Explore Western Honshu
Straddling the strip of land between the lagoons of Nakaumi and Shinji-ko is MATSUE (松江), the appealing prefectural capital of Shimane-ken, 180km east of Tsuwano, and one of the highlights of the San’in coast. Although the city’s main sights – one of Japan’s few original castles, Matsue-jō, an area of samurai residences and the museum and one-time home of nineteenth-century expat writer Lafcadio Hearn – are so closely grouped together that they can all easily be seen in half a day, it’s worth lingering here. The lakes, rivers and castle moat lend this modern city a soothing, faintly Venetian atmosphere, and it’s still possible to catch glimpses of the old Japan that so enchanted Hearn a century ago, such as fishermen casting their nets in Shinji-ko, or prodding the lake bed with poles, searching out shellfish.
There’s also plenty to see in the area around Matsue, including the stunning landscapes at the Adachi Museum of Art, the shrines and burial mounds at Fudoki-no-Oka, and Izumo Taisha, one of Japan’s most important shrines, holiday home of the Shinto pantheon of deities, and the reason that Matsue was dubbed “chief city of the province of the gods” by Hearn. Some 130km east of Matsue, Mount Daisen, the cluster of hot-spring resorts around Kurayoshi and the coastal sand dunes around the Tottori prefecture’s eponymous capital all offer stunning scenery.Read More
Adachi Museum of Art
Adachi Museum of Art
While in Matsue, don’t miss taking a trip to the stunning Adachi Museum of Art (足立美術館), some 20km east of the city near the village of Yasugi, en route to Yonago. The large collection of Japanese artworks, dating from 1870 to the present day, includes masterpieces by Yokoyama Taikan and Uemura Shoen. The surrounding gardens are also exquisite, covering 43,000 square metres.
The museum’s founder, Adachi Zenkō, was an enthusiastic gardener, and his passion for the artform shows through in the beautiful landscapes that envelop the galleries and steal your attention at every turn. The museum is designed so that as you move around, the views of the Dry Landscape Garden, the White Gravel and Pine Garden, the Moss Garden and the Pond Garden appear like living picture scrolls when viewed through carefully placed windows. A couple of the gardens have traditional teahouses where you can take macha and sweets (from ¥1500). Juryū-an is a copy of a teahouse in the former Imperial Palace, Katsura Rikyū, in Kyoto, and looks over a peaceful moss-covered garden; in the smaller Juraku-an visitors are served a bowl of green tea made with water boiled in a kettle of pure gold, said to aid longevity. The two coffee shops in the museum are less atmospheric but cheaper, and the views just as fine.
Give yourself plenty of time here because, once you’ve dragged yourself away from the gardens, the art itself isn’t bad either. The museum has the largest collection of paintings by Yokoyama Taikan, whose delicate ink drawings and deep colour screens set the standard for modern Japanese art. There is also a section on kitsch art from children’s books, and a ceramics hall which includes works by Kawai Kanjirō – a brilliant local potter who participated actively in the mingei (folk art) movement begun by Yanagi Sōetsu – and Kitaōji Rosanjin, a potter and cook, whose pieces were designed to complement and enhance the food served on them.
There is some charm unutterable in the morning air, cool with the coolness of Japanese spring and wind-waves from the snowy cone of Fuji…
- Lafcadio Hearn, My First Day in the Orient
The journalist Lafcadio Hearn was enchanted by Japan, and of all expat writers is by far the most respected by the Japanese. Celebrated by Matsue as an adopted son, his books, including Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan and Kwaidan, are considered classics.
The offspring of a passionate but doomed liaison between an Anglo-Irish army surgeon and a Greek girl, and named after the Greek island of Lefkada on which he was born on June 27, 1850, Hearn grew up in Dublin, a contemporary of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. A schoolyard accident in 1866 left him permanently blind in his left eye, and in 1869 the young and penniless Hearn decided to chance his fortune in the United States. Over the course of the next fourteen years Hearn worked as a reporter and writer in Cincinatti, New Orleans and the West Indian island of Martinique (where he penned his first novel, Chita), with a brief marriage to an African-American girl along the way.
Commissioned by Harper’s Monthly to write about Japan, Hearn arrived in Yokohama on April 4, 1890. By the end of the day he had decided to stay, get a teaching job and write a book. The teaching post brought Hearn to Matsue, where he met and married Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of an impoverished samurai family.
Hearn would happily have stayed in Matsue, but the freezing winter weather made him ill and in 1891 they moved south to Kumamoto, in Kyūshū, closer to Setsu’s relatives. The couple had four children and in 1896 he adopted the name Koizumi Yakumo (Eight Clouds) and secured Japanese nationality. By the turn of the century, Hearn’s novels and articles had become a great success; he had started teaching at Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University, and was invited to give a series of lectures at London University and in the United States. But, on September 30, 1904, at the age of 54, Hearn suffered a series of heart attacks and died. His gravestone in Zoshigaya cemetery near Ikebukuro in Tokyo proclaims him a “man of faith, similar to the undefiled flower blooming like eight rising clouds who dwells in the mansion of right enlightenment”.
Hearn’s books stand as paeans to the beauty and mystery of old Japan, something he believed worth recording because it seemed to be fast disappearing in the nonstop modernization of the early Meiji years.
The main rail and road routes along the coast east of Matsue cross into the neighbouring prefecture of Tottori-ken and through the uninteresting industrial city of Yonago (米子); trains from Okayama on the JR Hakubi line terminate here. Yonago is the gateway to Mount Daisen (大山), at 1711m the highest mountain in the Chugoku region, and home to beautiful beech forests and ancient temples.
Daisen has the largest ski slopes in western Japan and sees heavy snowfall from November to April; it’s also known for the Daisen Ice and Snow Festival, which takes place over three days at the end of January, with fireworks lighting up the night sky and an amazing display of ice sculptures. A couple of minutes’ walk east from the bus stop, the tourist information booth has plenty of maps of the area and staff can help book accommodation.