At the JR Matsue Station, we first purchased tickets for our shinkansen train journey next morning to Hiroshima. DE Optimistk-san’s cheat sheet came in very handy – he had written down in English, followed by Japanese, the sentence: “I’d like to purchase two reservation and base fare tickets on Yakumo#2 leaving Matsue at 5.12 to Okayama and connecting Nozomi#57 ones to Hiroshima for 30th September. The total price is 9,370 yen p.p, right?” :-) :-) :-) It was a snap getting those tickets once we showed the guy at the ticket counter that sentence! Arigato gozaimasu, Optimistk-san!!! (
I forgot to write earlier in my Sakaiminato trip report that we showed the same sheet at the ticket counter, only, the sentence read, “I’d like two tickets to Matsue” :-) :-) :-) ). This Japan DE truly went above and beyond the call of (voluntary) duty!
The Matsue Tourist Office at the JR Matsue station was staffed by two very pleasant young women who welcomed us with genuine warmth. I have to go back a bit here - before our trip, when we were trying to book a room at the Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae ( a big arigato to BargainHunter who suggested this place and who also told me what Ekimae meant – “close to station”) in Matsue, we ran into some communication problems with that hotel’s front desk personnel who were very responsive but didn’t understand English - just as we didn’t understand Japanese. We emailed the Matsue tourist office and they immediately called the Toyoko Inn to convey our request in Japanese, then wrote back to assure us that all was taken care of! Our perception, at that time, of their *niceness*, was only reinforced when we met them. They gave us all the information we needed and more, then asked us to choose from slips of folded paper in a bowl. We did, and with a charming show of clapping their dainty hands and exclaiming over what we’d “won”, they presented us with little gifts. Mine was a charm accompanied by a fortune paper; my OH got a wrapped pair of pretty chopsticks :-). Would that all tourist information offices anywhere in the world greet visitors with as much exuberance,hospitality and creativity!
We walked under quickly-darkening, cloudy skies to the Toyoko Inn diagonally opposite the station and checked into our room, which was small with very little space to walk around the bed, but quite adequate for our needs. After freshening up and leaving our duffels behind, we walked back to the station, from where the hop-on/hop-off Lake Line bus departed.
Japan forum poster William512 had given us excellent information on Matsue and we thought of him with gratitude throughout the afternoon :-). Based on my dad’s recollections of this water city, we knew we wanted to see Lake Shinji at sunset and also try to locate the onsen where Dad and his fellow pilots had an enjoyable dip. Apparently, at that time there was an outdoor onsen for males and a bit farther away and adjacent to it, one for females. Dad and his squadron mates had gone there with a bunch of Australian pilots; all in their early twenties, they stared unabashedly and in delight at the Japanese women who’d stepped into the ‘female only’ onsen. Alas, their hormone-fueled, bad gaijin manners led to an opaque screen being placed promptly between the two onsens :-).
The red Lake Line bus which circles Matsue around Lake Shinji was a boon to our tired feet. A one-day ticket ( unlimited rides) costs 500 yen per person; a single ride is 200. Admission to all major sights/sites in Matsue is fifty percent off for international visitors. We rode the bus once all the way around just so we could see most of Matsue - a pretty big, sprawling city with many confectionery shops. A few Japanese tourists also got on with us; unfortunately, the recorded narration of passing landmarks was only in Japanese. When the Onsen stop was announced, all we saw through the drizzle, was a big building and not the outdoor hot springs my dad had described.
In the interests of time, we decided, on our second go-around, to get off at Matsue Castle on Shiominawate Street, as that would require some time to explore and was a historical landmark we didn’t want to miss. Then we planned to get off at the Onsen just to see it, buy some Matsue pastries, and end the day by seeing the sun set over Lake Shinji. A good plan, but one whose latter part never came to fruition, because after our castle visit, the clouds that had veiled the sun only grew thicker, the sky darkened and then it poured! Reminded me of my dad telling me as a child, “What man proposes, God disposes.” ;-)
Matsue’s medieval castle is the only surviving one in the Sanin region of Japan and is also the only one constructed wholly of wood (barring the foundation, if I’m not mistaken). It was built as a fortification and is an imposing sight with its two carp tails springing up from the roof ( a symbol of protection against fires, since fish denote water), its classic architecture with black pagoda roofs and white walls, thick wooden doors and cleverly-designed window 'covers', and the wide moat that surrounds it. From outside, the castle has five storeys but inside it actually has six floors. When the weather is good, one can go on a boat ride ( Horikawa sightseeing boats) on the moat/canal.
