So you’re coming to Yasugi in Shimane, Japan? I’m sure that you were so thrilled to have been accepted as an ALT that at first it didn’t matter where you were assigned. But by now, you’ve probably visited the Wikipedia page for Yasugi and found that we have a pretty sweet looking Japanese garden and a train station. Oh boy! Outside of that, maybe you’ve never heard of Shimane prefecture, and have no idea what to expect when coming here. But hey, at least Yasugi does have a Wikipedia page, right?
Shimane is the second least-populated prefecture in Japan, behind our neighboring prefecture, Tottori. As such, plenty of towns are so remote that even people living in the prefecture haven’t heard of them. Yasugi is made up of three small towns – Yasugi, Hakuta, and Hirose – and is very conveniently located on the edge of Shimane between the capital of the prefecture, Matsue, and a larger city in Tottori prefecture, Yonago. So, while you are definitely heading into an inaka (country) setting where you will see lots and lots of old people and rice fields, you are close enough to big city life that you shouldn’t be too worried about it.
In Yasugi, the pace of life is fairly slow. There’s plenty of farming, and many people take leisurely strolls at all times of the day. Yasugi is famous for the Adachi Museum of Art, a Japanese garden which has been named the best in Japan for seven years in a row now. It’s also famous for being the city in which the wife of the author of the manga “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro” grew up in, subsequently becoming the setting for the TV drama about her called “Ge Ge Ge no Nyoubou;” look for the town of Ootsuka near Hakuta. The Yasugi mascot, Araessa-kun, will at first shock you and make you wonder how people can possibly find him cute, but he will quickly find a place in your heart alongside the much more agreeably cute Shimane prefecture mascot, Shimanekko.
Don’t forget to try doujyou cooking, shojin vegetarian dishes and Kiyomizudera youkan (though at least doujyou won’t be a problem, because school lunches often give you a variety of interesting food to try… but that will be it’s own surprise). Yasugi is small enough that you will see your students everywhere and quickly become a celebrity in the town, simply because a lot of people here have never had contact with a foreigner before. Wherever the ALTs go, it instantly becomes an international event, so let’s give all we’ve got to Yasugi!
- Adachi Museum: The #1 nationally ranked Japanese garden, and less than a 5 minute drive from the town of Hirose. There are also special exhibits within the museum from various Japanese artists that are exquisite as well.
- Yasugi Engeikan: If you mention Yasugi to most people in Japan, they will instantly think of “Yasugi Bushi.” Although our little city isn’t so famous, this song is well-known for its interesting rhythm and dance. There is also a famous traditional dance that involves catching a doujyou sukui fish, and you can see the whole show at the entertainment building next to Adachi.
- Wakou (Japanese steel) Museum: This small museum has exhibits on the Japanese steel making process. One of the biggest steel manufacturers in Japan, Hitachi Steel, has a factory in Yasugi. Wakou features in-depth exhibits on the katana making process and more (such as Japanese guns). Of special note is the chance to wield a real katana.
- Kiyomizudera: Kiyomizudera is a temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect. It has the same name as the more famous Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. The temple has beautiful scenery year-round. It is a great place to get away and relax. It also features two of Yasugi’s three famous foods – shojin-ryouri (vegetarian cuisine) and youkan.
- Restaurants: Matsuki (ramen), Rodan (ramen), Montolone (French cuisine, buffet and cakes), Hakuraiya (family hamburger steak/steak restaurant), Joyfull (family restaurant), Koutou (okonomiyaki)
- Fast-food: McDonalds, Moss Burger, Sukiya
- Grocery Stores: Yasugi has 4 major grocery stores: Lamu (open 24 hours), HOK (inside Prana & Hirose Shopping Centers), Marugo (inside Shoppers), and San-ai.
- ¥100 Stores (Highly Recommended): Yasugi has 3 hyakkin stores, in order of size – Shoppers, Prana and Hirose Shopping.
- Shopping Malls: Yasugi has small shopping centers, such as Shoppers, Prana, and Hirose Shopping, but if you want bigger malls you can go to Yonago (Aeon/Hiezu JUSCO, SATY, Tenmaya, Takashimaya), Matsue (SATY), or Izumo (YouMe Town/Izumi).
