Izumo Legends, Road of Steel and Mountain of Silver—Ancient history, metalcraft and environmental sustainability in southwestern Japan (13 DAYS)

DETAILED ITINERARY

 

DAY 1—TRAVEL OKAYAMA–YASUGI & YASUGI MEDIVAL CASTLE RUINS WALK: Meet at JR Okayama Station (easy direct access by Shinkansen from Tōkyō, Kyōto, Ōsaka and Kyūshū) in the late morning and travel to Yasugi in eastern Shimane Prefecture, known in modern times for the Hitachi Steelworks producing the high-grade Yasuki Speciality Steel. After lunch in the town centre, travel into the outlying rural area. Take a late afternoon walk among the 13th-century ruins of the gigantic Gassan-Toda Castle and picture the now unassuming town as a major political centre in medieval Japan. In the early evening, head to your accommodation nearby, a classic Japanese onsen-ryokan with exquisitely landscaped gardens and private onsen baths.

 

DAY 2—YASUGI CRAFTS AND ONSEN INDULGENCE: After a warming early morning soak in the ryokan’s private onsen bath, head out and explore some of the traditional industries of the Yasugi’s rural districts. Visit a small, family-run indigo dyeing and weaving workshop to learn how the natural indigo dyes are prepared and threads are dyed. Travel further into the mountains to visit a family-run blacksmithing workshop, where artisans handcraft objects of beauty through innovative fusion of modern creativity and time-honoured traditional bladesmithing techniques. You may even wish to try your own hand at hand-beating red-hot steel. At the old village sake brewery nearby, take a short tour (subject to scheduling) to see how their acclaimed and unique brews are carefully crafted in small batches and, of course, taste some of the results. Return to your accommodation (as per Day 1) for further onsen relaxation and a sumptuous traditional Japanese dinner course.

 

DAY 3—ADACHI MUSEUM OF ART & MATSUE HISTORIC SIGHTS: Visit the internationally renowned Adachi Museum of Art in the early morning to beat the crowds arriving on bus tours. Admire the variety of artworks in the collection, and contemplate the extensive Japanese garden that is counted among the most beautiful gardens of the world. Depart Yasugi after lunch and travel to Matsue, the lakeside capital of Shimane Prefecture. Spend the afternoon taking in the sights of historic Matsue, including the Matsue Castle, one of the few castles in Japan retaining its original early 17th-century structure, and the atmospheric Shiominawate Samurai house district. Enjoy a wide range of dinner choices in a city renowned for its fine, creative gourmet. Accommodation at a mid-range city hotel with convenient transport access.

 

DAY 4—MATSUE YUSHIEN GARDENS & IZUMO VILLAGE ONSEN EXPERIENCE:  Take a short trip to the renowned Yūshien Gardens outside Matsue for a morning walk among exquisitely landscaped Japanese gardens in their autumn splendour. Learn why Daikonjima—the island on which the gardens are located—is one of the few successful ginseng-growing areas of Japan. Return to Matsue for lunch, then travel to a traditional onsen village in the mountainous interior of the Izumo region with its origins back to the 8th century. Enjoy a rejuvenating soak at the communal village onsen (both shared public and private baths are available) with a fabulously rustic, old-world atmosphere that is seldom experienced today. Retire to your small, boutique guesthouse accommodation within a superbly renovated traditional village house, where you will enjoy a fusion Japanese-European dinner course showcasing the fresh regional produce.

 

DAY 5—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 1: In the morning, travel further into the interior of Izumo region. After lunch, explore the Izumo steel-making tradition and discover how it relates to the region’s divine legends, natural environment, agriculture, and food and craft traditions. At a local museum, learn why the traditionally made Tatara steel, prized for samurai swords, develops its legendary cutting quality, and watch a sword-making demonstration by a renowned local swordsmith. Shop for individually handcrafted kitchen knives that chefs dream of. Walk the countryside to understand how the beautiful rural landscapes, environmentally sustainable traditional agriculture, and the local cuisine all relate to the region’s mining and steel-making history. After a rejuvenating early evening bath at one of the district’s onsen facilities, travel to your accommodation, a truly precious experience of a private stay with organic farmers who lead a largely pre-industrial lifestyle in an 18th-century traditional country house.

 

DAY 6—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 2: Spend your day further exploring the fascinating history, legends, and the steel-making, agrarian and culinary traditions of the Izumo region. Visit a small country Shintō shrine that is intimately linked to the ancient legends of Izumo and the Tatara steel-making tradition. Enjoy a special Izumo soba lunch made from a local heirloom buckwheat variety renowned for its deep aromatic flavour. Take a stroll among manicured and productive terraced rice fields and understand their connection to the region’s mining history. Inspect an organic farm to see how the region’s tradition of environmental sustainability is now nurturing a growing movement toward self-sufficiency, safe foods and rural revival. Accommodation as per Day 5.

