“You want to hike up that mountain in Misasa?” Y-chan asked me. I had, in fact, had Misasa–a little town in the middle of Tottori–on my list for a long time, after having seen photos like this around for a while:

Really, I just wanted to take that picture of Nageiredo, a National Treausure and one of the buildings of Sanbutsuji Temple. I wanted to take that picture, put it here on my blog, and say, “look, isn’t this cool? Its name is ‘the temple that was thrown into place,’ as you can see why.”

“throw” “enter” “temple”

Having already climbed Mt. Daisen a couple times I figured it would be a lot of stairs, but not as many stairs since Mt. Mitoku is only 900 meters high. What I found was, well, not stairs.

There’s a certain lack of stairs on this trail.

Actually, it simply did not occur to me until just now–weeks after the hike–that I was undergoing Shugendo. Certainly, I am aware of the ascetic practices of certain Buddhist monks that they put themselves through in order to gain spiritual prowess, and I have a certain image of them meditating under waterfalls on holy mountains where women were not even allowed to enter until recent history. And I was aware that upon entering the path and being granted a protective talisman and a white sash that I was being marked a pilgrim on holy ground, and yes, I thought that was interesting since I had never received such things while hiking elsewhere or visiting other temples. However, I never put all the pieces together to realize that I physically underwent Shugendo. Does it still count if you weren’t aware you were doing it?

Up I go. The path down is the one at the side by the fence.

I probably should have been tipped off that this was not a normal stroll through the woods when we had our shoes checked for traction twice upon entering, and when they were selling thick gloves for climbing. There were no walking sticks for sale, as apparently those are not allowed. I anticipated a 90 minute hike before we’d head in to town to find an onsen, but almost immediately I was taken back by how steep and somewhat slick it was. We regularly passed by people who were making a successful trek back down, but there were a few screams by started people as they lost their footing in a couple spots, and embarrassed laughter as they recovered seconds later. I took a mental note of those spots and continued up. For the most part, as long as you kept a rather even pace, you’d often find yourself stepping into grooves in the rocks warn away by thousands and thousands and thousands of footsteps of pilgrims over the course of the past 1000 years or so (no exaggeration—the temple itself was established in 709, and Nageiredo was somehow thrown into place in the 11th or 12th century).

Standing firm in the steps of those before me

My favorite surprise was all the katsura (Japanese Judas tree) roots we had to climb! I was reminded of our fun ninja adventures on the obstacle course in Adventure Forest in Gotsu, but these were completely unplanned by mankind. They were really fun and easy to climb, and they did not shutter a bit–you’d almost suspect that you were climbing concrete.

Far easier and more fun than it looks

I was less thrilled about the boulders to scale with our bare hands, and when I first encountered them, I wondered if I should have bought those gloves after all. They weren’t slick, but it took some caution and thought to decide the best course of action each way up and each way down. There were footholds worn into them like those footsteps left behind by thousands before you, but they were not as obviously. While the ascetic yamabushi (mountain monks) of years ago might have taken similar strides, their differences in height and reach made for a wider variety of lesser worn vertical paths.

This angle might be misleading, but long as you stayed on course there wouldn’t be any especially dangerous falls. You know, as long as you stayed on course, no sudden departures to the left or the right. Just stay on the beaten path, however little of a path it looks like sometimes.

Does it count as Shugendo if instead of strict mental training, I was instead incredulously exclaiming, “Wait, what? Seriously? We’re supposed to climb this? What???” It wasn’t until we got to the one boulder which required a chain to climb and an older couple passing by us on their way back down informed us that we were halfway to the top that I figured out that this was probably what I should have expected all along.

It was around that spot that I had been embracing the hope that as we neared the sounds of the enormous bell that we would near the top circle of temple buildings soon. However, unlike some other mountains of Buddhist significance that I was climbed, there were no particularly busy gathering of buildings, instead only a series of buildings along the way and a steady stream of hikers/pilgrims/Shugenja/unsuspecting tourists on their way up or down proving that people of a wide range of ages and physiques were capable of accomplishing these feats. The 2-ton bell itself is from the Kamakura period and no one is quite sure how it got there (Benkei, was that you? After all, he supposedly carried a bell from Mt. Daisen to Gakuenji Temple because was as yamabushi as yamabushi come). Ringing it is said to cleanse you of your sins, and the whole time, I had been pressed on by the sounds of people polishing up their souls–or at least announcing with audible graffiti, “Taro Tanaka was here.”

