Where would you go to Japan if you had imagined the ancient castle with the waft of ancient mysticism surrounded by the abodes of Samurai warriors, floating by the green lake? And where the Sky turns crimson when sun sets over Lake Shinji, turning the whole city in the silhouette of sublime. You go to Matsue in the Shimane prefecture of Japan. The repository of all ancient folklores, wonders and again castle –a rare original- remain in the heart of Matsue. The region is so rich in cultural assets and historical sites that most of Japan's ancient legends have their roots from Matsue.
Matsue is the capital city of Shimane Prefecture in Southwest of Japan. It is also known as the “City of Water”, Matsue stands by the Sea of Japan where Lake Shinji and Nakaumi (another lake) meet, in the middle of Shimane Peninsula. Matsue is a true castle town crossed with many canals and boasts one of the twelve remaining original castles in Japan.
Once you reach in Tokyo and spend your days in amazement, it is time to leave for Matsue. Easy and efficient as expected in Japan (see the box), you are transported swiftly to Matsue within hours. And if you travel by train which is called The Yakumo Express has a real legend behind this: it is named after the Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who arrived in Japan in 1890, never left, changed his name to Yakumo Koizumi, and remained forever in the region. As the city is surrounded by the river, one can stay anywhere comfortably, watching the quite lake idly- a feeling that you will embrace it forever. Do this anywhere once you are in Matsue. Let me take you the some of the must- go places in Matsue.
Take a walk in the Matsue Castle
Completed in 1611 and one of only 12 remaining original castles nationwide, Matsue Castle was built over a five-year period by Horio Yoshiharu, feudal lord and founder of Matsue. Built by Horio Yoshiharu, a feudal lord serving under the outstanding warrior-politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98), and completed in 1611 — by which time centuries of peace had dawned — it was Matsue’s castle that transformed this place from a sleepy fishing village into the bastion of the entire Izumo region of western Honshu. It was designated as a national treasure in 2015.
The elegance of the castle’s swooping roofs and decor is often compared to the wings of a plover bird (‘chidori’), which has led to the castle’s nickname, Plover Castle (‘chidori-jo’). There is a museum inside, and the top floor offers a panoramic view of the castle grounds and the city. It is the sight to behold.
Horikawa Sightseeing Boat
This boat tour circles the castle’s historical inner and outer moats, passing points of interest which you may miss otherwise. The boat also passes under the low-built bridges from time to time, meaning the passengers need to duck down as the roof lowers.
The boat ride along the castle is dreamy at some point when it takes you slowly into the world of bygone era. While the boat take you to the ancient kingdom, you can see the real Samurai’s house by your side. Like samurai fame, their houses are equally splendid craftsmanship and ancient architecture will amaze you.
Along the castle, there are many historic buildings that give you a glimpse of the samurai lifestyle. The street is called Shiomi Nawate which is running along the castle moat that is lined with traditional Japanese houses on one side and majestic pine trees on the other. It has been designated as a traditional aesthetic zone. There, you can see what life for a middle-class samurai in the Edo period was like.
Shiomi Nawate also has a soba restaurant (Yakumo-an) and other souvenir shops, as well as the Tanabe Museum, containing many artefacts relating to the tea ceremony. The former residence of Lafcadio Hearn and his memorial museum are also located there.
This shrine, dedicated to the gods Susanoo and Inata-hime, is thought to be the place where the first wedding in Japan was celebrated. It is very a popular spot for people looking for En-musubi, the divine matchmaking force. It is particularly very popular among Japanese young people, seeking marriage partners, children, and health for their families.
In the shrine grounds you can find the Mirror Pond, which Inata-hime used as a mirror. There is a custom of placing a coin on a piece of paper and floating it on the surface of the pond. The length of time the paper takes to sink is said to signify how soon you will meet your soul mate. I could not as I am already matched but certainly it worked for my friend George. Good luck George!
The special Japanese papers used for the Mirror Pond fortune telling can be purchased at the shrine office ¥100. Also, you can visit the Treasure House of the shrine which features a painting of Susanoo and Inata-hime, an Important National Cultural Asset.
Sunset over Lake Shinji
Central Matsue is a great spot to watch Lake Shinji’s magnificent sunsets. This view has been included in Japan’s list of one hundred best sunsets, and it’s not hard to see why, as the colours not only change over the final fleeting moments of daylight, but also vary in time over the changing seasons. These dancing colours of the sky reflected in the lake were enchanting. Even locals along with Japanese visitors find this so captivated by the dance of nature amidst you.
Lake Shinji Pleasure Cruise
While you stroll along the lakeshore, you can take the cruise boast from the lake’s scenic spot, which also runs a special sunset cruise. This sightseeing boat takes visitors on a one-hour tour around Lake Shinji.
