Last weekend I went on a fieldtrip to Shimane prefecture in the north of Hiroshima with my “Radiation in the environment”-class, to visit the nuclear power plant, which is located there. While the teacher was quite excited about the primary goal of the trip, we students were much more interested in sightseeing and food and had therefor already begged quite a lot to visit a few places in the area too.
First of those was the Izumo Grand Shrine (or Izumo Taisha), which is said to be one of the oldest in Japan according to our teacher and was close to the highway anyway. One of the most distinct buildings of the shrine was sadly undergoing restauration work, so we weren’t able to visit it, but the area was beautiful nonetheless.
After passing through the gate, the way went on through a small pine forest, until we reached the shrine itself and the prayer hall. The latter is the place for worship and prayers and there was a steady flow of people who were giving their prayers to the enshrined god – in this case the goddess of marriage if I’m not mistaken.
One of the dominating features is definitely the big rope hanging above te entry. But if you think this one’s big, wait for the next one, which was hanging above the Kagura hall, which is dedicated to the performance of traditional ceremonies and rituals.
The rope, which is made from rice straw, is supposed to protect the shrine from evil spirits and smaller versions can be found in shrines all over Japan, where they also mark sacred ground or trees inhibited by forest spirits for example. Variations are also used in sumo wrestling, to denote the rank of the wearer.
And yes, it was really this big!
Another thing I noticed were the huge amounts of omikuji (small papers, which tell you about your fortune and you can buy at every bigger shrine) that were tied to the trees. Usually, if you’re not really pleased with the fortune written on your paper, you can tie it somewhere and pray to the gods for help. But usually you don’t see that many omikuji at one place – at least I didn’t.
Later we went to Matsue, which is the main city in Shimane prefecture, because we also had our hotel booked there. After some complaining about the first room, which really had a strong smoker smell in the air, we got a far better room with a nice view over Lake Shinji. The lake has a circumfence of around 48 km and is the 7th biggest lake in Japan. Also the sunset is supposed to look really nice, but the weather was a bit cloudy sadly. The view in the morning was still really beautiful
Matsue is also home to one of the few castles in Japan, which haven’t been reconstructed in concreet. Still, although the castle never saw an actual battle, only the main tower and some walls have been kept. Below you can see the moat and some of te walls, with the main tower in the background.
The main tower itself is clearly a purely defensive structure and lacks the decorations and other more slender elements that other, more living-orientated castles feature. Just compare the following picture with one of the other castles that I talkes about already, Hiroshima Castle for example. You’ll surely notice a difference in appearance .
And last but not least (ok, maybe least in this case), we did of course visit the Shimane Nuclear Power plant on the coast of the Japanese Sea. While we weren’t allowed to enter any of the buildings of course, we got a tour at the area and got everything explained. Right now, they’re building their third reactor, so no big stopping due to the Fukushima accident sadly. On the other hand, they have to improve their defences against natural desasters and are going to strenghten their tsunami walls soon due to this new decree (the whole place looked like a construction site). But still, beeing there felt weird somehow… interesting for sure, but a place you just don’t want to be at…