Shimane is a great destination for visitors seeking to explore more in-depth about Japan’s early history, arts, culture, as well as natural wonders.
In the first part of this feature about attractions in Shimane, I introduced Izumo Grand Shrine, which is considered the most prominent attraction in the prefecture. In this article, I am shifting the focus to Matsue 松江 and look at the attractions as well as some of the things to do during your visit to the city.
Matsue is the capital city of Shimane prefecture. It is located between two bodies of water, Lake Shinji and Nakaumi Lagoon, on top of facing the Sea of Japan. The central area of Matsue is divided into northern and southern parts by the Ohashi River 大橋川, in addition to the moat and canals that surround the old castle town. As a result, the city is also known as the “City of Water” 水の都.
Matsue Castle and Lake Shinji, located on the northern side and southern side of the city respectively, are primary locations that visitors should not miss when visiting Matsue. For visitors, it may be helpful to remember that the JR Matsue Station is located in the southern part whereas the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station is located in the northern part of the city centre. You can refer to the Part 1 article for more information about the transportation in Matsue.
Matsue Castle 松江城
Matsue castle is one of the only 12 remaining original castles in Japan. Known as “black castle” or “plover castle”, Matsue Castle was built from 1607 to 1611 as the city’s defensive structure. It has six storeys, with the top floor offering a panoramic view over the castle grounds and the city.
On the castle grounds, there are several places of interests that can be visited along with the castle.
They include Jozan Inari Shrine 城山稲荷神社, Matsue History Museum 松江歴史館, Horan-enya Memorial Hall ホーランエンヤ伝承館, and Kounkaku 興雲閣 (a Western-style mansion).
In spring, the castle grounds become an excellent spot for cherry blossom viewing, filled with food stalls and picnickers. At night, the sakura trees are illuminated to give a different cherry blossom viewing experience.
Admission: ¥560 (¥280 for foreign visitor)
Opening Hours: 8:30 AM – 6:30 PM (Apr to Sept); 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM (Oct to Mar)
From JR Matsue Station, take a Lakeline Bus for 10 minutes and alight at Otemae 大手前 bus stop. Alternatively, take a Northern Loop Line bus from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station for 5 minutes and alight at Kencho-mae 県庁前 bus stop, then walk for 5 minutes.
Shiomi Nawate 塩見縄手
Located just the north of Matsue Castle, Shiomi Nawate is an Edo period street exuding the charm of old Japan. The 500-metre street is lined with ancient pine trees, samurai residences, and old Japanese-style houses. Among them are Buke Yashiki 武家屋敷 – a samurai house which remains exactly the way it was since 1730, memorial museum and also former residence of Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-Irish writer who was naturalized as Koizumi Yakumo. He was one of the earliest writers who introduced Japan to the West.
Access: From JR Matsue Station, take a Lakeline Bus and alight at Koizumi Yakumo Kinenkan-mae 小泉八雲記念館前 bus stop.
Horikawa Pleasure Boat Tour 堀川遊覧船
What’s the better way to enjoy Matsue’s well-preserved moat and canal system than boarding one of the boats and enjoying the 400 year-old castle town from the water? Explore the area around Matsue Castle and enjoy the scenery that changes with the season, as you cruise past the forest, old and new buildings, and also the bridges – some of which so low that you have to duck as the boat passes through! You can also learn from the boatman about the local history and culture as well as interesting sights along the way.
The boat tour is available all year long and the ticket is valid for one day, meaning you can hop on and off as many times as you like within the day and visit the attractions along the course. Take the boat from three boarding points around the city: Fureai Hiroba near Shiomi Nawate, Karakoro Hiroba near Karakoro Art Studio, and Otemae Hiroba just beside the Matsue Castle.
Lake Shinji is the seventh largest lake in Japan, connecting to the Sea of Japan via the Nakaumi Lagoon (another lake). Being a brackish lake, its water is a combination of freshwater and seawater. It looks especially gorgeous during the sunset, but equally beautiful is the serene view in the early morning when the mist is still shrouding the lake and the fishermen collecting Shijimi clams, one of the local specialities, from their little boats. A number of hotels and ryokans, such as those in the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen 松江しんじ湖温泉, are located on the shores of Lake Shinji.
Access: 10 minutes on foot from JR Matsue Station.
The view of the sun casting a red and orange glow over Lake Shinji is simply breathtaking, it is a must-see for anyone visiting Matsue. The scenery of the sun setting over the lake’s petite island Yomegashima 嫁ヶ島 is considered a classic sunset view of Lake Shinji. Same goes for the pair of Jizo statues overlooking the lake from the shore, which give the sunset a sense of tranquillity. Among the great spots to catch Matsue’s sunset is Shirakata Park 白潟公園 and Shimane Art Museum, which is an attraction itself. You can catch the sunset inside the museum or along the lakeside promenade outside the museum.
Shirakata Park is located on the shore of Lake Shinji, on the southern side of Shinjiko Ohashi Bridge 宍道湖大橋. Shimane Art Museum is 15 minutes on foot from the JR Matsue Station north exit. Alternatively, take a Lakeline bus or Matsue City Southern Loop Line bus for 6 minutes and get off at Kenritsu Bijutsukan-mae 県立美術館前 bus stop.
Thanks to the water quality of Lake Shinji, fishes and shellfishes thrive in the lake. The lake provides the locals with “Shinjiko Shicchin” 宍道湖七珍 or Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji. These delicacies are whitebait, eel, shijimi clams, shrimp, bass, smelt, and carp. The seafood harvested from the lake varies depending on the season, but the most famous of all, the shijimi clams, are available all year long.
As the most readily available delicacy among the seven, you can easily enjoy shijimi clams at many restaurants in Matsue, and in various dishes such as rice, miso soup, pasta, and ramen. The other thing is that the clams are known to the locals as a delicious yet effective cure for hangovers!
Matsue has many wonderful attractions other than those mentioned in this post, such as Daikonshima 大根島 and Yuushien garden 由志園, Komasu Shrine 神魂神社, Yaegaki Shrine 八重垣神社, just to name a few.
You can also find many historical sites and museums related to ancient Izumo, given the fact that the south-eastern side of Matsue was the administrative centre of the ancient Izumo province from the 7th through 12th centuries.
Besides, many attractions in Matsue provide discounts on tickets and entrance fees to international visitors (this applies to Shimane as a whole), so do take the opportunity and explore what the area has to offer!