Come with me to visit Matsue (松江市), located in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan. Matsue is fondly referred to as ‘The Venice of Japan’, ‘The Venice of the East’ and ‘The City of Water’. If you love Venice and traditional Japan, do not miss visiting Matsue. Matsue reminds me of our Suzhou and Venice trips, but less likely of the feel of our Amsterdam trip due to the Eastern architectural influence of Matsue. Matsue is located in an enviable location sandwiched by Lake Shinji, the 7th largest lake in Japan, and Lake Nakaumi and overlooking the Sea of Japan.
Let’s jump aboard the Ltd. Express Yakumo from JR Okayama station bound for the final destination of JR Matsue station.This 157-minute train journey will give you a glimpse of rural Japan and one of the most beautiful train sceneries in Japan. This is not a good time to catch forty winks. Dreamplifly’s Japan travel blogs are created to help you to follow in our tried and tested footsteps and maximise the use of your JR Rail Pass.
Tip: You can also take a bus (500 Yen) from Hiroshima to Matsue.
Tip: An extra bonus for visiting Matsue is that the attractions and transportation companies offer special discounts to international travellers. Remember to show your passport at the ticket office.
Matsue’s greatest cultural assets are Matsue castle (松江城) and its canals. These canals are built originally for military defence as the inner and outer moats of the Matsue Castle. The castle construction was completed in 1611 during the feudal reign of the Horio clan, Horio Yoshiharu. Relax as you navigate Matsue’s famous canals in the comforts of the Horikawa Pleasure Boat. The Horikawa Pleasure Boat reminds me of the gondalas that bobbed majestically on the Venetian canals. Do not day dream and remember to duck your head if you hear these Japanese words “Abunai! Ki o tsukete!” (means ‘Watch out! Be careful!’) as the boat is about to approach low canal bridges.
Tip: See http://www.visit-matsue.com/info/moving.html for further information of how to get around Matsue. Other than taking a boat cruise, you can also use the Matsue City bus. Matsue is also perfectly walkable. See if you can take a photo of Matsue City’s ornate drain cover.
Matsue Castle is also known as the “Crow Castle” (烏城, Karasu-jō) due to its black-coloured roof. It is one of the few remaining Japanese medieval castle built using wood and not concrete bricks. The castle received the recognition of one of the national treasure of Japan in 2015. See if you are lucky enough to see the wild terrapins living in the inner moats of the castle. Enjoy a gentle stroll through the bamboo, shrubs and pine forest surrounding the castle. Don’t miss the shrine next to Matsue Castle.
If you would like to experience a Japanese tea ceremony in Matsue, pay a visit to the Meimeian Teahouse. Sit on the tatami mat in the tea house and savour beautiful Japanese Garden, Matsue’s special tea ceremony dessert (Japanese: wagashi 和菓子), Wakakusa 若草 (green-coloured riceflour wagashi literally translated as young grass), and Natane no Sato 菜種の里 (yellow-coloured riceflour wagashi) with a cup of matcha.
Wakakusa is a favourite wagashi of Lord Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818), a man of culture due to his tea ceremony prowess. There is a beautiful Japanese poem or waka written by Fumai about Wasakusa.
Translated into English as:
Oh, lt’s cloudy, Before it rains, Pick the young grass on Mt. Togao
Behind the delicious Natane no Sato wagashi lies the story of Doujun, a member of the Matsue clan who first made Natane no Sato between 1804 – 1818. On return to Matsue from his travels, he saw butterflies flitting around the rapeseed fields and decided to make a dessert to remember his travels to “The Rapeseed Flower Village”. Ahah… How interesting!
Don’t forget to visit the Samurai district. Visit a great example of a high-ranked samurai residence, Matsue Buke Yashiki (松江武家屋敷). Matsue was also the home of Lafcadio Hearn or his Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲). Lafcadio, with Greek-Irish roots had started his life in Japan as a newspaper correspondent in 1890. Lafcadio was inspired to write about Japan. He was one of the first to introduce Japan legends to Western readers. Visit relics of Lafcadio Hearn in the form of Lafcadio Hearn’s former residence, also located in the Samurai district.
