Matsue is the perfect place to stop off if you’ve got a few hours to kill and is conveniently located right in the center of the samurai district. Shiomi Nawate is the main street where you can see most of the samurai residences. In fact, Matsue’s most famous English teacher, Lafcadio Hearn, actually married a daughter of a samurai family. After that, he wrote a lot of books, became a Japanese national, and became famous. Not bad for an English teacher back in the end of the 1800s.
Besides Matsui-jo and the samurai district, there’s not much to do in Matsue. Even finding a restaurant is a little bit difficult and the place is dead after dark. However, if your Japanese is good enough or if you are traveling with a Japanese person, perhaps you might be lucky enough to get a reservation at a restaurant that serves “kyodo ryori,” a Matsue specialty, which is seven types of dishes using various types of seafood. The seven dishes are “amasagi,” which is smelt either cooked as tempura or marinated in teriyaki sauce, “koi” (those lovely, multicolored fish we often see in Japanese ponds), baked in a rich, sweet sauce, “moroge-ebi,” steamed prawns, “shimiji,” small shellfish served in miso soup, “shirauo,” whitebait eaten raw as sashimi or cooked as tempura, “suzuki,” bass that is wrapped in paper and steam-baked over hot coals, and finally, “unagi,” grilled freshwater eel. This course is not cheap however, and will most likely cost around 10,000 yen a person.
If you’re strapped for cash and can’t afford “kyodo ryori,” it is still possible to try some local food in the form of “warigo-soba,” which is cold, buckwheat noodles seasoned with “nori” and served in 3-layer dishes, over which you can pour “dashi” soup and wash down with hot soba-water soup. This will cost you about 600 yen. Who wants to eat “koi” anyways?
If you’ve still got some time to spare and want to see another of Shimane’s finer sights, then catch a train and head to Izumo Taisha, located about 33 kms outside of Matsue. This is one of Japan’s most important shrines. According to legend, it was built by Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and is still visited by all eight million Shinto deities for their annual get-together.
The shrine, however, is actually not dedicated to Amaterasu, but instead to Okuninushi-no-kami, the god of good relationships. So there is probably a good chance of seeing about a thousand couples while you are visiting the shrine.
So, if you are on your way to Hiroshima, Okayama, or Tottori, don’t forget to stop off at Matsue if you need to stretch your legs. You might find something interesting.