Located along the coast and overlooking the Sea of Japan lies the prefecture of Shimane, where every city has its special character. From Matsue, affectionately nicknamed the “City of Water,” through to Tsuwano, each municipality welcomes guests to take a breath, relax and appreciate the slow life.
Shimane offers a multitude of opportunities to become acquainted with nature, be transported into the past, or get back to basics. Experiences across the prefecture include sword-wielding, make-your-own shichimi and breakfast on a mountaintop.
Matsue’s nickname comes from its proximity to the ocean and two large lakes, Shinji and Nakaumi. The prefectural capital is known for its love of matcha and Japanese tea and boasts the 400-year-old Matsue Castle, one of the few in Japan to have no modern concrete reconstructions. In 2015 the castle was registered as a national treasure of Japan.
The experiences at Osewa-san offer travelers a chance to learn about traditional Japanese crafts, food and culture hands-on with the expert guidance of friendly locals and specialists. For fans of Japanese warriors, we recommend the sword-wielding experience.
Step into the shoes of a samurai and learn fighting basics under sword master Chachamaru Horikawa. Horikawa even appeared on Japanese television shows before to showcase his skills. In the dojo, he teaches students how to hone the mind, hold the sword and swing it. By the end of the lesson, you’ll be more agile and more knowledgeable about the different types of katana.
Ichibata Yakushi Temple was founded in 894 and is located 200 meters up the side of a mountain in Izumo, an area on the Shimane Peninsula steeped in mythology and folklore. The temple, reached by 1,300 stone steps, rewards visitors with panoramic views of Lake Shinji and the Chugoku mountain range rising beyond. Built around the Buddha of medicine and healing, Ichibata Yakushi welcomes many travelers each year.
Here, you can sign up for several activities, including copying sutras (Buddhist scriptures), a practice that was popular in Japan. The experience is designed to calm and focus the mind and banish evil thoughts through copying the sutras, just as students did centuries prior.
After the session, participants are welcomed into the main room for incense burning and tea.
It can be easy to forget there was a time when electricity and gas were not necessary for daily activities. In the coastal city of Oda, travelers are invited to get back to basics and participate in a unique cooking class where they can learn to cook rice using a technique from bygone days.
This experience takes place at the Kumagai residence, a beautiful restored Edo-period Japanese house with over 30 rooms across its two floors. The structure itself was the former residence of a wealthy merchant family. Over the years, Kumagai drew attention from all over the country, and today is best known for its efforts to preserve and share the traditional Japanese lifestyle.
In the residence’s spacious kitchen, participants can try their hand at traditional Japanese cooking, from preparing vegetables and rice the old-fashioned way to stoking the fire. Once the meal is ready, replenish your energy with miso soup and onigiri alongside the dish you helped prepare.
The picturesque town of Tsuwano is known locally as “Little Kyoto” because of its numerous Edo-period buildings decorated with signature red roof tiles unique to the area. The town is surrounded by mountains, including Mount Reigi where, some 200 meters above Tsuwano, are the Tsuwano Castle ruins. This historic spot is a must-see when in the area.
The Tsuwano Breakfast Climb is a great way to include a visit to the ruins and get some exercise in. At just over one hour to the top, hike up with an expert guide and a packed breakfast to crack open at the trail’s end. Nothing beats the reward of sitting amid the Tsuwano Castle ruins, enjoying a breakfast made with Tsuwano-grown ingredients while taking in the spectacular panoramic views over the town below.
Oki, an area famed for its delicious soba noodles, is also home to the only village on Chiburi Island, Chibu, with a population of 640.
In Japan, soba restaurants always serve soba noodles with an accompanying spice blend, shichimi. Travelers visiting Chibu can sign up for an experience where they can make their own special blend to take home.
Get treated to the rare taste of fresh shichimi using local seasonal ingredients such as wakame seaweed and Japanese pepper. In comparison to store-bought varieties, fresh shichimi has a sharper fragrance and more complex flavors. What’s more, this experience caters to those with allergies and special dietary requirements.