Matsue City (松江市) is the capital of Shimane, and has a population of about 207,000 people. The city sprang up as a castle town along the banks of the Ohashi River and the shores of Shinji Lake. It is home to Shimane University, and so it’s a little more ‘international’ than some parts of the prefecture. While the nightlife in Shimane may not be what you are used to, Matsue boasts its fair share, with plenty of bars and restaurants, especially in the neighbourhoods of Isemiya, Higashi-honmachi, Kyomise, and near the university.
The Shimane Prefectural Office is in Matsue, so all JETs will be spending some time here. For support, you can check out the Shimane International Center (SIC) and the Matsue International Community Center (MICC).
- Matsue boasts some of the oldest archaeological sites in Japan, and a number of kofun (ancient tombs) can be found here, as well as the foundations of the oldest tax office in Japan. (insert joke about death and taxes here)
- Cutting edge: Matsue is the birthplace of the programming language Ruby. And you thought we were just tea and temples…
- Author and Japan enthusiast Lafcadio Hearn lived here for about a year and married a local woman, taking her family name, Koizumi, as his own. He wrote fondly of Matsue and remains popular here – you can buy innumerable souvenirs, including alcohol and coffee, bearing his image and name.
- From Matsue, the sunset over Lake Shinji is spectacular, and is apparently rated one of the ‘top 100 sunsets in Japan.’
- Matsue has been nicknamed ‘the Venice of Japan’ and also ‘the water city,’ because of its many canals, but no worries, you won’t need a boat
- Matsue Castle Park has been selected as one of the top 100 cherry blossom viewing areas nationwide.
Some of the most famous places to visit or things to do include the following:
- Matsue Castle, also known as the Plover Castle (Chidori-Jo), celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2011. One of the 12 remaining original castle keeps in Japan, it has a fantastic view of the city from its watchtower. The castle was due to be demolished during the Meiji Restoration along with many other symbols of the feudal system throughout Japan. However, thanks to the efforts of a local group of activists, the castle tower has remained intact to this day. Some of the other structures around the castle tower itself have also been restored. Near the castle are a number of beautiful shrines, including Jozan Inari Jinja, and a large park where festivals and music events often take place in the warmer months.
- The Horikawa Tour Boat circles around the castle, often with (Japanese) commentary or singing from the pilot. Be warned: you’ll have to bend down to go under some of the bridges. In winter, you can sit under a kotatsu (heated table) and stay warm along the route.
- Shiomi Nawate is an attractive street winding along the moat under Matsue Castle. On this street, you can find Lafcadio Hearn’s former residence and memorial museum, a samurai residence (the ‘buke yashiki’) and Yakumo-an, an excellent soba shop. On the hill above Shiomi Nawate, Meimei-an Teahouse is a good place to experience the tea ceremony in a beautiful garden setting with a view of the castle.
- Gessho-ji is a temple in the west part of Matsue. The nine Matsudaira lords who governed Matsue (and the first lord’s mother, for whom the temple was named) are buried here. In June, the blooming hydrangea bushes are worth seeing, and during Obon in August, hundreds of stone lamps are lit with candles. Visit the giant stone turtle that is said to roam around at night here too.
- Tenmangu Jinja is dedicated to the god of learning. This shrine hosts many festivals and events, one of the biggest being the Tenjin Matsuri (July 24-25).
- To the west of Matsue, there are two popular tourist spots: Matsue English Garden and Matsue Vogel Park, which features flowers and birds. Go for the penguin walk and the owl show.
- Yaegaki Jinja is a shrine dedicated to love and marriage. Predict your future romance by placing a piece of paper on the Pond of Mirrors, which reveals when and where you’ll find your love.
- Yomotsu Hirasaka, aka the “entrance to Hell,” is in Higashiizumo, to the east of Matsue. According to the Kojiki, the god Izanagi sealed off the entrance with a giant boulder after he tried to bring back the goddess Izanami from Yomi (“the shadowy land of the dead”) but fled after he saw that she was already starting to…decompose.