- Book Stores: small book stores can be found in Prana and other parts of Yasugi, but all of the big Imai-shoten (new books) and Book-Offs (used books, movies, games, etc.) are located in Yonago, Matsue, and Izumo. There is also a V-REX, which sells and rents out used manga and CDs/DVDs. There is also a small city library connected to the Wakou Museum, and smaller town libraries can be found in Hirose and Hakuta.
- Sports: Yasugi Sports Park – features multiple tennis courts, a baseball field, a running track, and a paid access pool. Yasugi Sakura Gymnasium – a full court gym with classes offered on a variety of sports, as well as a weight training room with treadmills and bikes. You can also watch sports games, most notably the Shimane basketball team Susanoo Magic, which plays in Yasugi once a year.
- Hot Springs (onsen): Yume Land (onsen and pool), Hirose Todajou, Sagi no Yu Onsen (next to Adachi Museum of Art). Yasugi is also close to the various onsens in Matsue Tamatsukuri and Yonago Kaike.
Japanese Cultural Activities JETs Have Participated In
- Kendo: An association composed of kendo practitioners and elementary and junior high school students, aiming to bring up the level of kendo in Yasugi. Not held in a typical Dojo, practice (keiko) is held infrequently on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and Sunday morning.
- Taiko: A group of taiko enthusiasts meets weekly at a gymnasium in Hirose. Their meetings are Wednesday nights from 8:30 to 10:00. No former experience knowledge is necessary, and you can practice to join in performances throughout the year or just play for fun.
Things JETs Do in Their Spare Time
- Walking/Hiking/Biking: Walking and biking in the Yasugi area is very easy to do and treats you to enthralling views. (Lake Shinji and Nakaumi are great at night.) There are also several people in the area who are into professional bike racing and, occasionally, JETs in the area get together to go on cross-country tours of the prefecture en route to Hiroshima, etc. Hiking can be done at small mountains in the area (such as Gassan in Hirose), or you can go to nearby Daisen next to Yonago city.
- Marathon: For those who enjoy running, Yasugi hosts an annual race in November called the Nakaumi Marathon, located in central Yasugi. Running and walking courses are available for any age, the longest of which is a half marathon (approximately 21 kilometers). There are also taiko performances, food stands, and chances to be interviewed for the city TV channel Dojokko TV.
- Horseback Riding: There is a small place to horseback ride between Hirose and Yasugi, and there is an actual horseback riding club at Mount Daisen in the neighboring Tottori prefecture. Horseback riding is a bit expensive in the Daisen area, especially the club, and it is not very advanced if you aren’t a beginner, but the options are available.
- Snowboarding/Skiing: Daisen (literally Big Mountain) is located next to Yonago in Tottori prefecture and accessible within an hour. It is the biggest mountain in the area, bigger than any resort in Shimane prefecture. Places to rent snowboards and ski equipment and clothes are available on the mountain.
- Swimming: A short drive to Kaike Onsen in Yonago will bring you to the beautiful Japan Sea, where you can swim during the warmer months. Be careful of jellyfish near the end of August, but feel free to eat plenty of other delicious raw fish in nearby restaurants.
- Other Exercise: Yasugi Sakura Gymnasium (near Prana) – a public facility used by the community that includes a full-court gym, a machine training room (with treadmills), and a free weight training room. Access to the gym is ¥300 per visit, or you can purchase a discounted ticket pack or monthly membership. The gym also offers classes on tennis and other sports, but times and dates change, so you will have to inquire personally.
Curves Gym in Yasugi (next to Prana) – another gym if you want to join a class with other women (though generally older) in the area.
- Movies/anime/manga/games: V-Rex – a video rental store in central Yasugi. Features rental options for Japanese, English and Korean movies and music, as well as Japanese and American animation. You can also purchase and sell used manga and new/used video games (most are Japanese only).
- Road trips: Traveling across Japan is very convenient. You can reach Hiroshima in 3, Osaka in 4, and Tokyo in 9-10 hours by bus or car. Overnight buses are available to allow easy weekend trips from Yonago Station. Being a Yasugi JET, you will probably own a car, and it is not too difficult to carpool with one another and split gas/food costs along the way, while enjoying the beautiful scenery throughout Shimane and the neighboring prefectures. There is also a train Station in Yasugi that allows you to take trains to Okayama.