The castle has a unique system of defense – all the wooden stairs inside can be pulled up at a moment’s notice, thereby allowing no quick access to invaders. There is a small gift shop on the ground floor and on the first floor is located a splendid, not-to-be-missed display of samurai costumes and weapons showcased beautifully all around the spacious hall. There’s also a gorgeous wooden miniature of the castle, the castle’s original indoor well, and a large diorama of Matsue City. The stairs are pretty steep, so because I have a bad knee, I decided to wait it out after the second floor, while my OH climbed up to the top and enjoyed the panoramic view of the entire city (which I saw later on the digicam :-)).
The castle grounds are fastidiously kept, with pine trees, seasonal flowers, statues, torii and shrines contributing to the serenity. There were very few visitors when we were there, so we had the place almost to ourselves. How happy we were to come across a frisky golden retriever pulling at the leash held by his teenage Japanese girl- companion ( we are crazy about goldens)! She called him “Luku” but said his name was Luke. We spent several minutes playing with him while he basked in all the attention. I wonder what the formidable lords of the castle would have made of this pacific fellow
After an hour or so at the castle, we walked to the nearby Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum. This American writer of Greek-Irish descent, who died in 1904, fell in love with Japan and moved to Matsue where he married the daughter of one of the samurai lords and had a son. The Japanese revere him and call him by his Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo. The little museum was manned by 2 staff and is filled with fascinating memorabilia of his life, including some family photos, a photograph of Cincinnati in 1886 ( where he worked as a journalist before he moved to Japan), his writings and writing implements, and a self-portrait. I bought a book here, titled “A guidebook for travellers in the province of the gods.” :-)
Since I had already read Hearn’s pieces about Matsue before coming to Japan, I was able to better appreciate his deep-rooted feelings for the Japanese, for their way of life and their appreciation of nature. Both of us really enjoyed our leisurely time at the museum.
By now it was not only raining hard but very dark; Hearn’s house next door was closed ( I knew we’d have to risk this happening if we went to the museum first, but I also didn’t want to miss the museum so had to choose :-( ). We walked across to the bus stop; nearby is a bronze bust of the author. The street was deserted, and in the rain, we could not see too far ahead, so everything assumed a rather sinister cast, especially when two hooded figures walked past! We were anxiously re-checking the posted bus schedule when we heard the electronic sound signaling the approaching bus – hurrah for Japanese punctuality, technology and organization!
Back on the bus (the last one of the day, with only one other passenger), we circled a dark Lake Shinji, barely able to make out its small island. The Onsen appeared even more confusing to us so we comforted ourselves with the thought that at least we had passed it! ( We don’t know though, if this is the same onsen my dad used – he seemed to think it was,from its location, when we told him later).
Exhausted but happy after a very long day, we picked up some water,Kirin,nuts,melon pan, noodles and yes, sandwiches again(!), from a convenience store down the road from our hotel, then came back, ate, showered and plopped into bed.
We had not been able to see some attractions, such as the samurai house and tea-house near the Hearn Museum ( they had closed) and of course, had no time to even think of visiting the Izumo Taisha shrine or the Shimane Art Museum, both recommended by forum posters. The confectionery shops had closed by the time we returned and we were just too tired to go to a restaurant to sample some of Matsue’s cuisine.
But... in the grander scheme of things, we had seen a part of important Japanese history in the form of Matsue’s feudal- era castle, indulged in its literary delight, played with a local golden retriever, and most significantly, had set foot on a remote part of Japan loved and visited by my dad.
Next- Part Four - Hiroshima/Miyajima