About eight kilometers away from Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine is Hinomisaki, or the “cape of the sun” as it can be called in English. You will see that this place is very appropriately named! Here you can explore the lighthouse and some interesting shrines, as you take in the peaceful seaside scenery and the smell of salt and freshly grilled seafood.
The first stop for the day was the Hinomisaki Shrine, built along the seaside.
Hinomisaki Shrine was built in honor of two deities with a prominent presence in Japanese mythology： Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, and Susanoo, the god of storms and the sea.
It is related to the famous Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture and is painted a brilliant vermillion color, making for a gorgeous contrast against the piercing blue of the sea and sky. At the time it was built, the area was a prosperous seaport, and the local lord commissioned the shrine to stand guard over the coast and protect the area’s trade.
The shrine is divided into two parts - The Upper Shrine (Kami-nomiya), dedicated to the deity Susanoo, and the Sunset Shrine (Hishizumi-nomiya), dedicated to the deity Amaterasu. Because the shrine was intentionally built to face the west in the direction of the setting sun, Hinomisaki Shrine has been observed as the protector of the night once the day sets in Japan. In turn, Ise Grand Shrine is the guardian from dawn-to-dusk. Be sure to look up at the interesting engravings in the sides of the main hall.
There is one engraving which consists of three circles. They may look like simple geometric shapes, but actually they represent the sun goddess Amaterasu, the moon god Tsukuyomi, and the god Susanoo, who is the god of the sea and younger brother to the sun goddess.
You can also find a depiction of the Three Wise Monkeys, which originated in Japan and have become a familiar motif in cultures the world over. This is a much more compact shrine than Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, with a different atmosphere. It is well worth visiting both.
Another interesting shrine in the Hinomisaki Shrine is the Inari, or Fox Spirit shrine.
The fox spirit shrine is tucked away in the trees, and it’s a bit of an uphill hike up the stone stairs to get to the shrine itself. You will pass through a few orange torii gates. Some of the gates have sustained some insect damage, but I think this adds to its “secret hidden ancient shrine in the forest” vibe.
Once you arrive at the top, you can see the two foxes guarding the shrine. Foxes are both sacred and trickster spirits in Shinto, much like Loki of the Norse gods or Pan of Greek mythology. For all our differences, some things are similar across cultures, aren’t they?
Next, it was time for a visit to the tourist information desk and a bite to eat.
The Hinomisaki area has a helpful tourist information desk with pamphlets about both the immediate Izumo area, as well as surrounding areas like Hiroshima or Tottori prefectures. Best of all is the very helpful sunset forecast, which will tell you what time it will occur that day, as well as how beautiful it is expected to be. If you plan to be in Hinomisaki around the end of the day (and you should!), be sure to have a look.
Around the side streets, you can also find lots of places to try all kinds of kaisendon, or seafood rice bowls. One type that was recommended to me was the uni, or sea urchin. I’ve been in Japan for a while and honestly was never very fond of sea urchin. However, a colleague pointed out to me that my experience with uni was probably of underwhelming quality in the inexpensive revolving sushi restaurants, whereas freshly-caught sea urchin at the seaside is really something else. And it was! So why not give it a try while you’re in Hinomisaki? You might be surprised!
The next stop was the Hinomisaki lighthouse. If you aren’t bothered by heights, have a look from the top of the Hinomisaki lighthouse!
The lighthouse exterior is a shining white that looks like another cloud. Completed in 1903, it has been designated as a cultural property of Japan and, standing 44 meters tall (144 feet, or approximately the height of a 15-floor building), is also the tallest stone construction lighthouse in Japan. It also appears in the list “100 historical lighthouses in the world.”
If you would like to climb to the top, it costs ¥200 at the time of writing. The climb takes around ten minutes for fit adults, and there were families with young children who were also able to make the climb. Be aware that the last few steps to the top are quite steep, almost like a ladder. But if you’re up for it, the view of the sea and the Hinomisaki cape are quite stunning.
If you would rather stay on solid ground, the coast around the lighthouse is a ruggedly beautiful place to take a break. It also has some fascinating geology.
There is a nice shady path through some gnarled, slanting pine trees leading out to the rocky beach. You can climb up on the large rocks and see the waves crashing up on the rocks. You might notice something interesting about the rocks: they seem to be in an almost crystalline structure.
According to the information placard at the beach, the cooling and contracting of a lava flow around 16 million years ago formed these structures in a geological phenomenon known as columnar jointing.
Similar rock formations are found in Ireland, India, and the planet Mars! There are signs giving information about the geology of the area, but unfortunately, these are only available in Japanese at the moment.
If you go on a clear day, you might see a few local people out at the coast fishing and gathering shellfish as well. It’s refreshing to visit a place that isn’t entirely for tourism purposes and where you can still see people doing what they might have been doing in the area for hundreds of years. Walk a little bit down the coast, and you can find a small rest area with picnic tables for a pleasant beachside snack or drink. There are no trash cans however, so please be prepared to take your rubbish with you. If you stay for the sunset (and you should!), there are a few wooden piers where you can walk out close to the water as the sun goes down for the night.
Japan is one of the few places on Earth where you don’t have to choose between the mountains and the sea. After exploring Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine with its mountain forest atmosphere, it’s a good idea to spend a day at the seaside of Hinomisaki to get the full range of what the town of Izumo has to offer.
Advice and summary
Here are a few tips for your day trip out to Hinomisaki.
It can be quite windy out at the coast, so be prepared for all types of temperatures. Dressing in layers is a good idea, especially if you want to climb to the top of the lighthouse or spend some time at the seaside. And be sure to visit the tourist desk to check the sunset forecast.