The Izumo region of eastern Shimane and western Tottori prefectures is famous for the ancient Japanese mythology known as Izumo-Shinwa (the Izumo legends). Stories such as the 8th-century Kunibiki (the ‘land-pulling’) tale—in which a god resolves the shortage of flat land in the Izumo region by pulling together pieces of land from around the Sea of Japan with gigantic ropes—contain curious parallels with actual historic or natural events suggesting that the legends are, at least in part, an ancient Japanese chronicle. Izumo region’s history and culture are also intimately linked to its Tatara steel-making tradition dating back to the 5th century, which established the region’s reputation for high-quality steel and swords. A remarkable aspect of this industry is how the people of Izumo region, for centuries, managed the environmental impacts of steel making to maintain co-existence with a healthy, productive and sustainable agrarian ecosystem. Organic farmers and food artisans continue the region’s tradition in environmental sustainability, producing ‘real’ food with minimal impact on nature.  This tour will provide you with a deep understanding of how the culture, history and environment, including its ancient legends, steel-making, food and craft traditions, and picturesque rural scenery, all relate to each other in the fascinating and timeless landscapes of the Izumo region.

 

DAY 1: Meet in Okayama (accessible directly by Shinkansen from Tōkyō, Kyōto, Ōsaka and Kyūshū) in the mid-afternoon and travel to the Izumo region of eastern Shimane Prefecture, the land of divine legends intimately linked to the birth of Japan as a nation. Arrive in the early evening at your accommodation in Izumo City at a mid-range city hotel.

 

DAYS 2 and 3—IZUMO-TAISHA SHRINE AND MATSUE: Get off the ground early on Day 2 and visit the world-famous Izumo-Taisha shrine before the tour coaches arrive. Absorb the mysterious atmosphere of the shrine dedicated to the founding god of the Izumo nation, featured in the Izumo legends. 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. In the mid-afternoon, travel to Matsue, the lakeside capital of Shimane Prefecture. On Day 3, take in the sights of historic Matsue, including the Matsue Castle, one of the few castles in Japan retaining its original early 17th-century structure, the atmospheric Shiominawate Samurai house district, and traditional Japanese gardens in their autumn glory. Accommodation on both days at a mid-range city hotel.

 

DAY 4—IZUMO ‘REAL’ FOOD EXPERIENCE PART 1: Depart Matsue in the morning, and travel into the rural interior to experience Izumo region’s ‘real’ food culture. Enjoy a lunch of the celebrated Izumo soba (buckwheat) noodles at a small local restaurant renowned for growing its own buckwheat and, with luck, watch the artisan making the wonderfully textural noodles. In the afternoon, visit a family-run soy sauce brewery crafting gourmet shōyu and ponzu from safe, locally grown ingredients using age-old methods. After a rejuvenating onsen bath at Kamedake-Onsen, travel to your accommodation, a truly precious experience staying with organic farmers who lead a largely pre-industrial lifestyle in an 18th-century traditional house.

DAY 5—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 1: Delve into 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 Izumo steel, traditionally prized for samurai swords, develops its legendary cutting quality, and watch a sword-making demonstration by a master 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 steel-making history. Inspect an organic farm to see how the region’s tradition of environmental sustainability is now nurturing a movement toward self-sufficiency, safe foods and rural revival. Accommodation as per Day 4.

 

DAY 6—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 2: During the morning, 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. In the afternoon, visit a 19th-century estate of an ‘steel baron’ and discover the unexpected connection between the steel industry and the great Izumo garden tradition. Take an easy walk through a scenic gorge cut into the region’s iron-bearing granite in its late spring verdure, before travelling to your hotel accommodation at Kamedake-Onsen for a relaxing onsen dip. 

 

DAY 7—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 3 AND IZUMO ‘REAL’ FOOD EXPERIENCE PART 2: In the morning, visit a factory manufacturing the prized Unshu abacuses, a craft tradition intimately linked to the region’s steel industry. ​Enjoy a delightful platter lunch at a pioneering winery where all wine and food are produced using strictly organic methods. In the afternoon, travel to a tiny traditional onsen village in a mountain valley with origins back to the 8th century. Enjoy a rejuvenating soak at the village onsen with a fabulously rustic atmosphere (public and private baths available). 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 more fresh local produce.

 

Day 8—TATARA LANDSCAPE AND TRADITIONS PART 4: Travel during the mid-morning to a former steel-making village in the mountainous interior of Izumo region. Visit the only remaining historic Tatara furnace in Japan, and take a stroll through the picturesque village to imagine all the activity in its steel-making heyday. Travel to Kisuki in the evening to your accommodation at a small, elegant traditional ryokan in the quiet country town.

DAYS 9 and 10—YASUGI CRAFTS AND ONSEN INDULGENCE: After a relaxing start to Day 9 and enjoying an early lunch of regional specialities in Kisuki, travel to the rural outskirts of Yasugi in the easternmost Shimane Prefecture. On arrival, take a late afternoon walk among the 13th-century ruins of the gigantic Gassan-Toda Castle and picture the now unassuming rural 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. On Day 10, explore some of the traditional industries of the Yasugi area. Visit small, family-run indigo dyeing and blacksmithing workshops, where artisans continue to handcraft objects of beauty using time-honoured methods. Drop by at an old village sake brewery to see how their acclaimed and unique brews are produced and, of course, for some tasting. Accommodation as per Day 10.

DAY 11—ADACHI MUSEUM OF ART: Visit the internationally renowned Adachi Museum of Art in the early morning to beat the tourist crowds. 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 JR Okayama Station where the tour will conclude in the late afternoon. Direct Shinkansen connections to Tōkyō, Kyōtō, Ōsaka, Hiroshima and Kyūshū areas are available at Okayama.

 

TOUR THEMES:

  • History

  • Traditional crafts

  • Regional foods

  • Rural scenery

  • Environmental sustainability

  • Villages

  • Onsen

  • Country walking

  • Natural environment

  • Gardens

  • Townscapes

 

ACCOMMODATION:

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

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

  • 2 nights in a private traditional Japanese farmhouse (minpaku) with Japanese-style futon bedding and shared sleeping quarters in a rural setting

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range tourist-style onsen ryokan with Western-style beds, and public and private onsen baths in a rural setting

  • 1 night in an upper mid-range 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 a small mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and shared facilities, in a town setting

 

DEPARTURE DATE: Tuesday 22 May 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.

 

BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Saturday 3 March 2018 [PLEASE NOTE REVISED DATE]

 

MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 4 persons

 

COST: from AUD $5700 per person (3–4 persons); from AUD$6200 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Sunday 22 April 2018

 

INCLUSIONS:

  • Full tour planning and guiding—11 days

  • Accommodation—10 nights

  • Breakfast—10 days

  • Lunch—10 days

  • Dinner—10 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—11 days, departing from/returning to Okayama

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

  • Relevant information material

 

PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE: 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.

 

CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: Accommodation on at least six (6) 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 4 and 5, you will stay in a private house nearly three centuries old with simple facilities, including shared sleeping quarters, 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 two (2) other nights also require the use of shared toilet facilities

IZUMO LEGENDS & THE ROAD OF STEEL

Ancient history, swords and environmental sustainability in southwestern Japan (11 DAYS)

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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