Izumo in the western prefecture of Shimane has a long and enchanted history. Kojiki, Japan’s oldest chronicle of myths, legends and semi-historical accounts, describes the region as a land of ancient myths and home of the gods.
Visit Izumo Taisha, an important shrine known for its spiritual energy, before boarding a delightful little boat for a leisurely tour of Matsue Castle and samurai residences.
The picturesque Japanese gardens and stunning sunset over Lake Shinji will be etched into your memory long after your trip to Japan is over.
Arrive at Izumo Airport in the morning and make a beeline for Izumo Taisha by private vehicle.
Izumo is mentioned numerous times in Kojiki, the oldest book of legends and semi-historical accounts in Japan. Izumo’s history, which dates back to BCE, is much older than that of Nara or Kyoto. The region is home to many myths related to Japan’s Imperial family, while several ruins from the Yayoi and Kofun periods have been excavated to reveal the country’s ancient history.
As a shrine to the god of marriage and the god of fortune, Izumo Taisha is believed to be a place of high spiritual energy and attracts many worshippers each year. After visiting Izumo Taisha, a leisurely stroll along Shinmon-dori is highly recommended, as is a lunch of Izumo’s famous soba noodles.
After lunch, leave the area by private vehicle and head to Matsue while enjoying views of Lake Shinji. Accommodation for both nights is at Minamikan, a historical lakeside inn, or ryokan, once popular among Japan’s literati. Celebrated writers who have stayed here include Shimazaki Toson and Akutagawa Ryunosuke. The exquisite dry landscape garden at Minamikan was chosen by US magazine The Journal of Japanese Gardening as Japan’s third most beautiful garden, after those at Adachi Museum of Art and Katsura Imperial Villa. In particular, the views of Lake Shinji and the dry landscape garden from the garden guestrooms are exceptional.
After a hearty breakfast of Taimeshi, a Minamikan specialty, leave the ryokan for a leisurely trip through Matsue, once a small castle town and now known as the “City of Water” due to Matsue Castle being surrounded by the 3.7-kilometer-long Horikawa, a river formed by the moat and narrow canals. The best way to appreciate the castle’s formidable stone walls and the surrounding area is by a leisurely boat tour along the river. During the cold season from mid-November to early April, the little boats are equipped with kotatsu heaters that turn the excursion into a snug Matsue highlight.
Board the boat from the pier near Minamikan and travel to the hop-off point close to Matsue Castle.
Matsue Castle’s main tower, a wooden structure built in the early 1600s, has survived to this day. Along with Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle, it has been designated a national treasure. Climb to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of Matsue city.
From the castle, board a little sightseeing boat again and head to Shiomi Nawate, a 500-meter-long street lined with samurai houses and majestic pine trees. The district is said to be the most beautiful in Matsue and retains the ambience of an old castle town. Spend time strolling around the samurai residences and visiting the house where Lafcadio Hearn once lived before stopping by a local café for lunch.
Return to Minamikan and relax for a while before making your way to Lake Shinji to enjoy a magnificent sunset. The lake is a popular destination for migrating birds and offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching. As for the stunning evening view, Lake Shinji is among Japan’s list of 100 best sunsets.
After breakfast, bid farewell to Minamikan and travel to Adachi Museum of Art by private vehicle.
Adachi Museum of Art houses a large collection of artworks, including Nihonga by famous painters such as Yokoyama Taikan and ceramics by the likes of Rosanjin Kitaoji. It goes without saying that these works of art are well worth the visit. But the reason Adachi Museum of Art has become world-famous is due to the splendor of its gardens, which are said to be the most beautiful in Japan. Seen from the museum’s windows, the gardens themselves resemble paintings. The museum is listed as a three-star site in the Michelin Green Guide Japan and offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for lovers of fine art and ornate gardens.
From Adachi Museum of Art, head to the nearby Yasugi Station and catch a limited express train to Kurashiki. Spending a night in Kurashiki will allow you enough time to explore the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter and visit Ohara Museum of Art. From Kurashiki, more highlights of Japan beckon, with the islands of Setouchi and their acclaimed contemporary artworks close by and the city of Hiroshima not much further.