- The Shimane Art Museum is a gorgeous modern building right on the shore of Lake Shinji and a popular spot to view Shinji sunsets. The galleries are on the smaller side, but exhibits change every few months or so, so there’s always something new to see.
- There are plenty of shrines and temples to visit in Matsue: some notable ones include Kamosu Jinja (the oldest recorded shrine in Japan), Sada Jinja (home to Sada Shin-noh Unesco Intangible World Heritage) and Fumon-in (reputed to have a haunted bridge). Speaking of which, Matsue has summer ghost tours hosted by Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson.
- Daikonshima and Yuushien– Daikonshima is an island which was formed by volcanic activity. Yuushien Garden, located on the island, is also worth visiting. It is famous for its peonies (which are a popular export especially to Taiwan), but its illuminated night walks in fall are enchanting. Peonies can be viewed in full bloom all year round in the greenhouse, and also in the various seasons according to the breed of peony.
Matsue has two large sports venues: the Matsue General Gymnasium in the north east and the General Sports Park in the south. Shimane’s only professional sports franchise, the Susanoo Magic, play their basketball games at the gym. If your interests lean towards the martial arts, the city budokan offers classes in karate, kendo, judo, and aikido. There is also a kyudo ground near Shimane University for those who would like to let fly and try Japanese archery.
If you want to work out or hit the pool, Big S at Caspal is a joint gym and pool with modern facilities (requires membership). L’Sport has been popular with former JETs and probably has some of the best weight-lifting equipment in Shimane. The Terrsa near Matsue Station also has a gym and pool. A cheaper option is the city gymnasium (200 yen per day). It also has a swimming pool (500 yen/visit). The facilities are a little old, but it’s always easy to get a lane to yourself.
In summer, the coastline of the Sea of Japan has many nice beaches – go swimming before the jellyfish come!
The students at Shimane university have a whole host of sports teams and clubs. In the past they have been kind enough to allow JETs to join their practices.
For joggers, the boardwalk along Lake Shinji is a great place to run. Lake Shinji is also a popular spot for cyclists. To take it up a notch, sign up for one of the marathons.
Matsue is host to a JET rowing team that participates in local regattas.
There are a number of game centers and arcades in Matsue. There are also at least two 24 hour Internet cafes, well-stocked with manga – handy if it takes you awhile to get your Internet connection!
The Matsue City Culture Center houses both the City Library and Plover Hall. You can attend live music concerts and plays at the Shimane Prefectural Assembly Hall (Kenminkaikan), Plover Hall and Matsue Terrsa. The Matsue City Library (by Plover Hall) and Prefectural Library (By the Prefectural Office/Castle) both have a small selection of English books.
Festivals and Town Events
- Matsue has plenty of festivals throughout the year to keep you entertained. Here are a few of the bigger ones, but check with your neighbours for small community festivals too.
- Dan Dan Food Festa (throughout February) – a number of food-related events takeplace in restaurants and hotels this month. I recommend braving the cold and visiting the Sunday markets (a different place each week). *dan-dan means ‘thank you’ in the local Izumo dialect, as well as meaning to get warm and make friends!
- Matsue Samurai Parade – a procession to the castle, usually held in April. Watch, or take part.
- Matsue Drum Parade – a drum festival held by the castle on the third Sunday in October.
- St. Patrick’s Day Festival – held in March. Various events including a parade and an Irish pub.
- Suigousai – Firework festival on Lake Shinji, held on a Saturday and Sunday evening in late July.
- Horan-enya is one of the three biggest boat festivals in Japan and takes place once every ten years. Spirits are transported in highly decorative boats from Inari Jinja Shrine to Adakae Jinja Shrine.
- Matsue Dan-dan Summer Dance Festival – Held annually in late August
- Suitoro Lantern Festival – held near the castle in fall, An evening festival by the moat and castle, featuring hand-painted paper lamps, music and other cultural events and festival food.
