The prefecture of Japan with the second-lowest population, Shimane is located along the western coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Stretching against the Sea of Japan, Shimane includes the Oki Islands. It is bordered by Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, and Tottori.
The largest city and capital of Shimane is Matsue, nicknamed the “City of Water” because it is bordered by three bodies of water: Lake Nakaumi, Lake Shinji, and the Sea of Japan. It is a castle town, home to the national treasure Matsue Castle, one of only 12 remaining original castles in Japan, which houses a museum and a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Another building with a view is the Shimane Art Museum, especially beautiful at sunset. Both Western and Japanese collections of paintings, sculptures, modern art, and photography can be viewed. Across from the museum is Lake Shinji, which is famous for its Seven Delicacies available during different times of the year: whitebait, Shijimi clams, eel, shrimp, bass, smelt, and carp.
Izumo is another city in Shimane, notable for the Izumo-taisha Shrine, one of Japan’s most ancient Shinto shrines, so old that the date of its establishment is not available in any historical records. In 2009 in Izumo City, archeologists excavated tools from an estimated 120,000 years ago, the oldest in Japan. The city is also known for “Izumo soba,” which has a stronger buckwheat taste than other common varieties of the noodle.
For a taste of Shimane’s more recent history, visit Historic Tsuwano, a sleepy castle town nestled in the mountains. While the castle no longer stands, samurai residences with their original architecture can still be admired in the Tsuwano’s “Old Town,” known as the “Little Kyoto of the San-in Region.” Another notable attraction in Tsuwano is Taikodani Inari Shrine, one of Japan’s five great Inari Shrines, with a tunnel of vermilion torii gates leading up to the shrine.
Prefer water sports to history? Shimane’s Oki Islands are a cluster of paradisiacal islands with abundant natural attractions, where visitors can enjoy adventurous activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. Of course, beach bums can also catch some rays from the safety of the sand and soak in the views of clear water and skies. For those who prefer to stay on dry land, the islands offer campsites that boast running water (Yes, that means showers!), and shrines like Takuhi Shrine, Nishinoshima's oldest shrine, housed partially in a cave. Oki beef and local seafood are must-eats on the Oki islands.
Most soba is eaten with a dipping sauce on the side, but Shimane Prefecture’s local Izumo soba is a little different, served in the kamaage style which utilizes the hot water that the noodles were cooked in. Another way of serving Izumo soba is in the warigo style, where a variety of toppings would be presented on top and the sauce is poured over top of it.
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine has a rich history and has been labeled as a Cultural World Heritage Site. There are three local areas to explore: the Silver Mine, Omori Town, and Yunotsu. The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine has many things to discover such as the ruins, temples, and shrines. Omori Town is where you can learn about the history at the various museums. Visiting Yunotsu is a great way to end your day, with a relaxing bath in the onsen and exploring the port town.
Matsue Castle is known for its long history and for being one of the 12 surviving castles of Japan. Many people come to the castle to view the beautiful cherry blossoms from the top floor, as there is a 360-degree panoramic view of the town. This castle is included in Japan’s Top 100 Places for cherry blossoms.
Shimane is famous for using the traditional steelmaking technique of tatara. Izumo Taisha Shrine is known for the beautiful shimenawa (Shinto straw rope) that is hung across the main hall, and unlike other shrines where visitors pray with two bows, two claps, and another bow, this shrine has a unique method of praying. At Izumo Taisha Shrine, visitors pray with two bows, four claps, and one more bow.
Shimane has lots of green mountains surrounding their main cities and its natural beauty is reflected in the prefecture’s iconic snacks. Wakakusa is a sweet consisting of rice cake coated in green sugar and rice powder. This is to resemble the color of young grass found throughout the prefecture. Visitors can get this little dessert in Matsue, Shimane’s capital.