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Yet Shimane prefecture is clearly not the most touristic of Japan, traveling there offers a lot of unexpected and surprising sights. Around the city of Oda, former mining shafts are running underground while one of Japan less known and more authentic onsen resort is waiting for you on the seashore. The world biggest sandglass and a mysterious “buried forest” are also nearby! And one-hour-driving leads to Izumo Taisha, the most important shrine of the country.
Yunotsu, former harbour and onsen resort
The wild hills of Shimane prefecture are running until the Sea of Japan, from where sunsets are unforgettable. On the seashore, the human settlement is often scarce in front of the strong natural neighbor. Yet, between a cliff several hills and the quiet sea, tiny onsen–resort Yunotsu was successfully established centuries ago.
Along the charming main street, two bath houses from the same spring are standing between popular newly opened coffees and ancient shops. The architecture of many buildings is preserved. The former Yakushiyu building – that used to be a bath-house of both European and Japanese influences – is the symbol of the town. A coffee shop popped up on the first floor, in lieu of the first and second class locker room. The bath is now in the next building, slightly more modern (everyday from 5 am to 9 pm, 350 yens).
The other public bath house of Yunotsu is known, even among locals, to be very hot. The bathing temperature reaches 46°C. Motoyu bath house (open daily from 5:30am to 8:20pm, 300 yens) welcomes the visitor with the statue of a racoon. A reference to a local legend, telling how 1300 years ago, a monk discovered an injured racoon bathing in the hot spring in order to heal itself. The monk thus understood the therapeutic virtue of the about-to-become Yunotsu’s waters.
Kagura – the Shinto danced theater which Shimane prefecture is famous for – could also be discover in Yunotsu each Saturday at the Tatsuno-gozen shrine.
Long before it was known for its waters, Yunotsu was an port town. From its coast, the silver mined in Iwami Ginzan was shipped…
The rich history of silver mining in Japan
Registered as a World Heritage Site since 2007, the former silver mine of Iwami Ginzan was one of the world main silver mining area during the 17th century (with a third of the world total production) and the biggest of Japan. It was active from 1526 to 1923. The remaining buildings and shafts, one of them dating back from 1715, should definitely be visited (410 yens per adult). More that 500 shafts are running in the neighboring hills.
The silver mined in Iwami Ginzan was famous in the whole Asia. And even used for trade with Portugal and Netherlands. After the Sekigahara battle, the mining complex had been ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate. To light the shafts, miners were using a sea shell filled with oil. Nicknamed Rato-chan (らとちゃん) it became in 2012 the mascot of Oda. The real sea shell can be found in the waterfront restaurants.
Not far away North of the mine, there is Omori and its numerous historical houses. During the exploitation of Iwami Ginzan, the picturesque town was the residence of the magistrates, merchants ant craftmen. The huge Kumagai family residence (300 yens, closed the last Tuesday of each month) is a must-see to discover the traditional housing of Japanese dignitaries.
Sand museum, beluga whales and hidden forest
Iwami Ginzan and Yunotsu onsen are not the only attractions in Oda. Not far from the main city sand is trickling through the world biggest sandglass, located in the surprising Nima Sand Museum (700 yens). A full year is measured before the locals have to turn the giant device (a process ran on the 31th of December and involving 108 inhabitants, as a reference to the number of passions in Buddhism which is also the number of times the monks are ringing temple bells all over the country on that very day).
In the neighboring town of Hamada, well-known in Japan for Kagura, the Aquas aquarium (1540 yens, closed on Tuesdays) features three belugas whales. As a result of a Softbank commercial broadcasted some years ago, Shiria, Anna and Nasucha are famous all over Japan for their ability to blow bubble rings underwater. Several shows are held each day.
Back around Oda hills. Surprisingly, the mine shafts are not the only interest of the underground. The “buried forest” of Sanbe Azukihara, absolutely unknown among travelers, is definitely worth it. Under the museum dome lie the remains of a prehistorical forest, buried and preserved there 4000 years ago by an eruption of former volcano Mount Sanbe. The first tree – still standing! – was discovered there in 1983. And it was saved from destruction thanks to a photograph that reached the good person.
Thanks to the excavation and to the establishment of the museum, the Japanese cedars are now visible at the exact location lava carried them thousands of years ago, at more than 8 meters below the ground. These prehistorical trees were far bigger than there current descendants, reaching easily 50 meters. The massive trunks of Sanbe-Azukihare are among Japan biggest ever found.
How to get there?
The easiest way to explore Oda’s area in Shimane is to rent a car. However it is possible to see a lot using only trains and buses (except the buried forest). JR Sanin Main Line is convenient to reach the main sites and Oda city. Yunotsu onsen is at walking distance of the station of the same name. Reaching Iwami Ginzan silver mine is possible taking the local bus from Oda city center.
Reaching Shimane prefecture is very easy. The Izumo airport, one hour driving to Oda, is well connected to Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. The region can also be reached from Hiroshima, about two hours away by bus. Which allow a nice side-trip to preserved Japan.
To know more about the many attractions of Oda and Shimane, the tourism promotion website of the prefecture is a goldmine.
More photos are available on Nippon100 facebook!