- Planes: There are two airports close to Yasugi, one in Izumo and one in Yonago. From Izumo Airport, there are flights available to Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Oki. From Yonago Airport, there are flights available to Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo.
Festivals and Town Events
- Gion Festival: Every year on July 21st, without fail, there is a huge town matsuri held in Hirose. They carry around a float (omikoshi) that supposedly weighs in at 1 ton. Lots of food and game stands line the streets, and fireworks are set off as well.
- Obon (Tsukinowa) Festival: Held in central Yasugi and on the dock during the second week of August. Many stands and entertainment are set up to honor family ancestors. The real charm of this festival is the fireworks display over the Nakaumi river.
- Tulip Festival: The town of Hakuta is known for their annual matsuri that showcases the most beautiful tulips in the area. You can see these in mid-April, and engage in the festivities by buying food from stands, watching performances, or possibly petting small horses.
To be honest, there’s not much life after 8pm. We suggest you visit Matsue or Yonago for particularly adventurous and active experiences. Be aware that inebriation makes driving a crime (in other words, prepare a taxi, train or a designated driver friend in advance). Also be aware that trains stop running at around 10 or 11 pm.
- Karaoke: Time Tunnel – Near Yasugi Station. It’s more expensive than karaoke places in Matsue or Yonago, but it’s close and they have just as good a collection of songs.
- Snack Bars: Drinking bars are scattered around the city, and usually populated by older customers. Karaoke is often available, and the mama-san hostesses may drink or sing with you. Please be aware that you may have no idea how much you’re paying until the final bill comes at the end.
- Izakaya: Kaba – Food and drinking bar/restaurant located next to Yasugi Station. Ren – a restaurant located across the street from Yasugi Station.
- Hirose Hospital: The big pink building near Hirose Shopping
- Yasugi Kinen: Hospital near Yasugi High School
- Yasugi-shi Ishikai: Hospital near Hakuta
- Watanabe Hospital: Hospital located in Yasugi
- There are also several bigger and more specialized hospitals in Yonago, Higashi-Izumo, and Matsue.
- We are well situated between two major cities (Matsue and Yonago) and an hour from the cultural hub of Izumo.
- Train: Runs multiple times an hour from Yasugi Station (one way fares to Matsue – ¥400, to Yonago – ¥190, and to Izumo – ¥950)
- Bus: Depending on the day of the week or holiday and location, they usually run once per hour. The last bus is at around 8 pm. More expensive than traveling by train, but easy to get to places within Yasugi that the train doesn’t go to.
- Oki Island – Shimane prefecture extends to the Oki Islands, composed of a few different islands. Highly recommended during the summer, when diving and snorkeling options are available. From Sakaiminato (an hour from Yasugi by car), you can take a ferry that takes a couple hours to any of the islands within Oki.
- Hiroshima – The closest major city. In addition to the Peace Memorial, it has excellent food and shopping opportunities, as well as a popular baseball stadium. Bus: 3 hours from either Matsue or Yonago. Multiple times per day.
- Tottori City – Tottori prefecture’s capital city. About a 3 hour drive.
- Tottori Sand Dunes (sakyuu) – You can drive to see the famous sand dunes in about 3 hours. Camel rides and sand-boarding are available.
- Okayama – a two and a half hour train ride from Yasugi Station by Yakumo Train. From Okayama, you can take the shinkansen to most of the bigger cities in Japan.
- Any place between here and Tokyo can be reached in less than 10 hours or overnight by car or bus. Hokkaido, Kyuushuu, Shikoku, and Okinawa can be reached by plane in only a couple hours or less.
- Korea: By air from nearby Yonago city in 1.5 hours. By ferry: overnight from Sakaiminato (an hour from Yasugi by car) on Thursdays and Saturdays, and in 2 hours by Kyushu Beetle ferry from Fukuoka everyday at multiple times (if you’re down there).
- Guam: About 3 hours plane ride from Osaka Kansai Airport.
- Philippines: About 3 hours plane ride from Osaka Kansai Airport.