It wasn’t all grueling hard work, just a lot of caution and bursts of brain power. We were also able to enjoy the refreshing sights and sounds and fresh air of nature.

wild fuji (wisteria)

sugi (Japanese cedar)

After about an hour of hiking, we reached as close as you can get to Nageiredo.

It was only on the way back that I finally heard that it was called the most dangerous national treasure in Japan. It’s probably more dangerous for the people who keep that Heian era architecture in such pristine condition, and I can see why the trails would not be open in rainy or snowy weather, but with a pace you feel comfortable with, it’s certainly not impossible. Just make sure to hike with a buddy (as is required) and bring good shoes (as is always required). And maybe go into it with the expectation that you were undergoing Shugendo!

Even if you don’t feel like undergoing the hike, however, there were a number of other interesting things to observe in the temple buildings at the base of the mountain. I’ll post those photos next time.


I take no credit for this pun, allow me to just point out that Tottori 20th Century Pears are indeed delicious, and around September or so they sort of take over the entire prefecture.

So what else is there to say about these pears, besides that they’re delicious?

These pears, first cultivated in 1898 right before the turn of the century, are also known as “Nijisseiki” or “Nijusseiki” among both Japanese and Western horticulturists, as one of the only green varieties of Asian pears among an array of russet varieties. Like other Asian pears, it is crisp and sweet, fragrant, and with a grainy texture. They’re large and often shared as gifts, decoratively cut to be shared and enjoyed raw.

Click for source

But no famous local product in Japan would ever thrive on its own fame simple by being served raw. First, you need to make an ice cream flavor out of it, no matter what it is.

From Tottori Hana Kairo, a very big and lovely flower park.

Next, you need to make a curry out of it.

More appetizing than it looks, especially right after visiting the Tottori Sand Dunes.

It needs to be available for sale all over your respective region.

In the surrounding regions (like my local grocery stores) people need to go on a frenzy ordering them in advance, fully expecting to pay top dollar (er, uh, yen) for the shiniest of fruits. Having people pay to pick their own fruits in season is a given, and at this time of year, anyone should be able to drive through the area and see trees heavy with plastic-bag-covered fruit. Tottori has this all covered with their 20th Century Pears.

But they take it even further–yes, the Tottori Nijisseki Pear Museum is a real thing. I have not had the pleasure of going myself, but the more I think about it, the more interesting it looks. Having taught a very detailed class about American culture by way of peanut butter, I can tell you that a close look into a single plant-based food has can be extremely enlightening.

Although pears (梨) make a good pun for nothingness (無), don’t underestimate them. The ones I have received as gifts were indeed some of the tastiest pears I’ve ever had.

This three-part series about anime-based tourism is a collaborative effort between Artemis of Otaku Lounge and Buri-chan of San’in Monogatari. Artemis currently resides in Ehime Prefecture and since she likes to travel a lot, often discovers that she makes anime pilgrimages entirely by accident. She mostly writes about anime, with the occasional foray into Japanese music, street fashion, and general culture. Buri-chan originally became interested in Japan by watching the Odaiba episodes of Digimon Adventure, and already made that pilgrimage long ago. She currently resides in Shimane Prefecture and writes about Japan’s San’in region, including writing manga to introduce local Kojiki mythology.


For those anime fans with the opportunity to live in or visit Japan, undertaking a kind of anime ‘pilgrimage’ can be an interesting way to view the basis for, or inspiration behind, the locations depicted within some titles firsthand. Since many of these titles are set in places that are a little off the beaten track, this also affords a chance for people to leave the well-known cities behind them and see more of what Japan has to offer.

While there can be no precise starting date for when these anime pilgrimages first began to be undertaken, the official collaboration between the town of Washiyama in Saitama prefecture and copyright holders of Lucky Star beginning in August 2007 was in large part responsible for starting a noticeable trend. Sightseers spent more than a billion yen over the next three years in visiting this location, pouring money into the local economy and prompting Japan’s tourism industry to sit up and take notice. Buoyed by the enormous success of the formal relationship between anime and real-life town, Kyoto Animation, the studio behind Lucky Star, has also continued to work with local tourism for many of their other anime projects such as Hyouka and Free!.

