A San’in Road Trip From the Mountains and Onsen to the Sea ・ Part 1

Mountains, Lakes, and the Sea ・ A Land of Legends, Surrounded by Mother Nature

Look at a map of the Central San’in region, and the distinct landscape jumps out at you. With the sacred Mount Daisen at its back, San’in faces out towards the Sea of Japan, with Lake Shinji and the brackish lake Nakaumi shining like two blue jewels. This landscape has helped bring prosperity to the region, and San’in is resplendent with beautiful natural features, abundance, and local flavors as well. The area has long been home to Japan’s oldest myths and stories, and many of those stories reference landmarks still found in the area, from long-preserved shrines and temples, to historical sites with more concrete pasts. These days, travelers come to San’in from near and far, to explore the local culture and beautiful scenery, and to search out the stories of old.

The cities of Izumo, Matsue, Yasugi, Yonago, and Sakaiminato are each landmarks in this area pressed between the mountains and the sea, each with their own unique sights and sounds. To see a little bit of each city, this time the Japankuru team set off on a road trip starting from Izumo Airport!

The Izumo Area

A Walk Through the Momen Kaido

Izumo is known as the “land of the gods,” but one sign of the city being firmly rooted in reality is the charming old Momen Kaido (木綿街道), literally “The Cotton Road.” It’s said that local cotton was first processed and sold along this street back in Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868), and the product eventually earned such a gleaming reputation that it was sold in big cities all over Japan. Later on, in the Meiji period (1868–1912), local cotton production slowed down as silk picked up, and mills opened to spin silky fibers into fine threads, attracting merchants to the area.

Many of the historic buildings are still standing along the Momen Kaido, giving the area a touch of old-fashioned charm, and giving it an atmosphere outside the normal flow of time. Duck into shops that have been selling their wares for centuries, or visit one of the many restaurants and shops that have been opened inside the old, preserved buildings.

Kurumaya Ginger Candy

The Kurumaya Ginger Candy Shop is one of the oldest shops doing business along the Momen Kaido, with a history of over 300 years, and an 11th-generation owner upholding centuries of family tradition. The shop still makes their ginger candies the traditional way, using just ginger, sugar, and water, and cooling the candies in old-fashioned copper plate molds to create simple sweets with a naturally delicious flavor. Even the design of the packaging remains unchanged! In addition to their classic candies, Kurumaya has started offering another option in more recent years, which they call the “Doctor’s Prescription for Love” (恋の処方箋). These unapologetically adorable heart-shaped ginger candies come in a little paper bag that looks like a prescription for the heart, so you can give it to someone special — or maybe a friend suffering from heartbreak!

A trip to the Kurumaya Ginger Candy Shop doesn’t have to just be about bringing home some tasty ginger drops. It’s nice to simply hear all about the store’s history, and enjoy the old-fashioned atmosphere full of retro candies. Plus, these natural hand-made sweets have a fresher, softer texture when they’re just made, so don’t miss the one-of-a-kind chance to try them during your visit!

Kurumaya Ginger Candy Shop (来間屋生姜糖本舗)
774 Hiratacho, Izumo, Shimane
Hours: 9:00–19:00
Official Website (jp) | Official Instagram

Oka Moichiro Shoten

Another historical Momen Kaido shop is the Oka Moichiro Shoten, a soy sauce maker that has been selling the product for more than 120 years. The building looks, essentially, just like it did back in the Edo period, and it has a unique style of second floor peculiar to merchant houses of the era called a “tsushi nikai,” with a strikingly low ceiling! The soy sauce is full of tradition too, and they specialize in a variety called “saishikomi” soy sauce (再仕込み醤油), brewed using a rare double-fermentation process, making a product prized in San’in and all the way down to Kitakyushu.

Oka Moichiro Shoten still brews their soy sauce in big wooden barrels, and visitors can call ahead to make reservations for a soy sauce brewery tour and check out what the behind-the-scenes of soy sauce making really looks like. The brewery also offers soy sauce tastings for all the different varieties they make, so visitors can hear all about Oka Moichiro soy sauce from Shigeru Oka (the 8th generation owner), and then sample all the subtle flavor differences. Their saishikomi soy sauce ice cream is also a must-try for any sweet tooth visiting the Momen Kaido!

Oka Moichiro Shoten (岡茂一郎商店)
861 Hiratacho, Izumo, Shimane
Hours: 9:00–19:00 (closed Tuesdays)
Official Website (jp)

Karakama Shrine

High in the mountains, uphill from the famous autumn leaves of Izumo’s Gakuenji Temple, is a Shinto shrine that has long been hidden away in the woods: Karakama Shrine. Tucked in among the cedars, in a secluded little spot (with extremely poor reception), a long set of rugged stone steps leads up the mountain to a narrow stone crevice. Just a sliver of sky is visible through the rock faces, a little like the entrance to another world. It’s a popular local “power spot” said to relieve worries and anxiety, and people also come looking for help growing their families. Each visitor is born from the stone as they carefully edge sideways through the tight path.

Karakama Shrine was established so long ago that the exact origins are hard to nail down, but its presence in ancient legends makes it clear that it’s been around for quite a while. The shrine’s name literally means something along the lines of “Korean stove,” referencing the sea crossing of the enshrined deity Susanoo-no-mikoto and his son Isotakeru-no-mikoto, who brought back forestry techniques and the culture of ironware from the Kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula.

Karakama Shrine (韓竈神社)
408 Karakawacho, Izumo, Shimane
Official Page (jp)

Want to read more about the San’in region of Japan? Check back for more coming soon, or read our full guide on San’in right away (and much more about Japan) on Japankuru.com! You might also like our other guides to the area: San’in in 2020 | San’in in 2021

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JAPANKURU

JAPANKURU

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Meaning "come to Japan", we‘re an international group working to introduce Japan to the world from as many interesting angles as we can find.