A San’in Road Trip From the Mountains and Onsen to the Sea ・ Part 2
The Matsue Area
Karakoro Art Studio
Housed in the former 1930s Matsue branch of the Bank of Japan, Karakoro Art Studio opened in the spring of 2000 as an “artisan house,” where visitors can check out boutiques, eateries, and workshops for everything from art to accessory making, traditional crafts, cooking, and more — including traditional Japanese wagashi sweets classes, or natural stone accessory making! The retro building is a design by architect Uheiji Nagano, who designed a number of notable former Japanese Bank buildings and even Taiwan’s Office of the President, but these days the facility’s courtyard becomes a special destination during tsuyu, the Japanese rainy season. The space is turned into the “Enishizuku Umbrella Sky” for just a handful of weeks each year, when Karakoro Art Studio turns rainy day sunlight into rainbows with more than 200 colorful transparent umbrellas overhead.
Perfect for travelers who like to snap (and share) lots of pictures, Karakoro Art Studio has plenty of photo spots, like the lucky pink mailbox out front. Visitors can even visit the former bank vault in the building’s basement! There aren’t any piles of riches left in the vault these days, unless you count the art and exhibitions sometimes displayed in the space, but you can pick up a pile of replica 10,000 yen bills to see how much it would way down your pockets if you won the lottery. This armful adds up to 100 million yen!
Karakoro Art Studio (カラコロ工房)
43 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane
Hours: Workshop 9:30–18:30 | Restaurant 11:30–18:30 (closed 12/30~1/1)
*Individual business hours may vary, please check the official website before going.
Official Website (jp)
Shimane Art Museum
The Shimane Art Museum is perched right on the shore of Lake Shinji, the setting for one of the “100 Best Sunsets in Japan,” and the museum is a particularly popular viewing location. The C-shaped building has a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and the vast panes of glass let the glow of the sunset shine into the museum each evening as one enormous natural work of art. Of course the sunset isn’t the only art found at the Shimane Art Museum, and even outside on the lakeshore there are sculptures scattered around the grassy trails, but it is known as the “sunset museum,” and visitors frequently arrive to take photos of the museum, its art, and the sunset from every angle. The museum even adjusts closing times to accommodate the natural cycle of the sunset.
The museum collection encompasses more than 7,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, industrial crafts, photographs, and more from artists around Japan and abroad. Ukiyo-e lovers will be particularly dazzled by the Shimane Art Museum’s collection of almost 3,000 pieces from famous artists like Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige, and more.
Marine Park Takobana
At the very northernmost tip of the Shimane Peninsula is a promontory that slopes up into the heavens, called the “Cape in the Sky.” The Takobana area is full of complicated terrain thanks to its formation as a deeply indented Rias coastline, and in 2004 seaside resort Marine Park Takobana opened on the cape to help travelers enjoy the unique natural beauty. Now a line of simple two-story cabins snakes along the edge of the promontory, each one with a magnificent sea view, along with convenient shared facilities like a barbecue area and a camping site. (Barbecue and camping gear is available for rent!)
One of the most popular spots at the resort is the observation platform, where you can feast your eyes on a panoramic view of Takobana’s verdant forested coastline. Anyone, resort guest or not, can climb up and enjoy the view from the observation platform, but visitors who stay the night have the luxury of looking out at the blue sea as the sun sets, the clear starry night after dark, and the pale dawn as the sun rises in the east. It’s a romantic spot, and many couples like to leave their own “lovers’ lock” behind, including local sweethearts.
Looking for a little rest and relaxation around Matsue? This hot spring has been around since Japan’s Nara period (710–794), and it’s earned a reputation as a “hot spring of the gods.” The onsen owes its popularity in part to a feudal lord from the Matsudaira clan, who came to convalesce at Tamatsukuri during the Edo period, starting a trend that lasts to this day. The name Tamatsukuri (玉造) refers to working with precious stones, uncommon for a hot spring, but the region was once known for crafts made with stone agate mined from nearby Mt. Kasenzan, including a part of the Imperial Regalia!
The area is known for old-fashioned Japanese ryokan hotels with traditional architecture, large open-air baths surrounded by beautiful gardens, and connections to Japanese mythology. Even visitors just dropping by can take a moment to enjoy the warm hot spring water at the natural foot bath along the Tamayu River, while looking out at the mountains in the distance.