 

DAY 7—IZUMO ‘REAL’ FOOD EXPERIENCE: After a relaxed start to the morning, take a short train trip to a pioneering winery where all wine and food are produced using strictly organic methods. Enjoy a delightful, light lunch at the winery to sample a range of local gourmet produce, including European-style organic cheeses. In the afternoon, visit a family-run soy sauce brewery crafting premium-grade shōyu and ponzu from safe, locally grown ingredients using traditional, slow-maturation methods. Learn some revealing (and disturbing) facts about the mass-produced supermarket-variety soy sauces and how ‘real’ soy sauces fundamentally differ. Travel in the early evening to your accommodation, a historic, family-run ryokan situated in a quiet country town.

 

DAY 8—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 3: Travel during the morning to a former steel-making village in the mountainous interior of Izumo region. Visit the only remaining historic Tatara furnace site in Japan —get a rare opportunity to closely examine the imposing wooden structure housing the furnace, and learn about the skill, experience and backbreaking work required in the production of Tatara steel. Take a stroll through the now quiet streets and laneways of the village, whose superbly preserved townscape will allow you to imagine all the activity in its steel-making heyday. Return in the late afternoon to your accommodation (as per Day 7).

 

DAY 9—IZUMO-TAISHA (GRAND SHRINE) & MUSEUM OF ANCIENT IZUMO: Depart the rural interior of Izumo region in the morning, and arrive at lunch in the city of Izumo. During the afternoon, head to the world-famous Izumo-Taisha (Grand Shrine) nearby. Absorb the mysterious atmosphere of the ancient shrine dedicated to the founding god of the Japanese nation featured in the Izumo legends, Ōkuninushi-no-Ōkami. Get an overview of Izumo’s ancient history at the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, including an impressive display of 6th-century bronze swords unearthed at one of the numerous local burial sites. Return to Izumo city centre in the early evening to your accommodation at a conveniently located mid-range city hotel. Enjoy dinner at one of the cosy eateries in town serving the best of local produce in a variety of styles from traditional to creative.

 

DAY 10—TRAVEL IZUMO–IWAMI-GINZAN (SILVER MINE) & OMORI HISTORIC MINING TOWN WALK/CYCLING: travel during the morning to the Iwami-Ginzan silver mining area of western Shimane Prefecture. Arrive in the historic mining town of Ōmori in time for lunch, then spend the afternoon exploring the town set in a forested valley, with its charming Edo-period townscape, ancient temples and shrines, quaint shopfronts and elegant residences. Choose between exploring on foot (if you are energetic enough to cover considerable distances) or on a rental bicycle. Accommodation at a small, upper mid-range boutique hotel within a modernised traditional Japanese house on the rural fringes of town, with Western or Japanese-style bedding.

 

DAY 11—OMORI HISTORIC MINING TOWN WALK/CYCLING or IWAMI-GINZAN HISTORIC TRAIL WALK: Depending on your fitness and interest, and weather conditions, choose between further exploring historic Ōmori or a full-day walk on a historic trail previously used to transport the silver ore from Ōmori to the coast. If staying in Ōmori, visit one of the old mineshafts open to the public—witnessing the unimaginable conditions endured by countless miners that also curiously contributed to minimising the environmental impacts of mining. If undertaking the trail walk, imagine the hardships endured as silver ore was carried on foot and horseback over the rugged and forested coastal ranges. For both options, arrive in the late afternoon at your accommodation in a coastal village, a privately rented traditional Japanese house with the Sea of Japan extending right at your doorstep. Enjoy dinner with your hosts, who will prepare freshly caught seafood in the authentic local fisherman’s way.

 

DAY 12—HISTORIC PORT VILLAGE WALK or FISHERMAN’S BOAT COASTAL CRUISE & YUNOTSU-ONSEN COASTAL TOWN AND POTTERY TRADITION: Spend the morning taking a walk along the shores near your accommodation, including a former silver-loading port nestled within a tiny cove. Discover some of the tell-tale signs of the shipping traffic in the port’s heyday, when silver from Iwami-Ginzan was exported as far away as Europe. Alternatively, with weather and sea conditions permitting, take a short cruise in a small fisherman’s boat to enjoy spectacular coastal scenery not visible from the land. In the late morning, take a short train trip to Yunotsu-Onsen, a classic coastal town that served as the main outbound port for Iwami-Ginzan’s silver. After lunch, take time to absorb the nostalgic atmosphere of the historic town that appears to be ‘slotted’ into a narrow coastal valley. Visit a local pottery studio producing the Yunotsu-yaki ceramics and learn how the tradition is related to the local mining history and the Edo-period history of Japan as a whole. Accommodation at a classic Japanese onsen ryokan, featuring public and private baths with a ‘retro’ feel. Enjoy a traditional dinner course at the ryokan featuring more fresh local seafood. After dinner, walk to the local Shintō shrine to experience a performance of the Iwami-Kagura (subject to scheduling), a sacred theatrical dance based on the ancient Japanese mythology, as a dramatic finale to your stay in the Iwami region.