You don’t have to leave touristy Samurai district to bag a must eat. For lunch, we ate at the great Yakumoan soba house, conveniently located in the Samurai district. Enter the beautiful courtyards and you will be mesmerised by a tastefully decorated Japanese courtyard. Yakumoan’s Hot soba topped with tender pieces of duck meat or tempura prawns were a pure delight. Many celebrities had visited Yakumoan prior to our visit.
For dessert, we visited a Japanese confectionary shop called Feng Shui Shiomi Nawase Store (風流堂塩見縄手店) few doors down the road. As we visited in May, I had the chance to taste Kashiwa mochi. Remember not to eat the oak leaf. Legend tells us of a Showa emperor who was educated to never leave anything on his plate, ended up with a stomach upset because he did not follow this rule. Loved Matsue’s environment-friendly mochi packaging.
As we had an hour to spare before our train is scheduled to depart for Okayama, we visited Shimane Art museum. I enjoyed the visit and wished that I could have spend a bit longer at this museum.
Where is the best location to view Matsue’s sunset? Lake Shinji is listed as one of the best spots for sunset chasers in Japan. However, you can also bag a great sunset view from Shirakata Park or from the Shimane Art Museum. Gaze at the horizon and spot the tiny Yomegashima island or ‘Bride Island’, located 200 metres from the Lake Shinji’s shores. A local folklore mentioned of the misfortunes of a young homesick bride who had drown whilst trying to cross the frozen Lake Shinji. An island was raised up by divine intervention to remember where she had fallen. If you love to explore Lake Shinji, don’t miss out on the Lake Shinji Pleasure Cruise. See http://www.visit-matsue.com/discover/lake_shinji.html#cruise for further details.
For longer trips to Matsue, you may also wish to visit the the Daikonshima volcanic island which is located on Lake Nakaumi. Daikonshima is the main producer of peonies and is also the home of the beautiful Yuushien Japanese garden. If you love or wish to experience a relaxing Japanese onsen(温泉) or hot spring, do visit the Tamatsukuri town often nicknamed as the ‘bath of Gods’. Experience a great roadtrip to admire the jaw dropping sceneries of the northern Shimane Peninsula. The possibilities of a great vacation are endless in Matsue.
I love Matsue and I hope I have inspired you to visit Matsue too. Japan has continually left a great impression on my heart and I will never think twice if offered a chance to visit Japan to learn more about the art of Japanese cuisine. I would like to return one day for a more in-depth road trip to the breathtaking Shimane peninsula. Matsue deserves more than my one day trip and with these 1335 words I have barely scratched the surface of cultural Matsue. I would like to hear about your Matsue adventures so that I can also learn from you. Travelling is all about sharing.
Greetings from Matsue with love! Sayonara さよなら!
- Meimeian Teahouse
Signature dish: Wakakusa 若草 and Natane no Sato 菜種の里
Address: 278 Kitahorichō, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken 690-0888, Japan.
- Yakumoan (八雲庵)
Signature dish: Hot duck soba and Hot prawn tempura soba
Address:308 Kitahorichō, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken 690-0888, Japan.
- Feng Shui Shiomi Nawase Store (風流堂縄手店)
Signature dish: Japanese wagashi and oak tree leaf wrapped mochi.
Address: 308-2 Kitahoricho, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture 690-0888, Japan.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY)
- Best Time to Visit: An afternoon in the month of May to avoid the mad tourist crush If you enjoy being packed like a can of sardines, then visit during the cherry blossoms or sakura season in spring.
- Getting around: Walk, take the Matsue City bus or The Horikawa Pleasure Boat cruise. See http://www.visit-matsue.com/info/moving.html for further details.
- Getting here: Visit http://www.visit-matsue.com/access/index.html for further details.