My Experience with its Must-See History, Art and Zazen Meditation
I visited Izumo and had a great experience learning about some of its must-see places. Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about the history-rich museums, pottery and quilts that Izumo has to offer, as well as about Buddhist Zazen Meditation and my own personal experience with it.
Unlike the city of Kyoto, Izumo is not packed with tourists, meaning you can travel around freely while discovering its history, art and religion. The people are also eager to show you around and explain why this city should be on everyone’s radar. After seeing everything, I have to agree.
Firstly, I wanted to learn about the Izumo of ancient times. So I decided to go to the Izumo Yayoi no Mori Historical Museum.
The first thing to greet you entering the main exhibit, featuring items from over 1800 years ago, will be the symbol of Izumo itself, “Magatama” accessories from the “Nishidani San Goubo”. These Magatama (comma-shaped jewels) were highly valued accessories owned by the royal family of Izumo and are a symbol of authority.
On the first floor you can try your hand at a fun area for kids, or playful adults, digging up replica of ancient earthenware in rubber “dirt” and putting it together again.
Venturing outside you will see that you can access the actual burial mountain tombs of the royalty just across the street from the museum. This is referred to as the “Nishidani Funbogun.”
If you are interested in the history of Izumo, by all means please make sure to visit this museum. It takes about an hour to see it all. Please note that there is no public transportation serving the places I visited today, so you should consider going by taxi, or renting a car or a bicycle for the day.
Open : 9:00a.m. ～ 5:00p.m. Closed: Tuesdays "when Tuesday is a public holiday, open for the holiday and closed the following weekday instead", and during New Year’s holidays "December 29 - January 3"
Entrance fee : Free (Fees for experience classes)
Magatama making experience class cost 308 yen (duration → about 45 minutes)
Ancient mirror making experience class cost 515 yen (duration → about 60 minutes)
Tin badge creating experience class cost 51 yen (3 pieces) (duration → about 15 minutes)
After I got to know the Izumo of times past, I went to the Izumo Museum of Quilt Art which currently displays art quilts.
This museum is the first of its kind for quilt art in all of Japan. Taking classic Japanese design with a modern flair. It’s the only quilt museum in Japan and its exhibition changes depending on each of the four seasons.
You can enjoy the exhibition of quilt artwork made of pieces of vintage kimono fabric with a fusion of Japanese traditional flower arrangement, Ikebana and installation art in a traditional 200 year old Japanese style dwelling, Izumo Yashiki.
This is a place where you can experience Japanese culture through the quilt art in the beautiful landscape of Izumo. There are museum shop and a cafe in the museum. Make sure to have the delicious matcha green tea that is served while noticing the dark wooden floors and Ikebana displays.
I spent about half an hour here so this won’t use up too much of your day in Izumo. As the Izumo Museum of Quilt Art cannot be accessed by public transportation, consider taking a taxi from the nearest train station which is JR Naoe eki station.
Open : 10:00a.m. ～ 5:00p.m. Closed: Every Wednesday · Third Sunday of each month (Open on holidays)
Next I decided to visit the famous pottery shop and kiln factory in Izumo known as Shussai Gama.
The pottery here features more subdued colors, textured feel and a naturalistic old school approach to pottery making. Visitors are welcome to visit and watch the potters at work at any time besides Tuesdays.
Inside you’ll see them spinning the clay and using manual metal tools. One of the potters there said to me the pottery there is all about “retaining a sense of craftsmanship that isn’t loud. We don’t even mark under each item with the brand or name because we want to retain the human-made aspect of its origins.”
It takes about half an hour to browse the showroom shop and the kiln factory itself. Make sure to also visit the very popular bakery nearby “Le cochon d’Or Shussai” for some delicious bread. Come around lunch time and enjoy both places. Again, the factory is not accessible by public transportation, so consider coming by taxi, rental car or bicycle.
Open : 9:30a.m. ～ 6:00p.m. Closed: Every Tuesday, 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month
At the end of the day I gathered my thoughts and went to the impressively grandiose Ichibata Yakushi Buddhist Temple.
The temple grounds feature statues of ancient Buddhist priests lining the stone walkways and stairs. Once I entered the temple itself, the acolyte and priest explained the overall progression of zazen meditation, after which the meditation session itself began.
The meditation session begins with the reading of a chant, followed by the preparation of the zabuton (cushion), followed by three roughly twenty-minute sessions of sitting meditation (zazen), with short breaks in between, as well as kinhin (walking meditation) and occasionally getting tapped on the back with a keisaku (awakening stick).
And at the very end, there will be tea time with the priest. In contrast to the solemn atmosphere up to this point, this part of the ceremony has a very down-to-earth feel. Participants all sit facing one another and have the opportunity to ask the priest anything they would like about Zen Buddhism.
I asked him “What should we think about during meditation?” and he answered in very clear, easy-to-understand Japanese: “It’s best not to think about anything. Just try to clear your mind, but this is hard to do, so don’t worry if you can’t.” The whole visit, including meditation, took about 3 hours.
The priest also speaks English, so if there is anything you do not understand, please do not hesitate to ask in English.
Looking back on my experience today I know I will visit Izumo again, so I recommend you visit as well. If you’re looking for an alternative to the other, more crowded cities, you might find Izumo to be Japan’s best kept secret.