Fast Food & Family Restaurants
- Pizza Hut
- Mister Donut
- Coco’s Curry House
- Big Boy
- Coco’s Family Restaurant – Quesadillas available on the menu
- Mos Burger
- Kura-sushi – 100-yen conveyor belt sushi
- Baskin Robbins (known here as ‘31’)
Japanese Food & Izakayas
- Spain Bar – Spanish flavoured restaurant and bar close to Matsue Station, run by the owner of GB’s Cafe.
- Tecchan– Popular cheap Okonomiyaki near Matsue station.
- Maruo – Okinawan food in a diner-type shop, very down-to-earth and tasty.
- Shintama – Okinawan food in a spotless, elegant setting. 62 brands of awamori (Okinawan hard liquor) available.
- Kaba – izakaya, reasonably priced, capable of holding large groups.
- LAG – a mix of Japanese and foreign food. The food is really good, but expect to wait awhile for it.
- Warawara – Japanese Izakaya franchise, next to Dan Dan’s Sports Bar. Food is relatively cheap.
- Yamachan on Asahimachi has very cheap nomihodai(all you can drink), and packed with businessmen and university students – all sitting on beer crates – at dinner time.
- Kumakichi – Kyomise
- Nakuria – Kyomise, lots of healthy vegetable dishes
- Shabu Shabu Onyasai – located near the station, this a fantastic restaurant.
- Gyukaku – Yakiniku restaurant, one in north Matsue near Inai Home Centre, one in south Matsue near Sogo Sports Park
- Chochin-ya – a yakiniku restaurant in Isemiya. Great food, and ‘Japanese Elvis’ works in the kitchen.
- Hokkaido – best kaiten-sushi in Matsue, opposite Imaishoten on Gakuen-dori
- Bariuma Ramen – super cool ramen, Gakuen-dori next to Imaishoten, pumping tunes
- Kiton Curry – Japanese style curry
- Marugame Udon
- Tamaki – a variety of Japanese dishes, along Kunibiki-dori
- Sweet – near Shin O-hashi, this second floor izakaya is reasonable and has a choice of Japanese or Western-style seating.
- Tateishi – Tonkatsu (fried pork with shredded lettuce) restaurant
- Ichiza – Kansai-style Okonomiyaki, close to the NHK office and Lake Shinji.
- MG – Restaurant that serves a fried pumpkin lunch as well as ginger-fry dishes.
- Shinko – A local grocery that sells really cheap fruit, vegetable, and meat.
- Kagetsu – near Shin O-hashi. Reserve the cheap but gorgeous lunch special (limited quantities)
- Jupiter- Located in Matsue Station has a good selection of coffee and cheese and foreign foods from all over the world.
- Agan-or – a Nepalese curry place near City Hall, with vegetarian options.
- The Pasta Factory – good Italian food (English menus available, friendly staff)
- Caprichozza – Italian food, near Matsue Station.
- Spice – Indian food
- Namasade- Indian food Near the Ohashi Bridge
- Papa Chubo – Chinese food (warning: hot dishes are very hot)
- L’Arc-en-Ciel – upscale French food
- Laut – an upscale restaurant located at Matsue English Gardens. Enjoy beautiful views of Lake Shinji while sampling a variety of the delicious dishes on offer.
- Liberta – Next door to Spice, this is a restaurant/bar that features many Spanish dishes, such as paella.
- Green’s Baby – Serves tacos and Japanese curry
- Ryo – A Korean restaurant run by one woman. Food is good, but prone to taking random ‘holidays’ on certain days when the owner has somewhere else to be.
- Lapin supermarket – There are four in Matsue, one being right down the street from the castle. You can find a variety of foreign snacks, chips, cheeses, wine, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Italian food. As many foods are imported, the prices can be a little expensive at times.
- Himawari – a natural food store near Tenjin Shrine. Get your lentils, real peanut butter, etc, here. They also frequently host Japanese cooking classes.
