Your next trip in Japan: Shimane prefecture, authentic, unknown and unforgettable
Shimane prefecture trip by TCVB: let's explore the unknown Japan
Tired of seeing the Japan of Google images? Feeling like you're not witnessing the core unfiltered culture of the country? Here's your next stop: Shimane prefecture.
No app filters needed.
That's what I kept on thinking during this whole trip organised by TCVB (Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau). "The Foreign tourist invitation Project 2016" wants to advertise more about the unknown yet worthy of interest spots of Japan, and in this regard Shimane prefecture certainly matches the description. Especially its hidden nearby Oki islands, classified as a Global Geopark by UNESCO, but yet still very much unknown.
From the breathtaking ocean views to the traditional shrines hidden in a far away forest, and not forgetting the kindness of the locals or the ever changing sunset in Matsue and its lost small rock island in the middle: there is too much to see in only four days, but everything was well worth the visit.
In order to access Shimane prefecture, the short airplane trip to a conveniently nearby airport in Izumo is less than two hours away from Tokyo. From there, a few hours of ferry -or even better, the thirty minutes small airplanes- will take you to the biggest island of the Oki islands, Okinoshima. All four islands are worth the trip. There are a few commodities to be able to sleep on the islands, as well as cars rental services and even guides, but I'd recommend you to call the Tourist Office of Nishinoshima and its amazing English speaking staff first - reservations can goo quickly and fully book the few facilities. Anyway tourists are few, but English information are still easy to find.
If not the Oki islands, then you can stay on the "land" part of Shimane prefecture and head to Mastue, its biggest town rich in culture and history.
Specific spots recommendations
Picking the favorite spots was difficult, but the following were a must-see in my opinion. First stop, the Oki islands. As a UNESCO Global Geopark, these hidden treasures give the feeling of a protected secret place where one can witness the true heart of Japan.
- The Okinoshima island creation Shinto Shrine, Tamawakasumikoto Shrine. With an amazing 2000 years old tree growing in the middle Yaosugi, the place feels quiet and peaceful. The shrine in itself is very representative of the oldest fashion Shinto designs, all washed-out wood and simple style.
- Dangyo Waterfalls : Feeling like you've reached a place forgotten by humans? Don't search anymore, you found the Dangyo no Taki Shrine. Lost in a quiet thick forest, this is the most amazing Shinto shrine I've ever seen so far. Settled at the bottom of a ravine, the modest Shrine offers a dramatic view only seen in movies, with a clear waterfall on its side and a river which leads the way in the forest for the visitors. And to change views, you can admire the Shrine from behind the waterfalls as well.
- Nishinoshima : with its cute squid mascot, this is the perfect island to empty your head in front of amazing ocean scenes and wide greenery fields. The Tourist Office of Nishinoshima has even more English information than Tokyo. A must-stop for anybody who wants to get away for town, for example with a simple trek among greenery fields, oceans views and cows.
Back on the main land of Shimane prefecture:
- The Kiyomizu Dera is a Buddhist temple which includes a pagoda, a main temple building, and a few traditional Japanese cooking restaurants. The place is quiet and surrounded by nature, and the Momijikan is a definite recommendation for a great vegan Japanese cooking. With a warm welcome and a high quality menu, the price is surprisingly low (not over 3,000 yen) and express the Shojin (devotion through cooking).
- The great Izumo Shrine is probably the most popular place in this unknown area, but people often forget its museum nearby, one of the most complete and very interesting if you wish to learn more about Shinto and Japanese architecture.
- Last on the list, Tamatsukuri Onsen spa : the alkaline onsen are famous in Matsue for its "beauty skin water", and are definitely a great stop to make, whether just for the bath or even to enjoy the hotel ryokan and the Japanese traditional cooking.
I have to cut the list short, but one thing is sure : I'll be back very soon in Shimane prefecture. It is a great place to witness the traditional Japan which sometimes feels like is disappearing to lessen the tourists' culture shock.
Amazing places to visit, warm welcoming people, specific local food... Shimane prefecture is definitely being forgotten to the benefit of the more popular neighbors, Hiroshima and Kyoto. But it will be your next stop for an unforgettable and authentic experience of Japan.
And then, you'll become addicted like me and come back again.