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.

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