It might be the lakeside air, or the hotel’s aircon, but I woke up feeling better than ever, even more so than those few days in Aomori last year. There was something about being in a familiar city that was very relaxing. There was no need to worry about schedules, finding directions or any of the other things one need to think about while travelling.
I knock on my parent’s door and we head down for breakfast.
Urban Hotel’s breakfast was served in its main building, connecting to the second building where we were by an open walkway on the second level and we could feel the cold morning air.
The restaurant had a proper kitchen and was able to prepare proper dishes. The arrangement was similar to Color Hotel Aomori, soft boiled eggs, pickle appetizers, friend noodle and tempura, fish fillet and other assortment of traditional Japanese dishes. Its miso soup was served with clams from Shinjiko lake, a local delicacy. It was not quite as delicious as Color Hotel Aomori, then again it’d take a lot to top Color Hotel. There was also a large variety of dishes, more than one could try in a single breakfast.
A special mention must be made for the home made curry, full of flavour and generous with pork slices. Dad especially liked it as it allowed him to have a “hot” meal. Japanese dishes are often served cold even for grilled fish and things which is usually hard to stomach for Taiwanese. By pouring hot curry over the dishes he gets to enjoy them warm.
In the morning we go to Izumo Taisha then return with the Ichibata train line north of the lake which would put us closer to the castle than the JR railway’s Matsue station.
There were a few choice of trains to Izumo, all then connecting to the same train to Izumo Taisha, a matter of whether we leave early and spend some time around the Izumo station.
Mom suggested that we might as well leave early since we were ready. It was a good thing we did because it turned out the trains were running late due to fog. We caught the train that should have already left 5 minutes ago and was supposed to get to Izumo with 20 minutes to spare, and ended up nearly not making the transfer.
I ran to the Ichibata station first, along with several others similarly trying to make the same train. The station staff greeted me and assured me that there was still time, then asked where I was headed.
To Izumo Taisha, one way. Initially he said to just pay once we get to Izumo Taisha, but then he double check and asked where I was going after Izumo Taisha.
I could not thank the man enough for asking, because it turned out that there was a special that day and only that day where people could ride unlimited for just 500Y. If I had only wanted to get to Izumo Taisha the all day pass would not be needed at 450Y, but since I was continuing on to Shinjiko Onsen the pass would save 1000Y a person. Had the man not asked I would have bought single tickets all the way and be out 3000Y together.
The main street before Izumo Taisha had finished its renovations since three years ago. I remember that last time they were still digging up the pavements and there was constructions everywhere. Most of the shops seemed to have also undergone a facelift, many of which I was sure only opened in the past few years.
I split up with my parents again once we entered the shrine. I made my wishes and bought a fortune and charm. Said the year was going to be a turning point in life, which I took to be a good sign.
This time I intended on visiting the Izumo History Museum which I failed to visit last time. The museum is next to the shrine on the right from main street. The museum currently have a special exhibit about the many stories and tales of gods in the Izumo area which I would have very much liked to see, but I had to weigh it up against having to make it back to Matsue before 2pm. In the end I visited only the general exhibits, which was quite rich in content as it was, going through the history and development of the Izumo Taisha and the Izumo area in general. Included in the exhibits was a giant old chigi, the wooden cross like ornament mounted at the ends of the shrine’s honden’s roof, retired during one of the Taisha’s restorations. In another hall, tens of thousand years old ceremonial bronze swords were on display, indicating the prosperity and importance of the area in ancient times.
I meet up with my parents who were resting at a Starbucks (pretty sure the Starbucks is new too), and we go off looking for lunch. The soba place I had in mind had a loooong queue so my parents said to not worry about it, instead we just wandered down the main street into a random restaurant.
The noodles were average, the ramen had a fancy named, named after the god Susanoo. Very touristy.
We took the direct train back to Matsue Shinjiko station (usually one had to make a transfer at Kawatoe, but on weekends a few trains goes directly to and from Shinjiko.
Upon alighting a few other passengers went directly for the foot onsen outside the station. Mom looked keen to try but we were pressed for time so I suggested we could come back in the evening if she wanted to.
Every third Sunday of the month there’s a free musketeer performance at the Matsue History Museum near the castle, as part of the city’s samurai city tourism initiative.
Only the way to the museum we passed the drum float parade before the castle, lined up and preparing to head out and parade down to the station. We took a few passing looks and continued on.
At the museum the musketeers were dressed and gearing up. The general looking guy joked that he was training new recruits as he showed one of the actors how to position her musket. Then they marched to the performance area. The general greeted the score of audiences and thanked us for being here despite the drum float parade outside, that we were gods to them. That drew some laughter.
The general first performed some sword techniques, slicing through bamboo sticks cleanly with their katanas, then he ordered his troops to form into formation.
The musket performance was a live performance, with proper loading of gunpowder, stuffing down the barrel with a stick and mounting the burning match (twine) which they wrapped about one arm. The only thing missing was loading the lead balls which were absent for obvious reasons.
The firing was loud, thunderous. This was the first time I had heard a musket go off and it’s better described as though a small cannon went off. It was louder still when they fired in unison, a half dozen muskets all at once and blanketed the courtyard with smoke. Now I could understand those stories of battlefield obscured by smoke from the guns that obscured army movements.
After the musket performance we continued up along the shiomi nawate, but dad had gotten tired by this point. We stop by a bus stop and I check the timetables, luckily the city’s circle route bus was due in a few minutes so we waited for it and put him on it for him to go back by himself first. Me and mom continued our walk around the castle then back over the many bridges of Matsue back to the hotel.
After a nap it was time to go see the sunset. The sun’s position was quite different from the last time in May. It was now much further to the left and meant it was now possible to frame the sunset together with Yomegashima and the buddha statue. The sunset was almost as beautiful as I remembered. A little cloud would have made it even better. The sky was too clear and didn’t quite have the same dramatic colours and reflections off the clouds as last time. It was still a sunset unlike any my parents have seen, which I am glad for as this was meant to be one of the main purpose of the trip.
My parents were feeling too tired to go out to the Suitouro event again, we grabbed some bentos and retired to the hotel.
After dinner I went out by myself.
As soon as I cross the bridge by the hotel I immediately felt a sense of relieve. Being alone, able to decide my pacing entirely. Even though I was able to keep in touch with my parents and frequently split up with them this time, being entirely free to decide on the schedule, not having to check on them, able to leave or return as early or as late as I wanted. My mind was at ease, and I was finally in the mood to take photos, playing with the framing and exposure settings.
The shiomi nawate area was more art focused, with various theme light works, such as a floating platform full of cat lanterns, lit up bridges, candle displays and a concert bar at the buke yashiki. The sightseeing boats gently plied the waterways, operating special night cruises only on weekends during the festival.
The edge of the footpath along the now closed off road was lined with small candles so one would not trip due to the level difference. An attention and care to detail that was very Japanese.
The area was spectacularly lit, and the fact that it was Matsue meant there wasn’t a huge crowd. There were plenty of others enjoying the festival but never to the point of feeling intruding on each other, leaving each to appreciate the lights, water and music by themselves.
I had an great time out there, perhaps even more than in Shirakawago where time was much more limited. Here I could find a spot and take a minute, bathing in the atmosphere.
I stayed until the event was over then took the last shuttle bus back at 9:30. On my way back my parents called to let me know that they bought this ramen at Lawson and thought it to be delicious. I spent some time deliberating between getting the ramen and getting yaki-soba. Ramen, perhaps. Yaki-soba felt too salty for supper, even if I really missed the taste.