Tuesday the 17th dawned early and lovely, bright and sunny. Since I hadn’t been able to sightsee the day before, I decided to walk to the castle for a look-see, even though it wouldn’t be open yet. I’m very glad I did, as I found a lovely little shrine right by the hotel, as well as Matsue Shrine, right next to the castle. The walk was easy and gorgeous and worth the time it took.
When I got back to the hotel, I finished packing up and headed to the station to head to the real reason for my trip: Izumo Taisha, one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines, and a place I have been long to go for almost 20 years. Izumo was never convenient to get to when I’d come to Tokyo, so I told myself when I moved to Fukuoka that I would make it there, no matter what.
Sometimes when you long to visit a place, it can’t possibly live up to your expectations. The Forbidden City turned out that way for me (in no small part because of the Beijing smog and its effects on me), so I worried Izumo might fall flat after all these years. But I needn’t have been concerned: it delivered, and how. Izumo’s not a flashy shrine, but its unique style, the absolutely glorious natural setting, and the ever-present feeling of peaceful joy that shrines give me all added up to a delightful visit for me.
When I posted my first picture from the approach to the main shrine, I commented that I might cry when I finally arrived there. And yes, I did, but happy tears: I am a very lucky person, and I am grateful for each new experience I have in this wonderful place I’ve made my home. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the shrine grounds, taking pictures, wondering at all the bunny statues, soaking in the sun and the atmosphere, feeling very content. I chatted briefly with an older man (wearing a badge of some sorts, so I wonder if he was affiliated with the shrine), who asked where I was from, thanked me for visiting and then told me about the recent renovations to the shrine (unlike Ise Shrine, which is periodically rebuilt, Izumo just gets major renovations every 60 years; 2015 was the most recent year).
All too soon, it was time to consider food and heading back into Izumo proper, so I could catch the last limited express to Shin-Yamaguchi. I reluctantly said goodbye (I’ll have to come back in October some time, when the gods are said to be in residence) and went looking for food. Ended up at a place offering handmade soba noodles (restaurant Enishi, which should amuse the Taniyama Kishou fans among you) and enjoyed a dish of cold noodles and a beer. After that, I made a beeline (no pun intended) for a place across the street offering honey soft serve ice cream. It was heavenly, and I discovered the stand was attached to a honey store. After trying a few samples, picked out sakura honey for my friend Nancy and some lotus blossom honey for me. Picked up some last souvenirs for the office and caught the tiny little electric train back to town.
At the Izumo station, ran into some little old ladies who I’d keep seeing all day, we smiled and chuckled that our paths kept crossing. One of the two reminded me very much of my grandmother, which made me smile more. Caught the Ltd. Express Oki, which turned out to be just two cars, though I got a row to myself. I wish I’d been on the other side of the car, because the tracks hugged the cost for 2/3rds of the 204 minute ride, and I could’ve taken some lovely pics. The countryside was quite beautiful through Shimane and Yamaguchi, and I again found myself gazing out the window most of the time. One of our stops was Tsuwano, an old samurai town that you can take the steam train SL Yamaguchi to. I’m hoping to make it back there this fall or next spring.
From Shin-Yamaguchi, it was a short shinkansen ride back to Fukuoka, and by 9 PM, my grand adventure was over. It was short, but wonderful, and I hope I can do more trips like this as time permits. It’s so easy to get around Japan, I’ve no excuse not to.
All my photos from the trip can be seen here.