Washiyama Shrine, home of Lucky Star

Situated in the midst of the Japanese Alps, the city of Takayama in Gifu prefecture has more of a quaint, small-town feel to it despite its population of just over 90 thousand. Because of the high altitude and its separation from other areas of Japan thanks to its mountainous location, Takayama developed its own distinct culture over the years which is still in evidence today, and is especially well-known for its carpentry. Further lending the city a more rural touch is its old town with whole streets of beautifully preserved merchant houses dating back to the Edo Period, the nearby Folk Village with its thatched and shingled roofs under which silk worms were once raised, and the ongoing daily morning markets selling local fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts. Flocks of tourists crowd the streets every year for Takayama’s unique spring and autumn festivals, counted among the most popular in all of Japan, but the city otherwise has a generally quieter and even somewhat folksy atmosphere.

However, not all the tourists who visit do so for the festivals. Kamiyama City, in which Hyouka is set, is a fictional location but is heavily based on the author’s real hometown of Takayama. In 2012, Juroku Bank reported that the Hyouka anime was responsible for attracting around 150 thousand visitors each year to Takayama, which has been actively cooperating with the creators behind Hyouka to boost tourism since the anime’s release that year.

For example, the Hina Doll Festival, featured in the final episode of the anime, is a real traditional festival still carried out every April in which nine unmarried women from the area are chosen to be dressed up as Hina dolls, and participate in a parade and mochi throwing ceremony. An anime-collaborative event takes place on the same day, where fans of the series can follow a walking course, collect the stamps at each point, and obtain original Hyouka goods. Hyouka-themed goods are also sold at various stores around the city.

In early 2013, the city’s official website revealed a free-to-download Hyouka tourist map as well as publishing ten thousand physical copies for distribution. The map shows 24 of the locations that were seen in the Hyouka anime such as the high school, the swimming pool from the first OVA episode, and the café in which Houtarou and Eru first meet outside of school. The last also features a signboard near the counter autographed by Houtarou, Eru, Satoshi, and Mayaka’s voice actors. However, the map is not available in English, making it more difficult to follow for fans with little to no Japanese ability.

Further west from Takayama and facing the Sea of Japan, Iwami-cho is a town at the north-eastern tip of Tottori Prefecture, has a population of 12,827. Most of the working population stays busy farming or in squid fishing boats off the rocky Uradome Coast. Iwai Onsen provides a luxurious place for tourists to stay after a day of hiking and swimming around the area’s abundant nature. If watching animated high school boys do the swimming is more your speed, then Iwami still has plenty to offer, as fans Kyoto Animation’s 2013 sports anime Free! are sure to recognize the townscape.

Part of the success of Kyo-Ani’s slice of life anime is attributed to the richness of the settings, so much so that the town becomes a character that fans can actually get to know in real life. Even on a Thursday afternoon side trip to Iwami last September, there were female fans on pilgrimages and cosplayers on location, so the impact is real even when there are no promotional events going on.

When arriving by car, it might at first seem there is no connection with the hit series, but even before wandering into a few sanctioned havens of fandom and tourism information, there is visual confirmation of this being the right beachside town.

The official Iwami tourism board does not put a big focus on Free! in its main branding approach on its homepage, but it does run news about everything from fandom events to special postcards to Free! themed desserts. It also endorses the official Free! map, which marks the spots with numbers and screenshots, so visitors who do not speak Japanese may still be able to find their way to the stages of their favorite scenes. It would be easiest to start the journey by train, as part of the Iwami station building serves as a fandom shrine and gateway to the three dimensional world beyond.

Besides the occasional event and special souvenir, however, it appears this is the extent to which the real Iwami and the Free! Iwami mix. The locals embrace the increase in tourism without selling out to it, and the fans help maintain a respectful divide between daily life and cosplayer invasion—at least based on Thursday observations, that is.

