Friday, 29 May 2015

Seas, shrines and cemeteries

So, in a desperate attempt at getting at least one post written this month, I thought I’d do a brief post about my trip to Japan.

Last time I was in Japan, I had an odd reaction near the end of my stay there. I was walking around a temple and I felt acutely aware of the gulf between me and Japan. I really didn’t understand what I was looking at. At best I could appreciate as a beautiful building, but that was all. It all felt quite touristy and unsatisfying.

This time I decided to go to Japan for my own reasons. Not to see famous tourist attractions, but because I wanted to see certain things with my own eyes.

First, I visited Nara because I’d found an old guidebook published in the 1960s. I wanted to go to Nara and compare the old photos with what found. So I did.

Next I wanted to spend some proper time in and around Matsue. I loved it last time, so I booked an eight-night stay. First, I went to the Shimane Art Museum to see for myself evidence of a new superstition based around a sculpture of rabbits running across a field.

Apparently, if you have an offering of Shijimi clam shells (from the shores of the local lake) and rub the head or back of the first or second rabbit and then pray to it, it will bring you good luck.

This sculpture “Shinjiko Usagi” or “Lake Shinji Rabbits” was made by Yabuuchi Satoshi in 1999, so I reckon that the person who started this superstition is still alive. I find that interesting.

Unfortunately, no one could explain to me why the second rabbit was more popular than the first.

Next on my list of things to do was visit Kute, a small village which I only went to because I saw on Google Maps that it had a cemetery on a cliff. I thought, that looks interesting. And it was.

In fact, I ended up visiting quite a few cemetaries during my stay in Japan. Not on purpose, that’s just how it turned out.

Next I visited the Oki Islands. However, I hadn’t properly understood the need to spend the night there to make it worth your while. After the ticket for the ferry to get there and back, this was just a really expensive three-hour walk. Still, I went to Nishinoshima where I found a shrine with lots of aging wishes tied to its grill.

Finally, once I’d left Matsue and arrived back in Osaka I went back to see Kyoto. Just for one day. My main reason was to find a tiny torii which was next to a vending machine (you can actually see it on Google Street View). It had been there on my previous two visits, and this time I was determined to ask around to find out why it was there.

If I understood correctly (which is a big “if”) that street used to be a tow path for barges carrying goods up from Osaka. The purpose of that torii (and this is a bit shakey) is beyond that point you couldn’t go to that toilet. It seemed odd, but they definitely said “toire ga dame desu” twice.

Whatever used to lie beyond there, though, I’ve no idea.

I did lots of other things too, of course, but most of the time the best bits were when I stopped following tourist directions and walked about a bit at random.

A very nice holiday. No idea when I’ll be going back, though.


  1. I was hoping you would write about your trip -- thank you! I'm going to Matsue in October, a trip planned because of your comments after your last trip. Can I ask where you stayed? The hotel choice seems limited (for one who speaks very little Japanese). Any more info on how you spent your days there? Loved the tiny torii.

  2. I’m very flattered that you decided to go to Matsue based on what I wrote.

    As for what to do in Matsue, I think the one thing I’d absolutely recommend is a restaurant 川京 (cut and paste the Google Street View link below),133.055424,3a,75y,180.8h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sB8Hi9WTcgTvLPwNFQQZjEg!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0x7b17865475ce58ca!6m1!1e1

    The menu outside is in English, which is a big clue that they speak English inside, and the food is amazing. Trouble is, you need to get there early (by 6.30pm) or there’s a chance it’ll be full. Also, it may be closed. But it’s on a road with lots of restaurants, so just saunter past casually and if it is shut, there’ll be lots of other options.

    Izumo Taisha is also a good place to go, since there are plenty of things to do in that area and the train to it runs along the banks of Lake Shinji.

    Oh, and if you’re going in October, you can probably expect some awesome sunsets over Lake Shinji. And Matsue castle is worth a visit, too. The tourist office by the station are very helpful and they speak excellent English.

    The only down side is shopping: there really isn’t much. There’s no big centre for shopping (at least not that I could find) apart from a not very interesting shopping mall near Matsue station.

    As for hotels, I haven’t been very exciting: I stayed in the Urban Hotel and the New Urban Hotel. Two fairly ordinary hotels. The Urban Hotel is near Matsue station, so that’s very convenient. The New Urban Hotel, which is slightly nicer, is near the lake and the restaurant area.

    Hope you enjoy your stay.