Shimane, A Place Where History Begins with Mythology (Part 1)

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Shimane, A Place Where History Begins with Mythology (Part 1)
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Tags: chugokudestinationshistoricalsitesmuseumsshimaneshrines

Shimane 島根 is a prefecture in the Chugoku region of the Honshu main island. An often overlooked destination by many tourists visiting Japan, Shimane actually has many wonderful attractions demonstrating the prefecture’s rich historical, cultural and natural heritage.

The earliest record about Shimane comes from Japanese mythology whereby Izumo, a former province of the prefecture was known as the realm of gods. Ancient Japanese civilization was also found to have flourished in Shimane with artifacts from the Paleolithic era excavated from archeological sites in the prefecture. Also, the fact that Shimane is facing the Sea of Japan means you can expect beautiful coastal scenery besides many other great attractions.

In this series of articles, I will introduce several popular attractions in Shimane. This part one article will be focusing on the attractions in Izumo 出雲, specifically the majestic Izumo Grand Shrine (Izumo Taisha, 出雲大社) which the area is best known for.

Getting into and around Shimane

Matsue 松江 which is the prefectural capital of Shimane makes a good base to explore the popular attractions in Shimane. Matsue is accessible from major cities around Japan such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Hakata using the Japan Rail (JR) services. Visitors can take the shinkansen train from these cities to Okayama 岡山 and transfer to the JR Yakumo やくも limited express train service to Matsue.

Image by Cheng-en Cheng on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

In Matsue, the city is served by two train companies, JR San’in Main Line 山陰本線 and Ichibata Electric Railway 一畑電車. There are two train stations in the city: Matsue Station 松江駅 (serving JR trains) and Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station 松江しんじ湖温泉駅 (serving Ichibata trains). These two stations are connected by the visitor-friendly Lake Line loop buses which stop at all of the major attractions in the city (single ticket: ¥200; one-day pass: ¥500).

Image by GanMed64 on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Visitors may also want to check out the Enmusubi Perfect Ticket (¥3,000) which allows unlimited travel on the trains and buses in Matsue and Izumo for three consecutive days (except JR services). It is available at the International Tourist Information Centre located at the JR Matsue Station North Gate, and also the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station.

Transport in Matsue >
Ichibata Railway >
Enmusubi Pass > (in Japanese)

About Izumo Taisha 出雲大社

Izumo Taisha is considered the oldest and most important shrine in Japan after the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture. It is not known when exactly the shrine was built, but given the record about the shrine in the country’s oldest chronicles, the Kojiki 古事記 and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀, many believe that Izumo Taisha is the oldest shrine in Japan, for having been around in the present site since the 7th century or earlier.

The main deity of Izumo Taisha is Okuninushi-no-Okami 大国主大神. According to Japanese mythology, the shrine was a gift from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu to Okuninushi for giving his country to her grandson Ninigo-no-Mikoto.

Statue of Okuninushi

Okuninushi is the Shinto deity of nation-building, agriculture, business, and medicine. He is also famous as the deity of marriage and good relationships. Because of that, Izumo Taisha is popular among couples and individuals who come to pray for happy marriages and good relationships between people.

The honden (main hall) of Izumo Taisha, where Okuninushi is enshrined, was constructed in 1744 in Japan’s oldest architectural style for shrine buildings called Taisha-zukuri style. The main hall and the attached buildings were designated as National Treasures of Japan in 1952. On both sides of the main hall, there are long wooden buildings called Jukusha 十九社, which are said to house the deities from across Japan when they gather at the shrine during the 10th month of the lunar calendar.

Image by Big Ben in Japan on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

On the other hand, the shrine’s Kagura Hall 神楽殿 is noted for its Shimenawa (sacred straw rope). At 13.5 meters long and weighs around 5 tonnes, it is the largest shimenawa in Japan. In Shinto belief, a shimenawa marks a boundary between a pure, sacred space and the mortal world. It is also believed to be able to ward off evil spirits.

Each year during the 10th month of the lunar calendar, it is believed that eight million Shinto deities from all over Japan would gather at Izumo Taisha for one week to discuss the upcoming year’s marriages, births and deaths. The month is called Kamiarizuki 神在月 (month with gods) in Izumo area and Kannazuki 神無月 (month without gods) for the most part of Japan. Special events and ceremonies are held during this period, beginning with a welcoming ceremony at the nearby Inasa-no-Hama beach 稲佐の浜, the place where the gods arrive and are escorted to Izumo Taisha by the priests.

Image by Kuruman on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Lastly, if you wish to pray for good luck in love or personal relationships at Izumo Taisha, remember to clap four times instead of the usual two times, because you are not just praying for yourself but also your current or future partner.

How to go

Take an Ichibata train from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station to Kawato Station 川跡駅, where a change of trains is required to Izumo Taisha-mae Station 出雲大社前駅. Turn right out of the station and walk for about 10 minutes.

Alternatively, take a JR train from JR Matsue Station to JR Izumo-shi Station 出雲市駅, then take an Ichibata bus 一畑バス (bound for Izumo Taisha 出雲大社 or Hinomisaki 日御碕) for about 25 minutes to Izumo Taisha bus stop and walk for 1 minute.

The Inasa-no-Hama beach is about 1 kilometre west or a 10 minute walk from Izumo Taisha.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo 島根県立古代出雲歴史博物館

Image by Scarper Montgomery on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located just next to the grounds of Izumo Taisha, the museum is dedicated to the history of the grand shrine as well as the Izumo region. It features an impressive collection of artifacts excavated from the area, such as bronze swords, bells, and the remains of Izumo Taisha’s giant pillars. Other exhibitions include the conceptual models of the original Izumo Taisha, gallery and also animated movies about Izumo from the ancient myths, pre-historic times to the present.

Opening Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM (March to October), 9 AM – 5 PM (November to February)
Closed: 3rd Tuesday of each month
Admission Fee: ¥610, half price for foreign tourists (upon presenting your passport)

Former Taisha Station 旧大社駅

The former Taisha Station is worth visiting for it’s majestic, purely Japanese-style architecture. Located a kilometre south of Izumo Taisha, the station was first opened in 1912 and reconstructed into the current building in 1924. The station was closed following the abolishment of JR Taisha Line in 1990. Although the station is no longer in use, it is open to the public and visitors can imagine the glory days of the station through various displays in the station. It was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 2004.

Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
Access: Turn left out of the Izumo Taisha-mae Station and walk for 10 to 15 minutes.

Looking for Part 2 of the article? Click here.

Kyla HS
Kyla HS
A student, part-time translator and writer. I like anime, Jpop and Jrock in general but ultimately, I love to travel and often spend most of my expenses on food.

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