enjoy the hot springs, too!

When I go to Izumo, I usually take the Ichibata rail road line along the north shore of Lake Shinji, and there are other nice day trips along the way–like ice skating! The rink is located direcly at the northwest shore, next to a nature park, and short walk from a train stop. After a few hours of skating, we were surprised by the very pleasant February weather outside.

The watery fields were reflecting the blue sky, and in the distance we could see a huge crowd of swans.

Much closer, however, a bunch of kites were flying around with each other–and one crow invited himself to the party.

Then the two-car train came. Today it was a Mizuki Shigeru youkai themed train–why hello there, Betobeto-san!

Then we had a forty-minute view of the lake on the way back. This included the sunset, of course–as well as more ducks.

Then there are days when most of the ducks are on the Ohashi River instead of in the middle of the lake. It’s just another part of living in Matsue when a friend calls you up and says, “Hey, are you busy? No? Let’s go watch the sunset.”

Lake Shinji sunset
Which the duck sees every day
Plunk! It takes a dive

Lone as the sun sets
But the sun is alone too
Making quite a pair

Shinji’s depth shrouded
Colored by sunshine fleeting
To the land of clouds

Never parting on
Migration to Matsue
Quack quack quack quack quack

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.