Experience Outdoor Adventure in the Land of the Gods
In Japan, October is traditionally known as Kan-na-zuki, or “The month when the gods are not there.” The reason for this is that they are all gathered at Izumo for their yearly meeting. Fittingly, in Izumo, October is called Kami-ari-tsuki, or “The month when the gods are all here.” <br> I was lucky enough to visit in October, and as I entered Izumo, a small, seaside town surrounded by the unpredictable sea and the vast mountains, I could feel that this is indeed a sacred place, a place where the 8 million gods gather.
Writing about the sacred connection of the gods to the city of Izumo was not directly part of my assignment, but everything I experienced, from the mountain trekking to the outdoor BBQ felt just as sacred as the actual visits to the shrines. Izumo Shrine is the heart of Izumo, and the importance of the ancient beliefs of Shinto could be seen all around, even in the slogan on the t-shirts of the staff at the Tourist Information Center—Kamisama to issho-ni (With the gods)
The first activity of the day was trekking up majestic Mt. Takao
Mt. Takao, a 358-meter high mountain is located in Hinomisaki, a picturesque seaside town in Izumo famous for its breathtaking ocean views and the historic Izumo Hinomisaki Lighthouse. Our group set off from the Hinomisaki Visitor Center a little after 10 am. The early part of the 9 km, 4-hour round trip trek took us through the sleepy fishing village of Uryu, where the sea was unusually rough despite the clear skies and crystal blue waters. The incredible scenery and the mysterious torii gate across the harbor added to my excitement.
The first thirty minutes of the hike up Mt. Takao were quite challenging. The path had not been cleared, and the accumulation of fallen branches, leaves, rocks, and grass on the trekking path made me feel like I was working much harder than usual to walk. But it also made me feel alive. I felt as if I was truly in the middle of nature, taking on not a man-made walking path, but trekking up a mountain as trekking really should be.
With the most challenging part of the hike behind us, we paused to rest at Uryu Pass. It was there that we noticed a simple shimenawa suspended between two trees. Shimenawa is a twisted rope made of hemp and rice straw often seen at Japanese shrines and is a symbol that sets apart the sacred from the ordinary. The shimenawa I found is said to be the border that separates Uryu from its neighboring town. There is a local legend that says that while most shimenawa are 8 hiro, this particular one was only 7.5 hiro. (One hiro is about the wingspan of an average adult). According to the legend, the o-jizosama at Uryu often cut off unhealthy human relationships. The shimenawa there was deliberately made slightly shorter than traditional ones to represent this legend.
A short 5-minute hike off the beaten path took us up to a small shrine where several of those o-jizosama statues were enclosed. These statues are said to be the guardians of travelers and children and can be found in various places all over Japan. The o-jizosama statues found here on Mt. Takao were placed there by local residents who regularly trek up the mountain to make sure the statues are well taken care of.
After a short rest, we continued our journey up Mt. Takao, which got a bit easier and allowed our guide to introduce to vibrant plant life that gives Mt. Takao its beauty. I was impressed by the not only by the vast knowledge of our guide, but also of her obvious affection for both this mountain and the towns surrounding it.
In the middle part of the trek, we suddenly came upon the remnants of human activity--concrete foundations of buildings and metal rivets that showed that people at one time had lived here. We discovered what seemed to be a simple concrete oven for cooking, some lodging areas, and a place where a canon was at one time placed. It was the canon that gave me the hint that this was at one time a hidden area used by Japanese soldiers to fight the enemy during World War II. After huffing and puffing my way this far, I was blown away that someone had carried tons of concrete and metal supplies up the mountain to build these facilities.
It turns out that those super haulers were local elementary school students. The older children carried concrete and other heavy materials on their backs and the younger kids brought up lighter supplies. As I looked at my sturdy hiking shoes, I could imagine these resilient kids carrying their loads up the mountain wearing simple straw sandals. And then I imagined them carrying it all back down the mountain after the war was over. The materials used for the military base on Mt. Takao were reused to build schools and other facilities after the war. It was to me a perfect example of the Japanese mottainai spirit.
Along the way, our guide pointed out some examples of the columnar joints which are so prevalent in the Hinomisaki region.
Columnar joints are geometric columns of rock formed from lava produced by volcanic eruptions under the sea. When the lava cooled, these distinct rocks with various cross sections were formed. While at first glance they may look like regular rocks, their distinct shape soon tells you that they are no ordinary rock. Some columnar joints are square, while others are pentagonal or hexagonal. These spectacular columns of rocks and the unique volcanic history behind them, make the Hinomisaki region unique, and people come from all over Japan to see these geological treasures.
After more than two hours of trekking, we finally reached the summit of Mt. Takao. I found my second wind and sprinted the last ten meters or so to the top, excited to see the spectacular view that I was sure awaited me. I was not disappointed. The view of the Sea of Japan from the summit of Mt. Takao was truly breathtaking. Off to the left was the historical Izumo Hinomisaki Lighthouse, and the picturesque fishing towns surrounded by the sea were like something seen on a postcard. Trekking up a mountain was a bit challenging, but once I got to the summit, I forgot how much wobbly my legs were and just basked in the beauty of nature.