- Coffee Kan – there are two of these cafes. One is in Kyomise and the other is on the shore of Lake Shinji. They share a decor of bricks and ivy, kitschy knick-knacks, and delicious sandwiches, including a meatloaf bagel.
- Little Court Coffee- On the edge of Kyomise, the owner grinds their own beans for sale or drink.
- Port Below – regular open-mic nights that are a great opportunity to meet new people. Different themed events dance events throughout the year. Also a pricey boutique.
- Café Vita – has the best coffee in Matsue. The owner has won international prizes.
- Hattori – there are four of these cafes in Matsue. One is situated within walking distance of the Prefectural office. There are really good desserts and the inside resembles the interior of a medieval castle with dark, heavy woods, and large, comfy chairs. The second is located off Gakuen-dori. It has an amazingly spacious interior and posesses a charming European feel. Both desserts and the variety of coffees merit a visit. The third is close to the university and has the best sandwiches in town. A fourth is across from Plover Hall.
- Cafe Terrasse is by AEON and has a delicious lunch and dinner menu as well as a variety of homemade cakes and desserts. The staff are friendly and it’s a good place to relax and read a book on one of the couches.
- Scarab – Located near Kunibiki Bridge, this is a cafe of blended Japanese and Western styles eg. Houji Tea Latte . Although a little on the pricey side, a pleasant cafe with an interesting selection of drinks and snacks/ cakes/ ice-creams.
- Bontempi – this is a small Italian influenced cafe on the south side of Matsue. It is a popular spot for lunch but tends to be on the quiet side in the evening.
- Waterworks – a stylish cafe with good food and coffee. The parking lot used to be a tennis court.
- Meli-Melo – located in Nishikawatsuchou this small, charming cafe offers a mix of Japanese styled Western dishes.
- Gallery Sakura Cafe Shirotsumekusa – like coffee? like cats? visit this cat-themed cafe! on the way to Shimanechou 20 minutes drive from Matsue station
- La Bar – inside Imai bookstore by the Matsue-nishi exit with a Starbucks feel to it and seasonal specialty lattes and drinks. Good music is always on and you can browse the bookstore (they have some English books!), the CD/DVD store, or the stationary/art store at the end.
- Minna-de Tsukurou Cafe – A cafe with a different head chef everyday, often featuring foreign food cooked by local foreign residents, in SK Plaza near Shinji-ko Onsen Train Station (Ichibata line).
- Libido – A desert cafe, with cakes and pastries to go along with your drink.
- Merci – a short drive west of Matsue.
- Passage – in the Karakoro Art Studio Courtyard. Will make whole wheat and whole wheat/rye bread to order. Delicious cookies!
- Pain et Beurre – near the castle. Makes a good French-style whole wheat bread (only available Fridays/Saturdays)
- Starbucks – in the station. You know the drill.
- Kitchen Okada – near the city hall, good selection, does a good sweet potato and black sesame bread, and also egg/milk/preservative free breads (suitable for any vegans out there)
- Morinokumasan Bakery – Tawayama
- Carre – just north of the castle, Kita-tono machi. Run by a baker who trained in both Paris and Galway. Whole grain breads, baguettes etc.
- Claude- right next to the Matsue-chuo exit ramp and also on Gakuen Street. Very easy to customize cakes if you’re buying one for someone’s birthday.
- Matsue boasts one of the only night clubs in Shimane, Naked Space has a big mix of acts come through their doors every week. Check their website to find out what is coming up!
- St. James Gate – an Irish-themed bar in Isemiya. (Very pricy)
- Music Bar Birthday – a nice place for live jazz. (500 yen seating charge)
- Koucana– A small wine bar near the station.
- Poeme – Jazz bar. Has a good Jazz Night on the last Sunday of each month. (Also has a seating charge)
- ‘The Red Umbrella’ – a large, red umbrella in Karakoro Public Space, this is a popular place for JETs to gather on those warm summer nights and enjoy a cheap beer from the local Lawson.