Again, it is Important to mention the charm of the ‘Sunset Cruise’ as it offers the opportunity to view the vibrant colours of the sun streaked sky and lake surface in the backdrop of might castle. Don’t forget to try the "Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji" in a bento box! The delicacies are actually an art itself in the presentation you will marvel at. This is actually gargantuan. The feast of art in the original Japanese form is best thing I have seen.
Tamayu River and Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)
Flowing into Lake Shinji, Tamayu River is a small river that passes through the part of the city. What you find here is its magnificent rows of cherry blossoms (Sakura). Lined in the meadows, the dreamy Sakura, is noted as one of the most beautiful spots in Japan for its beauty.
The trees bloom from late March to mid-April. The rows of trees are also beautiful in the other seasons, and the river is home to many carp and birds, such as herons and egrets. For me, it was surreal for sure if that is the best way to give words to this majestic Sakura in Matsue.
Mefu Shrine and Shirakata Tenmangu Shrine
Matsue is home to the oldest and most important shrines in Japan. Among them, Mefu Shrine and Shirakata Tenmangu Shrine are under the heritage. To be not surprised, India’s ancient wisdom is well integrated into the Japanese way of worshiping and respecting nature. Mefu Shrine is located northwest of the station, just south of the Ohashi River. First constructed over 1000 years ago and worshipped by sailors for safety at sea, this shrine is emblem of finest traditional architecture with impressive giant trees and beautifully carved dragon figures on its walls.
Shirakata Tenmangu Shrine, located southwest of the station, is dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, who is known throughout Japan as the God of Learning. He is also known as Tenjin, and because the bull is an animal closely associated with him, there is a statue of one. Many local residents pay a visit to this shrine during school exams. Every year, on the 24th and 25th of July, the shrine holds the Tenjin-san Festival and the whole area comes alive with lively processions and food and game stalls.
View of Lake Shinji
Whenever, I stroll outside for walk and not touristy frenzy, I was so at peace around. The something in the lake Shinji makes you feel that way-calm and serene. Further down the walkway from Shinjiko Ohashi Bridge (bridge where river enters lake) past Shimane Art Museum along the lake shore is fame sunset viewing spot.
Lafcadio Hearn wrote of the view of the Lake: “Long reaches of faintly-tinted vapour cloud the far lake verge, — long nebulous bands, such as you may have seen in old Japanese picture books.”
Ever dream of a fantastic sight of about 30 thousand peonies floating on the pond! Yuushien Garden is one of the most splendid Japanese gardens with seasonal flowers, trees, ponds, waterfalls, and paving stones creatively organized over 40,000 beautiful square-meters. Visitors are free to walk around and enjoy the gardens at their leisure.
A moment of calm frozen in time. But for the Indian eyes, it might give a robotic precision of garden by which I mean, it is in such a mass of order. Each flower has own space and will not entangle into next flower. Even the sand will resist blowing the dust when such wind arrives. Dedicated to Yuushien who started making their gardens by gathering garden soil, stones, and trees from outside the island. Little by little the garden has been improved over 40 years, and now has become one of the splendid Japanese gardens.
The Nakamura Hajime Memorial Hall
Matsue has the greatest connection with India. The Nakamura Hajime was the worldwide authority on Indian Philosophy, Buddhism, and comparative thought on India and his quest for India was so overwhelming that reflect in his life time works of the greatest value to both India and Japan. And, Nakamura Hajime Memorial Hall is an institution honouring the lifetime achievements of Dr. Nakamura. In 1966, Dr. Nakamura was awarded the Honorary Degree of Vidya-Vacaspati in recognition of his achievements. In 1973, he was also awarded an honorary degree from the University of Delhi.
The memorial hall has a library of 30,000 of Dr. Nakamura’s books and academic documents, displays a number of his personal belongings, and hosts cultural lectures to promote exchange between India and the Nakaumi region. You will feel home here.
From Sea to Sky in an Amphibious Aircraft
Take a bird’s eye tour of the beautiful scenery of the Shimane Peninsula, while flying in an amphibious aircraft-something most of the Indian have yet to experience-offers a stunning view from the sky in the trilling an hour flight. The Starting point for the flight is Nakaumi Sky Port in the city of Matsue. It take off from the sea and once airborne, you can see the distinctive topography which was formed from the Eurasian continent 20 million years ago. Flight is super thrilling for us as it takes us closer to the North Korean border. Sitting up close with friendliest pilots will amaze you as you can see the in cockpit maneuvering up in the sky. You imagine like driving in the sky-if only the imagination can really fly. I can tell you, Matsue will be forever on your mind.