October is the month of fall vibes.
The temperature is comfortable and mild during the day with a few chillier mornings and evenings thrown into the mix.
It is in this month, as the cooler temperatures arrive, when the glorious colors of Japan’s fall are at their loveliest.
Fall in Japan is referred to by lots of names, including the “season of food,” “the season of sport,” “the season of art” and the “season of reading,”
and brings with it delicious seasonal dishes along with just the right weather to enjoy all sorts of activities without working up too much of a sweat.
This month, we’ll be introducing you to the sights of Shimane Prefecture.
Not only is this prefecture home to amazing cuisine like Izumo soba noodles, one of the three most famous soba noodle styles in Japan,
the famous Shimane wagyu beef and fresh seafood, but it is also home to many sacred locations described in Japanese mythology.
Here you’ll find the Izumo Grand Shrine where Japan’s 8 million gods are said to gather each year and Matsue Castle, Japan’s “black castle.”
You can also pay a visit to Tamatsukuri Onsen, a hot spring famous for its skin beautifying properties,
the Adachi Museum of Art, which is one of the best traditional gardens in Japan and the Oki Islands, which are designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark.
Enjoying the autumn leaves at Matsue Castle and the castle town
The first location in Shimane that we would like to introduce you to is the prefectural capital of Shimane Prefecture; Matsue City.
Matsue prospered centuries ago as a castle town and aspects of that history and culture still remain in the hearts of many of the city’s residents today.
Matsue Castle is the symbol of this city and taking a walk in the area.
It surrounds it will allow you to look over rows of old samurai residences and experience a refined atmosphere framed by the reds and oranges of the autumn leaves.
The culture of the tea ceremony also lives on in this city which is dotted with places where you can enjoy the wagashi confectionery,
that the lord of this castle once loved together with a cup of matcha tea as well as traditional restaurants that serve Izumo soba noodles.
Matsue City is also known as the “City of Water” because it’s home to Lake Shinji, which was chosen as one of the 100 best views in Japan.
The view of the setting sun reflecting off the surface of this lake is so beautiful that some people even say that it’s the most spectacular view in the whole country.
Our favorite spot for watching this sunset is from the Shimane Art Museum which stands on a ridge that overlooks the water.
The museum itself is themed around harmony with water. It received one star from the Michelin Green Guide Japan,
and was built with the architectural motif of a shoreline laying between the lake and the land in mind.
One of the other fall staples in Matsue is the Dou Gyoretsu (Drum Parade) which is held during October every year.
People of all ages parade around the city beating drums to the tunes of traditional Japanese music.
Newbies can also try their hand at Japanese drums beforehand during an event on the eve of each parade.
The intense beat of the drums echoing across the autumn sky makes an unforgettable memory.
*The parade will be canceled in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19.
The home of Japanese mythology and the hot springs of the gods
Shimane Prefecture is a prominent location in Japanese mythology and many of its myths are described in the two oldest pieces of Japanese literature, the Kojiki (published in 712 AD) and the Nihon Shoki.
These ancient texts describe how gods from all over Japan convene in Shimane during October on the old lunar calendar.
In Shimane, this month is known as “Kamiarizuki” (the month with gods), but throughout the rest of Japan,
this month is known as “Kannazuki” (the month without gods) because they’re not at home!
Also enshrined here is the deity of marriage, and for over 1,300 years it has been blessing not only the bonds of love and affection,
but every kind of relationship you can think of. If you’d like to get off on the right foot with the people at work, a new friend, or even older companions, why not drop by here for a little extra luck?
After a leisurely walk around a shrine, there’s nothing better than a relaxing soak in a hot spring.
There are around 60 different hot springs dotted throughout Shimane Prefecture, all of which are known for being good for the skin.
Tamatsukuri Onsen in Matsue City in particular is adored for its waters, with some people even going so far as to claim they’re as beautifying as skin lotion!
Tamatsukuri is also where you’ll find people making magatama, comma shaped beads, which are decorative items used in shinto rituals.
It’s because of this link to the gods that this hot spring is also known as the hot springs of the gods.
Magatama are made out of blue agate and are talismans brimming with spiritual power.
Or in modern terms, the perfect souvenir!
One of Japan’s best traditional gardens steeped in fall colors
One of the places we’d most recommend to check out in Shimane Prefecture in fall is the Adachi Art Museum.
This museum displays lots of modern Japanese paintings and the expansive gardens that stretch throughout the grounds have been selected as Japan’s best traditional garden for 17 years in a row by one U.S.-based Japanese garden magazine.
In the fall especially, the beautiful reds and golds of the falling leaves can make you feel like you’re staring at a landscape painting.
Staring at the views and paintings all day is all well and good,
but if you’re looking for something a little more involving, why not try zazen meditation in a historic temple nearby?
Kiyomizu Temple is only a short trip from the Adachi Art Museum and offers zazen experiences twice a day between the months of May and November at 10:00 and 14:00.
There’s no need to book and all you have to do is go to reception ten minutes before the session you want to join starts.
The wonderful food, culture, and people of the Oki Islands
The last location in Shimane that we would like to show you is this author’s very own birthplace, the Oki Islands.
The Oki Islands are made up of four main populated islands and are known for their magnificent natural landscapes and rich culture.
They were also designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2013.
There are beautiful views to be admired throughout the islands, but the most popular of these is Rosoku-jima (Candlestick Rock).
As the sun sinks behind a rock shaped like a candlestick, it transforms the view into a magical spectacle where it seems like the rock is illuminating the land with light.
From the mainland, you can access the islands by either plane or boat.
If you plan on seeing multiple islands, then we recommend a stay of two nights.
During that time you’ll be able to sample fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan,
unique traditional dishes passed down between the islanders for generations and sake made from the clear waters of the streams that flow through these islands.
This author once showed a family from Singapore around the Oki Islands.
After a barbecue of freshly-caught seafood and some sushi and local sake at a nearby izakaya,
they fell so much in love with these islands that they began to research moving there! lol
While it’s easy to enjoy the abundance of nature here with walks and cycling,
one of the best parts about exploring these islands is the chance to interact with the locals.
If you meet anyone on the road, try sparking up a conversation with them.
Many love the opportunity to talk about how they live on the island and the foods they recommend.
While I could talk about the charms of Shimane Prefecture all day, but at the risk of this article becoming a whole essay, let’s leave it here…
If you’ve set your heart on visiting Shimane Prefecture after reading this article then contact Helping Dragon!
We still have plenty of hidden gems and communities that we would love to introduce to you. ^_^
- Written by Sumire Hayakawa
- Translated by Carley Radford