Just as much as “Cool Japan” is a driving idea in attracting international guests to Japan, “contents tourism” has been a major element in rural tourism. Arguably, rural Japan has been profiting from fandom based pilgrimages ever since commoners could afford fandoms and pleasure travel, though the recent push has been more focused on movies or period dramas. The push for anime tourism has been more recent, and Kyoto Animation, given their somewhat accidental but now active cooperation, attracts much of the attention for research on anime based “contents tourism.” However, even without active tourism promotion, anime fans have often been inspired to travel to “holy sites” (seichi junrei). We’ll take a look at a few other relationships between anime and their settings in the following entries. Hop aboard the cat bus, because our next stop on this tour is Studio Ghibli.

Additional Reading:
A Study on Impact of Anime on Tourism in Japan : A Case of
“Anime Pilgrimage”
(Takeshi Okamoto, Web-Journal of Tourism and Cultural Studies, 2009)
ANIME NEWS: ‘K-On!’ school to play host for anime tourism event (The Asahi Shimbun, 2014)
Contents tourism and local community response: Lucky star and collaborative anime-induced tourism in Washimiya (Takayoshi Yamamura, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014)

Please enjoy this series while I’m on vacation, and I’ll be back to reply to comments shortly after the conclusion! Though I have an anime fan for a long time, I didn’t bother watching Free! until someone told me it took place in Tottori. I found the grilled squid throughout the series was a nice and accurate touch, as it’s big stuff out here. ~Buri

I recently saw a link going around to this article on MuscleCarsZone.com, 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.

Although the most common English translation is “snow crab,” the Japanese term is much more complicated. I also feel “snow crab season” fails to capture the craze in that happens every winter, especially here in the San’in region with entire train trip deals are themed around pigging out on these crabs.

Although Matsue has its own crab craze going on as part of the Dan-Dan Shoku Festa and other parts of Shimane are just as capable of catching and celebrating the winter crab catch, Tottori is really where the crab branding takes place. Snow crabs–typically called Zuwai-gani go by many different names throughout the country, but whatever you call them, Tottori is a top producer. Here in the San’in region, the big name that gets thrown around a lot is Matsuba-gani, supposed named because its long legs resemble pine needles or because fishermen used to burn pine when cooking them. They are harvested in the Sea of Japan, and not to be confused with Benizuwai-gani (red snow crab), which are harvested at a deeper depth in an earlier season and have softer, sweeter meat–but they are also a San’in favorite.

Matsuba-gani does not represent the entire species, either. These are only the males, where are the smaller females with denser meat are called oya-gani are popular in miso soup, a homemade Tottori favorite. Males that have already moulted are called Wakamatsuba-gani and tend to have meat that is more soft and moist.

There are various ways to prepare and eat Matsuba Crab when they are in season around November-March. Boiled, cooked with rice, grilled, you name it, but what I hear most adoring talk of is eating very, very fresh crab raw, when the meat is slick. There is a special process to eating it this way which can be instructed at crab festival events, but I do no such experience to speak of–I don’t have enough crab madness myself to reserve a space at these crab extravaganzas.

I have, however, had a few chances to eat crab meat miso soup, but I cannot recall what kind of crab they were. I’ll just wrap this up by saying that everyone knows Tottori is amazing for crab, but these little guys from Izumo go down like big, sticky potato chips.

Seems like a strange topic to write about twice, but despite how much I enjoyed the sand museum in Shimane, when most people think of sand in the San’in region, they’ll think of the Tottori Sand Dunes first. In fact, around the country when they think of sand dunes, Tottori will probably come up first–after all, they are Japan’s largest.

Why yes, that is a lot of sand. It’s been that way for over 100,000 years, but due to governmental intervention they’ve shrunk a bit this past century. In a new form of governmental intervention, they’re trying to reverse that to save a popular tourism spot.

Located just north of Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture’s capital, it is also very close to Hakuto Beach, where the White Hare of Inaba was said to have arrived on the mainland.

Rather than hares, however, you’re more likely to see camels.

They’re there for rides, of course, but the weather was cool so my friend and I decided to forego ride and walk. For the lazy who don’t feel like riding directly on an animal, there are also horse carriage rides to and from the best view points. For the more adventurous people, there are is a seasonal sand boarding course (I’d have been most interested in this!), hang gliding, and paragliding.