 

DAY 13—TRAVEL YUNOTSU-ONSEN–HAMADA–HIROSHIMA: Depart Yunotsu-Onsen by rail in the morning and travel to the thriving regional centre of Hamada for lunch. After lunch, take a two-hour road-coach trip to Hiroshima. The tour concludes on arrival at JR Hiroshima Station, where direct Shinkansen connections to Tōkyō, Kyōtō, Ōsaka and Kyūshū areas are available.

 

TOUR THEMES:

  • History

  • Environmental sustainability

  • Traditional crafts

  • Regional foods

  • Rural scenery

  • Townscapes

  • Onsen

  • Country walking

  • Gardens

 

ACCOMMODATION:

  • 2 nights in an upper-range traditional ryokan with Japanese or Western-style bedding, and shared public and private onsen baths in a rural setting

  • 2 nights in a private, historic and very traditional Japanese farmhouse (minpaku) with Japanese-style futon bedding, shared sleeping quarters and basic facilities in a rural setting (no bathroom available at the accommodation; requires use of a local onsen facility for all bathing requirements)

  • 2 nights in a mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and shared facilities (but private bath) in a town setting

  • 2 nights in mid-range city hotels with Western-style beds

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and public and private onsen baths in a town setting

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range private boutique guesthouse within a renovated traditional country house, with Western-style bedding for up to 2 people and Japanese-style futon bedding for up to 2 people (all within one large open-plan bedroom), in a village setting

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range boutique hotel within a modernised traditional Japanese house, with Western or Japanese-style bedding in a semi-rural setting

  • 1 night in a traditional Japanese coastal house (private rental) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a village setting—note coastal frontage with constant noise of breaking waves

 

DEPARTURE DATE: Tuesday 20 November 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.

 

BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Monday 23 July 2018

 

MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 4 persons

 

COST: from AUD $5400 per person (4 persons); from AUD $6200 per person (3 persons); from AUD $6800 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Saturday 6 October 2018

 

INCLUSIONS:

  • Full tour planning and guiding—13 days

  • Accommodation—12 nights

  • Breakfast—12 days

  • Lunch—13 days

  • Dinner—12 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi, boat)—13 days, departing from Okayama, returning to Hiroshima

  • Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary

  • Relevant information material

 

PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE (MODERATE/HIGH for the Iwami-Ginzan historic trail walk option on Day 11): all days of the tour involve periods of walking on surfaced and unsurfaced roads and footpaths on gentle to moderate gradients. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for up to 3 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps. The itinerary may be modified for lower levels of fitness or mobility—please note, however, that additional costs may be incurred. The accommodation on Days 4 and 5 features a traditional open fireplace that makes the air inside quite smoky—participants must be able to tolerate moderate levels of wood smoke for extended periods, and accept the risk of smoky odour lingering on your clothes and belongings during and after your stay; you must not suffer from existing health conditions that smoky air or soot may aggravate including, but not restricted to, conditions affecting your breathing, eyes and skin. The weather conditions may occasionally be wintry, with snowfalls and strong cold winds possible.

 

If undertaking the Iwami-Ginzan historic trail walk on Day 11, you must be a seasoned hiker who can negotiate steep terrain. Participants must be able to walk for 2 km continuously at a time in forested and open terrain with moderate to steep gradients. You must not suffer from existing health conditions (or have a high risk thereof) that compromises your fitness, mobility, endurance, coordination or navigation skills, including, but not limited to, conditions affecting your heart, blood pressure, brain, nervous system, breathing, movement of your limbs, neck and the back, eyesight and hearing. The walking track, in places, may be narrow, rocky, swampy, slippery, or have sheer drop-offs on one side. A very long, continuous section of uneven and unstable stone steps needs to be negotiated. Some sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds, rain, snow, thunder and low temperatures. Some may require protection against UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. 

 

CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: Accommodation on at least 8 nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Many meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with non-Japanese food options unavailable. On Days 5 and 6, you will stay in a private house nearly three centuries old with simple facilities, including shared sleeping quarters (for all guests plus the tour leader) with no locks or privacy, an open fireplace that makes the air smoky, and a small washbasin in the kitchen area for all your washing needs. No bathing facilities are available within the house, and your bathing opportunity each day will be restricted to one late afternoon/early evening visit to one of the local onsen facilities (private baths available if required). Accommodation on Day 4 requires up to 4 guests to share one large open-plan bedroom, and the use of the nearby local onsen facility at set times (private baths available if required). Accommodation on Day 7 and 8 require the use of shared facilities, however, with private bathing arrangements. The private rental house accommodation on Day 11 has sleeping quarters separated from each other only by traditional paper screens that cannot be locked and are not sound-proof.

Takehiko Hashimoto trading as

Deeply Regional Japan Tours ABN 17594801316

Postal address:

PO Box 238, Mawson ACT 2607 AUSTRALIA

E-mail:

hashimoto@grapevine.com.au

Web:

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com.au

© 2019 by Takehiko Hashimoto

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