- Sakaya – A new izakaya at the Karakoro Public Space, although small, has a cool atmosphere, friendly staff, and some delicious food.
- Oz – situated on the North side of Matsue and within striking distance of the university, Oz is Matsue’s hottest new karaoke spot.
- 335 – Karaoke, close to the JR station. Popular when with big groups of JETs.
- Sega World
Japanese Cultural Activities JETs Have Participated In
Matsue is a very traditional town, and as such there are many options for trying out cultural activities. Many JETs join the drum festival held each October. Tea ceremony is very popular here, and it is easy to view or study. Calligraphy and flower arranging classes are available, or you can try your hand at shigin, a form of traditional Japanese singing, or learn to play the shamisen (3-stringed guitar), shakuhachi (bamboo flute) or koto (Japanese harp).
Would you like to try out some traditional Japanese Buddhist Monk Cuisine? Otherwise known as Shojin-ryori（精進料理), you can enjoy this thoughtfully prepared style of cooking at Kezo-ji Temple, to the NE of Matsue (Mt. Makuragi). Reservations necessary.
The Matsue International Community Centre also holds a Japanese culture workshop on November 3rd every year. Previous years have included Karate, Kimono, Taiko, Tea Ceremony, Persimmon drying etc.
Things JETs Do in Their Spare Time
JETs in Matsue have lots of options for socializing, too. Many of us take part in road trips with friends, or eat out and go to parties or restaurants together. Summer BBQs at the beach are a great way to cool down in hot weather. Some popular beaches include Shimanechou, Kashima, Mihonoseki, Kitaura and Koura.
Camping and hiking spots are a short distance from Matsue, and within Matsue, you can hike Dakesan.
Onsen (hot springs) are great for relaxing, and Tamatsukuri, about 15 minutes from downtown Matsue, is a famous onsen town. There’s also Shinjiko Onsen, near the Ichibata station on the banks of Lake Shinji, although it is currently being renovated.
Matsue is not known for shopping, but there are a number of shops in and near the station. Shamine is the name for Matsue Station’s shopping area. Next to the station is Ichibata, an upscale department store. Go for the sales in January and July. There is a large food market in the basement, and periodically there are food showcases on the top floor.
AEON is a 5 minute walk from the station, and it is the most popular department store in town. The city’s only movie theatre is on the top floor (if you don’t speak Japanese, check in advance for subtitles, as foreign movies are often dubbed.) It has clothes, shoes, books, DVDs, video games, furniture, electronics, a travel agent, toys, jewlery, a supermarket, photo-developing booths, a bicycle shop, and restaurants.
Alpern is a sports goods store, which includes free weights and protein powder.
For furniture/home goods, there’s Nitori and Inai. Nitori is more expensive, but has generally higher quality goods.
Small boutiques pop up in almost every neighbourhood, so keep your eyes open.
Recycling shops are the way to go for second-hand clothes and goods. Doki-Doki and House-Off are just two examples. There are several Book-Off stores in Matsue, which also have second hand books, comics, movies, and magazines in Japanese.
Route 9 is the main route through Matsue, and it has many restaurants and shops. For electronics or gadgets Matsue has a whole host of options with Yamada Denki, Deo-Deo, Kojima, and 100 Man Volt. There is also a BMO which sells plus size clothing.
JR Chugoku Bus
– Okayama is about 2 hours and 40 minutes by train. From there, you can take the shinkansen (bullet train) to major cities throughout Japan. (Special discounted return tickets can be purchased from Sanin to Sanyou region but must be purchased at least one day in advance)
– Hiroshima: 3 hours and 30 minutes by car or bus, one every hour
– Kyoto: 5 hours by car or bus
– Osaka: 4 hours and 30 minutes by car or bus
– Kobe: 4 hours
– Tokyo: flights from Izumo or Yonago airport take approximately 80 minutes and there is also an overnight bus which leaves every day at 8pm, which takes about 11 hours.
– If you are planning a road trip check out this site to calculate the various road tolls.