Of course, if you need a cheap thrill, you could always run down the dunes.

As for the way up, however, it’d be difficult to go quite as fast.

With all that sand, you’re going to attract more than just thrill seekers–you’re going to attract sand artists. In fact, The Sand Museum right across from the street from the dunes attracts an international team of artists every year for its “Traveling Around the World in Sand” sculpture exhibits. Each year, they focus on the history and culture of a different part of the world.

Previous exhibitions

The theme for 2014 (running until January 4, 2015) is Russia, and they had a team of 20 artists from 11 countries coming together to creature 21 Russia-themed scupltures, all but one of which are kept indoors to control the climate and lighting.

Lighting is very important with sand sculptures, as the shadows are what show the details. Hence, I didn’t take many photos–it wouldn’t be like seeing them in real life anyway, and I’d have to take blurry shots without flash in order to see anything. As you can see, the lighting source makes a big difference:

With flash

Without flash

With Tchaikovsky playing in the background, it was nice to stroll around, read the bilingual captions for each piece, and enjoy all the different angles, both high and low.

I think is my favorite face among all the sculptures.

My friend and I enjoyed a breezy day here and chilled out at a sand-dune themed cafe near JR Tottori station, but maybe next year I’ll go back to see a new exhibition and be a little more adventurous out on the sand. There’s also more singing sand to find nearby at Idegahama Beach! Not to mention a large collection of onsen… next time, Tottori! Next time!

Sharing a little historical vignette from Yurihama Blog, based in Tottori Prefecture.

Yurihama Blog ・ 湯梨浜ブログ


Thought to bring wisdom, courage, and good fortune, these gourds were selected as one of Tottori Prefecture’s top 100 exceptional items. When General Hideyoshi Hashiba attacked the region and squared off against General Motoharu Kikawa’s troops at Horse Mountain, the conflict was resolved without a battle. Associated with General Kikawa’s luck and resourcefulness as a general, the gourds made in the Hawai area of Yurihama came to be called General’s Gourds and are considered to be good luck charms.


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A few weeks ago, a friend and I had an afternoon open, so we figured we would go check out the Tottori Hana Kairou (Tottori Prefectural Flower Park) garden I’ve always heard so much about.

Turns out it’s not just one garden, it’s a series of several gardens. The flowers and trees seemingly stretch on forever, taking advantage of the natural surrounding hills and valleys and view of Mt. Daisen to create the illusion that the series of little worlds stretches out into more and more and more little worlds.

The flowers in this area vary according to season, but for this season I couldn’t help but hear the Wicked Witch of the West in my head.

I didn’t take enough photos to do it proper justice, as I was busy using a number of my senses to enjoy the park. This sign outside the herb garden made me quite happy–these people encourage enjoying plants like I enjoy plants! Quite often their textures get ignored in favor of their appearances or scents, and I get weird looks for touching the leaves and petals (for whatever seems it won’t damage me or the plant, anyway). At least the people in this part of the garden won’t think I’m weird, right?

I didn’t even take any pictures of the lilies, the signature flower of the garden, which were already in a bright bloom. The rose were taking center stage in many areas, especially with a temporary rose exhibition going on. As one small part of that, in encouraging people to interact more with their flower subjects, they had a set of very perfumed roses showing of the different types of scents roses carry.

That’s not to forget the orchids.

It was such a pleasant world of color that I don’t have too much else specific to report about the gardens (just an overwhelming sense of “oooh, pretty!”), but a couple non-floral things of note:

1. Concept benches! Along the elevated track circling the gardens, they had a number of creative benches designed and constructed by schools and other organizations.

2. Ice cream! Following up on a recent post about local specialties produced in ice cream form, I couldn’t pass up the park’s Tottori 20th Century Pear soft serve. Pear wouldn’t usually be my flavor of choice, but I’ve had these pears once before, and they were among the tastiest fruits I’ve ever eaten. I found it refreshingly tasty, but my friend more comments–that it was more like a sherbert, and that that halfway through she detected a flavor like apple juice.

And now for a little more prettiness:

Allium in flower language: “the correct assertion” or “infinite sorrows.” Would one of those sorrows happen to be that it can smell like onion?

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.