JAPAN: Matsue – Ibusuki – Naoshima.
Last time I wrote, I told you about our fantastic ryokan experience. After that unforgettable stay at ryokan Iwaso, we headed up to Matsue. We decided to go there to get off the beaten track a bit as I had heard from a friend it’s a place few westerners visit on a regular Japanese tour.
We weren’t disappointed. Matsue, although their tourist information desk is very effective and helpful, is not a city where you will see many foreigners. The highlights of our visits were the castle, which is one of the 12 in Japan that is not a replica, as well as the Gesshoji Temple. The latter is really fantastic. It’s the temple and burial ground of the Matsudaira clan, feudal lords of Matsue. The temple is in the woods, the stones are covered in moss and it all has a very eerie yet intriguing feeling. Walking around the tombs you can’t help but imagine life as it was hundreds of years ago. There are very little signs of the modern world and it’s very quiet. In case you can’t tell, I really liked it!
From Matsue, we took a day trip to Izumo. The city is the home of the oldest known shinto shrine in Japan. I didn’t know what to expect before going but it was an interesting discovery, crowded with domestic tourists though. The shrine in Izumo is known for its giant rope. It’s really impressive and it is a mystery to me how they could manage to tie something so big. While visiting the impressive grounds, we were lucky to be treated to a horizontal rainbow in the sky. It was absolutely beautiful! Leaving the shrine we saw an open-air kabuki (Japanese theater) performance. It was difficult to understand what was going on but the masks and music kept us engaged. While we were in Izumo we also decided, since we were so close to the sea of Japan, to walk to the beach. Unfortunately for us, the Japanese don’t really see the beach as we do. It turns out the Japanese don’t like to be tanned that’s why they always walk around with umbrellas, even in the summer. So, near the beautiful beach there were no facilities, no shopping streets nor restaurants. All we saw was a lonely man with his kid and dog protecting himself from the sun in the shade of a billboard.
Our next stop was an unplanned one. We were in Matsue and, on a whim, decided to take advantage of our train passes and go all the way to the southern part of Kyushu island to the town of Ibusuki. We had heard about Ibusuki from a girl we met in Tokyo. Now there is a reason to visit Ibusuki and that reason is Healthy Land. You might remember, a week or so a go I posted the following on Facebook:
TEASER: just lived an incredible experience but I’ll tell you about it in a blog post in the near future.
Well, the time has come for me to lift the veil on this mysterious experience. If you have ever been to the beach as a kid, you’ve probably had fun digging a hole in the sand and then lay in it and have someone cover you and just have your head stick out of the sand. It’s fun, right? As it turns out, Healthy Land in Ibusuki has made a business out of it and calls it sand bath. The difference is the sand is black and it’s extremely hot. Ibusuki is really close to a few volcanoes and, scattered across the land you can see fumes coming out of the earth. So the experience goes like this: you arrive at the facility, you are given a yukata into which you change. You then head outside where you, still wearing the yukata, lay in the sand and are completely covered. Except, obviously, for your head. You lay there for 10 to 15 minutes. After the initial round of laughter, you start to feel good, the warmth surrounds you and you just begin to relax. It is an incredible experience and well worth the long train ride to get there. After the sand bath, you walk up to a roten-buro (outdoor onsen) with an incredible view. The photo of the bath (below) is actually a photo I took of their postcard. Everybody being bare naked in an onsen, I couldn’t, for obvious reasons, take my phone with me and start snapping away. That would have been awkward.
There is one main reason to visit the small island of Naoshima and that is the art. The island is known for its many contemporary art museums and the Benesse Art House Project. The latter is an art project that began in 1998 and presently consists of seven houses. The Art House Project takes empty houses scattered about residential areas, and turns the spaces themselves into works of art, weaving in the history and memories of the period when the houses were homes. The houses were amazing, especially those by Miyajima and Turrell. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed in the art installations except for the one that was actually a shrine: Go’o. The glass stairs were beautiful and almost looked like ice. Naoshima is also famous for being home to Yayoi Kusama’s Red and Yellow Pumpkins that seem to come straight out of Alice’s Wonderland. The only thing that was a bit disappointing about Naoshima was the Benesse museum/hotel: the entrance fee to the museum does not include everything as certain areas are reserved for hotel guests. I find this gentrification of art unfortunate and when you pay an entrance fee, I think you should be able to see everything. Okay, my small rant is now over.
I hope you enjoyed part 3 of our Japan trip. Next up will be Kobe – Kamakura – Nikko.
Happy Sunday to all!