This trek up the peaceful and majestic Mt. Takao was just what I needed to refresh my weary body and spirit.
Izumo City Taisha Town Hinomisaki 1089-37
Opening Hours： AM9: 00 ～PM5: 00
Totally starving after the Mt. Takao trekking experience, I stumbled upon a quaint little tempura restaurant in Izumo.
Immediately after I was seated at my table at the restaurant Tempura Misato, I began experiencing the famous Japanese omotenashi, or spirit of hospitality. The restaurant is operated by a local couple, and the wife was dressed in an exquisite Japanese kimono. She brought out some hot tea and okazu --simple vegetable dishes served at the beginning of a meal. The main event was the tendon, a tempura rice bowl. The deep-fried shrimp, chicken, and vegetables were still sizzling hot as they were brought out on top of a steaming bowl of white rice. It was one of the biggest rice bowls I had ever seen.
The amazing food and incredible hospitality made it one of the best culinary experiences of my life. From the first sip of tea to the last grain of rice, the entire meal was perfection. The food, beer, steaming hot tea, atmosphere, and most of all, legendary Japanese omotenashi spirit residing in the owners of Tempura Misato gave me an unforgettable experience. The spirit of Izumo lives not only in the ancient shrines, majestic mountains, and deep blue sea, but also in the incredible people who reside here.
Our next stop was Sagiura, a postcard-perfect fishing village with a population of a little more than 100.
The streets of this quaint little town are lined with traditional Japanese houses called kominka. It was at one of those kominka, Wajimaya, that we to experience the activities that I had most been looking forward to—sea kayaking and barbeque. I had been kayaking on rivers before in the U.S. with my brother, but that could not possibly compare to the experience of sea kayaking on the Sea of Japan.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. The unseasonal rough seas during my time there made sea kayaking too dangerous, so we were forced to cancel. Here is a picture of me sulking:
However, even in my disappointment I was able to feel the power and charm of Izumo. It is a city that is subject to every whim of nature and the gods that inhabit it. No matter how much I wanted to go sea kayaking, if nature says no, the answer is no. After my many years in Japan, I also found that I had adapted the naru yo ni shika naranai mentality or, “whatever is meant to happen, will happen.” Acceptance of that reality is one factor that has led to the incredible resiliency and strength of the Japanese people. Putting my disappointment behind me, I started thinking about the mouth-watering barbeque awaiting me.
As we entered Wajimaya, a 200-year old kominka, I felt like I had been transported back in time. This kominka was once used as an inn for seafarers from Ishikawa Prefecture, and I could feel the history as I walked across the beautiful straw tatami mats and through the sliding fusuma rice paper doors.
The view of Saguira Bay from the Wajimaya is absolutely breathtaking. On the far side of the bay are some caves which can be explored in local fishing boats when the waves are calm.Close by, there is an inlet which has the feel of a private beach, and it is from this beach that our much-anticipated sea kayaking adventure was to have commenced.
My favorite part in traditional Japanese houses is the tokonoma an enclave in Japanese-style rooms reserved for the most honored piece of art or object in the house. Many modern houses are not built with the sacred tokonoma, so being able to experience the calming peace brought by the tokonoma in traditional houses like the Wajimaya is one of the best things about visiting this kominka. The first floor of the Wajimaya can be rented for a mere 3000 yen for the first day, and 2500 yen for each additional day.
There at the Wajimaya, we barbequed local delicacies from the sea such as shrimp, scallops, and turban shell (sazae). In addition, we grilled fresh local chicken, beef, and pork, as well as fresh vegetables such as pumpkin, onion, and green pepper. As I gazed at the incredible scenery surrounding the kominka while eating the freshly grilled local delicacies, I once again felt a peace descend on me, a peace that I had experienced time and time again since coming to Izumo.
This entire kominka sea kayaking and barbeque experience has been made possible by Mr. Abe, a 70-something Izumo native who is as spry and energetic as a college student. After spending many years in Osaka, Mr. Abe felt the call to return to his hometown and work for the revitalization of the area. He procured this kominka and has turned in it to a project to give both domestic and international visitors a glimpse of the beauty of Izumo, as well as to contribute to the growth of the local economy. As I talked to Mr. Abe, I was touched by his passion and commitment to his hometown, and his incredibly open heart towards all people. If everyone welcomed all people like Mr. Abe does, this world would be a much better place.
Mr. Abe oversees the sea kayaking tours, so when you come to the Washimaya, you will not only get to experience the beautiful nature and peaceful atmosphere of Sagiura, but you will also get the honor of meeting this very special man.
There is a word in Japanese that is hard to translate into English called iyashi. It means “healing” or “calm.” Whether I was trekking up Mt. Takao, visiting the local shrines, or enjoying fresh local foods while gazing at the breathtaking views, I was constantly experiencing iyashi. Both my body and my spirit were refreshed during my time at Izumo.
Advice and Summary
October in Izumo was much colder than I had expected, so make sure you dress in layers! Also, as it is a rural area surrounded by nature, be prepared that you plans may change due to quickly changing weather.