A triple blend of scenery, history and culture in southwest Japan
The prefectures of Shimane and Tottori sit next to one another on Japan's southwestern seaboard. The area, dominated by its landscape of mountains and ocean, has a vibrant local history and fascinating culture. It is known as the spiritual center of Japan for its important shrines and other religious sites, and its castles, folk arts, traditional markets and hiking, make it the ideal destination for a day trip, weekend visit or longer stay.
Learn about the artisanship and agriculture of Izumo
Izumo City is easily accessed from Tokyo's Haneda Airport and is a great place to start your trip. In addition to its most famous site, Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine—officially known as Izumo Oyashiro—the city is home to artisanal crafts and local agriculture.
Shussai Gama Kiln
Stop by Shussai Gama pottery studio to watch potters throw, glaze and fire clay to create one-of-a-kind ceramic wares known for their attractive, deep-blue hue. Founded in 1947, this small shop was influenced by the Mingei folk-art movement of the time.
Today, it employs around 10 artisans, who use an authentic wood-burning kiln capable of firing several thousand items at once. Enjoy a cup of coffee while you browse for souvenirs, or take part in a hands-on class and learn the craft for yourself.
Wine-tasting at Shimane Winery
Shimane has numerous vineyards and is one of the few wine-producing regions in Japan, growing a high volume of Delaware grapes. Head to Shimane Winery on the northern edge of Izumo to enjoy free wine-tastings and a tour of the facility.
The winery also operates an on-site restaurant, serving locally reared wagyu beef and other bistro foods. Enjoy a meal, then grab a bottle or two to enjoy for the remainder of your trip.
Visit the home of a famous writer and scholar in Matsue
Just a few blocks from Matsue Castle is the former residence of pioneering Japan scholar Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904), who introduced the Western world to Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1912). Hearn lived here in Matsue with his wife in the late 19th century, and his residence in the samurai district maintains its appearance from that time.
To learn more about Hearn's life and work, head to the nearby Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum. The recently renovated museum houses over 1,000 drafts of Hearn's writing, along with his pipe collection and other personal belongings.
Before leaving Matsue, be sure to stop by the Shimane Prefectural Products and Tourist Centre. The facility offers a wide range of regional souvenirs, including Yakumo lacquerware, Izumo soba, traditional sweets and sake, and other handicrafts.
Scenic adventure awaits in Yonago
Daisen-Oki National Park sits to the east of Yonago and is a perfect destination for those looking for more scenic adventures. Mt. Daisen offers excellent hiking opportunities and other rugged adventures. The area is known for its pure water, with stunning streams and waterfalls formed from the melting snow.
Once the sun sets, head to the town of Nichinan, which boasts some of the best stargazing in the region. The remote setting affords views of the Milky Way along with numerous constellations.
Beautiful pottery, hand-crafted cypress cups—the perfect souvenirs
While in the area, consider paying a visit to Kugogama, a pottery studio specializing in Daisenyaki-style wares. The beautiful cups, vases and dishes are known for their bright turquoise and glossy black colors and make perfect souvenirs. Hands-on pottery courses are also available and can be booked in advance.
Hinoki cypress trees cover much of the national park, and a great way to remember your journey here is with a handmade cypress cup. Woodworkers make the finely carved cups at Sakoda Forest in the town of Nanbu, crafting each one individually. For an extra fee, you can even have your name engraved on the cup.
Museum-hopping and bayside fun in Sakaiminato
Known for his wacky, sometimes spooky cartoons, Mizuki Shigeru (1922–2015) spent his career bringing Japan's traditional monsters to life through his manga series "GeGeGe no Kitaro." Mizuki grew up in Sakaiminato, and the town created the Mizuki Shigeru Museum in his honor.
Visit the museum to view selections of original drawings and vivid dioramas that recreate his supernatural worlds. Even if you are new to Mizuki's artwork, his eccentric style is sure to leave a memorable impression.
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Splash out on a visit to a "waterless" aquarium
Continue your journey with a visit to a rare "waterless" aquarium. Built inside a former sake brewing house, the Sea and Life Museum features a wide range of stuffed fish and crab species. At the museum—located next to Daiba Park and close to Sakai Port—visitors will learn about the important relationship between locals and the sea, and how it has played a part in shaping residents' daily practices and culture.
Literature fans will enjoy a visit to nearby Yasushi Inoue Memorial Hall, which documents the work and life of noted writer, Yasushi Inoue (1907–1991). Inoue won the prestigious Akutagawa Award for his career-defining novel "The Bullfight." The center showcases the author's' notebooks and writings and includes exhibits on his life. Before leaving Sakaiminato, ascend Yumeminato Tower in Yumeminato Park. The oceanside location offers the best vantage point of the port, Mt. Daisen and the expansive Sea of Japan.
Explore art and traditional industry in Yasugi
Despite its relatively small population, Yasugi is home to a world-class art museum and garden. The Adachi Museum of Art showcases modern and contemporary works by dozens of Japanese artists, most notably Yokoyama Taikan.
After establishing the museum in 1970, founder Adachi Zenko fell in love with Yokoyama's six-panel folding screen piece "Autumn Leaves." Inspired by the beauty of Yokoyama's works, he went on to build a sprawling, ornate Japanese garden on the museum grounds. Together, the garden and artworks make the museum a top destination across Shimane and Tottori prefectures.
Yasugi is also home to the Wakou Museum, which showcases traditional steelmaking practices. Visitors can learn about a local steelmaking method known as tatara—a 70-hour process that mixes charcoal and iron sand to forge metal.
Getting to Izumo / Matsue / Yonago / Sakaiminato / Yasugi
There are direct flights to Izumo Airport, Hagi Iwami Airport and Yonago Airport from Tokyo's Haneda International Airport (around 80 minutes). Alternatively, take the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Okayama Station and transfer to the limited express train bound for Yonago, Yasugi, Matsue, or Izumo. Sakaiminato City is 45-minutes from Yonago on the JR Sakai Line. The whole journey from Tokyo takes between six and eight hours, depending on your final destination.
You can also take an overnight train (the Sunrise Izumo train) from Tokyo, which stops at Yonago, Yasugi, Matsue, and Izumo. The journey takes between 11 and 12 hours.
Upon arrival in Shimane or Tottori, car rental is perhaps the most convenient option for traveling around and between the two prefectures. Discover more here