Noilly Prattle: Road Trip to the Sea of Japan

Friday, November 4, 2016

Road Trip to the Sea of Japan


the getaway route
    We recently took a road trip to Shimane Prefecture on the Japan Sea coast north of Okayama Prefecture to attend a Kagura dance performance in the hot spring town of Gotsu in Shimane Prefecture. Along the route our plan included a couple visits: one to Matsue Castle and another to Izumo Taisha also in Shimane.

        Japan has many castles left over from feudal times but only a few are authentic relics from the feudal period. During the Meiji Restoration in the 19th Century many of the old feudal castles were destroyed in order to eliminate a base from which local warlords could rebel against the newly reinstated Imperial System (following the Tokugawa Bakufu [Shogunate]) system known as the Edo Period—1603 to 1857.


Matsue Castle donjon
        There are, in fact, only twelve remaining original castles in Japan. There are many concrete replicas of which, unfortunately, our own castle in Okayama is one. After a 2.5 hour drive we stopped off in Matsue on a weekend getaway to have a look at Matsue Castle, or what’s left of it. Like many other castles most of Matsue Castle was destroyed, however a request by a local citizens’ to retain part of what was left was honored by the Meiji government and so you can see an authentic feudal castle donjon in the city of Matsue.

castle moat and walls w/some outbuildings
          We pulled up to our hotel in Matsue around 3:30 p.m., a really beautiful little hot spring ryokan with a private spa in the room, and, although the weather was cloudy and drizzly, we decided to walk to the castle before getting into the rock spa and having dinner. We borrowed some umbrellas from the inn and walked the 1.5 km. to the castle.

supporting posts lashed together
with iron bands and brackets

the donjon well --
the dojon was the last retreat
in case of a siege of the castle

snake motif helmet  -  circa. 17th Century
full suit of armor


a room at the top - view from the last retreat in the donjon

castle and walls lighted and reflected in the moat


huge 17-mat tatami room 
our room on the ground floor
from the garden
        After returning we enjoyed the lovely stone pool before a typical Japanese style gochisou (feast) served right in our room. A Japanese gochisou is a multi-course concoction of various delicacies presented on/in exquisite tableware with an eye to color, placement, variety and, of course, taste. This type of meal is not peasant fare, it’s more what the nobility enjoyed in ancient times. A good ryokan gives you a hint of what it was like in those days. Of course, you have to acquire a taste for some of the dishes on the menu—like fermented squid.

the hot spring rock lined pool

the gochisou
fermented squid -  slurp, Yum!
(It took me many years to be able to eat this.)

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