Shimane Prefecture sits on the southwestern portion of Japan's main island of Honshu, and is the perfect spot to visit if you're looking for an off the beaten path travel experience. Often overlooked by visitors in favor of more well known destinations, the region has culture, nature and history by the bucketload – just without the massive crowds to battle! Curious about what Shimane has to offer? Here are 15 things to see and do throughout the prefecture to get you started!
1. Experience an Authentic Slice of History at Matsue Castle
One of Shimane’s biggest drawcards has to be Matsue Castle. There are various beautiful castles scattered all across Japan, but many of those are restorations – the original structures were destroyed by fires or earthquakes, or demolished by the new Meiji government at the close of the feudal era. Matsue Castle dates back to the early 1600s, and is unique in that it still remains in its original form. For a small admission fee, you can climb up to the top level of the castle itself and get some fantastic views across the city – it's worth every yen!
2. Admire Ceramics, Paintings, and Gardens at the Adachi Museum of Art
The Adachi Museum of Art features so much more than just displays of pottery, paintings and hanging scrolls – there are some downright incredible gardens here as well. They’re so well regarded that they win prizes year after year for being the best gardens in all of Japan. In addition to the displays of beautiful artwork and breathtaking nature, there are two charming teahouses on site, where you can enjoy some matcha and Japanese sweets while taking in the surrounding views.
3. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine
Iwami Ginzan was a former silver mine, and one that helped initiate the development of other silver mines across Asia. It has since been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and exploring the area surrounding the mining site can easily take up an entire day. There's plenty to check out, including museums showcasing excavated mine items and tools that were used, two mining tunnels that are open to the public, and the charming Omori Town, which was formerly used as the management hub for the mines. It's now dotted with cafes and restaurants, and feels every bit like a step back in time.
4. Behold the Beautiful the Sunset Over Lake Shinji
Lake Shinji comes in at number 7 on the list of Japan’s largest lakes, and is the perfect spot to take in the sunset over Matsue. If you’d like to get out on the water itself to appreciate all of the natural beauty, there are several different boat companies that take passengers out for evening cruises. If you can't plan a visit to the lake to coincide with sunset, never fear – it's still a stunning sight to see no matter the time of day.
5. See The City From A Castle Moat on a Matsue Pleasure Boat Cruise
There’s no better way to explore Matsue Castle and the surrounding area than by enjoying a boat cruise around the moat and canals of the city. The guided tour is conducted in Japanese, but has English audio narration which explains many of the sights as you pass them by. One of the most unique things about these boat tours is that the roofs on the boats are collapsible. Many of the bridges you pass under are incredibly low, so the roof has to lower to accommodate for them. Be ready to duck!
Photo by Yuta Shimba on Flickr
6. Visit One of Japan's Most Significant Shrines at Izumo Taisha
If you’re after a significant shrine to visit, you can’t look past Izumo Taisha. Known as one of the oldest and the most important shrines in Japan, it’s a spot that people come to pray for love and good fortune. You’ll hear people clapping four times instead of the usual two when they pray here – it’s for the purpose of clapping once for themselves, and once for their current (or hopeful!) partners. The shrine also sells goshuin, a type of book used to collect stamps from shrines, which makes for a perfect souvenir to carry along throughout your journeys in Japan.
7. Check Out the Views From the Hinomisaki Lighthouse
Built in the early 1900’s, the Hinomisaki Lighthouse sits on the Izumo coastline and lays claim to being the tallest lighthouse in all of Japan. If you’re feeling energetic, for a small admission fee you’re able to climb up to the top of the lighthouse – and you’re rewarded with some fantastic views out over the Sea of Japan. If you’re visiting the lighthouse, it’s also worth your while to stop in at the charming Hinomisaki Shrine, which can be found just a stone’s throw away.
Photo by GanMed64 on Flickr
8. Sample Some Matcha at Meimei-an Teahouse
If you’d like to enjoy a traditional Japanese teahouse experience, Meimei-an Teahouse should be up there at the top of your list. It’s in a bit of a hidden location in Matsue, but is well worth the trip. The original teahouse premises were constructed in the late 1700s, and have since been designated as an important piece of cultural property. Despite the original teahouse building being something you can only view from a distance, you’re able to enjoy some matcha and wagashi at the adjoining modern teahouse, Hyakuso-Tei.
9. Appreciate The Bird Life at Matsue Vogel Park
The bird is the word at the Matsue Vogel Park – if you’ve got an avid interest in all things avian, this is your spot. You’ll be able to see everything from penguins, owls, hawks, eagles and more at the venue here, and there’s also a petting zoo which is fantastic for the kids and kids at heart. If you’re after a dose of cuteness overload, you shouldn't miss the penguin stroll held at 10.30am and 2pm daily.
10. Step Back In Time at The Matsue Samurai Residences
If you’re a history buff, checking out Matsue’s Samurai Residences needs to be added to your Shimane itinerary. The residences are situated in close proximity to Matsue Castle, and have been preserved to give you an idea of how some high ranking samurai families would have lived in times gone by. The residences have been under renovation for some time now, but are scheduled to reopen in August 2018.
11. Visit a Unique Shrine at Inasanohama Beach
If you want to visit a beach with one of the most unique and beautiful shrines in Japan, heading to Inasanohama Beach is a must. Just a short distance away from Izumo Taisha Shrine, the beach here has a large rock pillar sitting in the water with a shrine atop it. The shrine here is said to be the home of a female sea deity, who keeps a watchful eye over sailors and ensures their safety.
12. Enjoy The Splendour Of The Seasons at Yushien Garden
Touted as one of the best gardens in Japan is Yushien, which has something to enjoy no matter which season you plan to visit. They’re probably most well known for their beautiful springtime peonies, but the gardens are also revered as a spot to enjoy the changing leaves of autumn, known in Japan as koyo. As well as the beauty of nature to enjoy, the grounds also boast several restaurants where you can appreciate the views over a bite to eat.
13. Bathe For Some Added Beauty at Tamatsukuri Onsen
If you’re after some time to relax and pamper yourself, look no further than Tamatsukuri Onsen. The waters here are known for being excellent for your skin – in particular, they're hailed for having some fantastic moisturizing properties. There are a number of ryokan properties to stay at in the Tamatsukuri Onsen area, where you can soak away to your heart’s content.
14. Sink Your Teeth Into Some Izumo Soba
Seeking out some local cuisine to enjoy? One of the best things to sample in Shimane is Izumo soba. This kind of soba is characterized by a darker and more intense buckwheat flavor, owing to the fact that the entire seed is used in making the buckwheat flour. You’ll often see Izumo soba served up in a style called warigo, where the noodles are presented in several stacked lacquerware dishes. From there, it's just a matter of adding your desired toppings and digging in!
15. Soak Up Some Sun at Kotogahama Beach
One of Shimane’s best beaches is Kotogahama, and rumor has it that the reason it was named Kotogahama is because of the Japanese word for harp – or koto. The sand makes a sound that is reminiscent of the musical instrument when you walk on it! It’s a popular spot for swimming and water sports, or even just walking along the shoreline and enjoying the stellar views.