Japan City Guides: Masuda
Masuda Shimane Prefecture 増田
Things to see and do in Masuda
Masuda is a city of about 60,000 on the Japan Sea coast of Shimane Prefecture, near the border with Yamaguchi Prefecture. Like many Japanese "cities", it's actually a large town that serves as the administrative and commercial centre for a large rural catchment area, which is where most of the population lives.
Since 2005 when the Gran Toit performance and exhibition centre was built Masuda has also become a cultural centre of the region offering world class performances and exhibitions.
The building is unusual in that it is clad in more than 250,000 ceramic roof tiles, made in nearby Gotsu. Designed by prize-winning architect Hiromi Naito, the building is not much to look at from a distance, being simply a collection of boxes, and could easily be mistaken for a factory, but close-up, the patterns and reflections of the roof-tiles covering the walls give a dynamic, reflective appearance. Inside, however, is where the building really shines. Highly polished wooden floors surrounding a shallow, central pool, make a delightful experience while walking around.
There are a smattering of interesting shrines and temples in the town. The Sumiyoshi Shrine has some good views over the city from the hills to the south, and the ancient Somebaiwakatsu Shrine, built in 725, has some interesting architecture and sombre atmosphere. Nearby is Iko-ji, a 14th century Buddhist temple with an unusual and imposing front gate built from massive rough-hewn timbers. The gate was moved here from nearby Nanao Castle.
The famous Zen Buddhist artist Sesshu was the head priest here in the 15th century, and his garden at Iko-ji is considered to be one of, if not the, best of his gardens. The garden can be enjoyed in any season of the year and is well worth the 300 yen entrance fee.
One of several versions of Japanese history says Sesshu died in Masuda, and a museum with many of his works and other items related to his life, Sesshu Memorial Hall, was built at the site of his final resting place. 300 yen entrance fee.
Masuda's most famous son is the poet Kakinomoto Hitomaro, a shrine at his birthplace and grave is a 15 minute drive down the coast. Born in the 7th Century, and dying in the early 8th Century, Kakinomoto is considered to be the greatest of Japan's ancient poets. He was a court poet (equivalent to Poet laureate) at the Nara Court.
The Manyoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry, contains dozens of his poems. He became governor of Iwami Province, his home province; though some believe the appointment was a form of exile for his support of the losing side in an Imperial succession dispute.
His last wife, Yosomi-no-otome, is considered the greatest of Japan's ancient female poets, and her birthplace was Gotsu, just up the coast, where there are several shrines to her and Kakinomoto. The largest shrine to Kakinomoto is on the west side of Masuda, and the Hassaku Festival is held every year there on September 1st, the day of his death.
Like most of the Shimane coast, there are fine, white beaches nearby.
This region of Japan is one of the most sparsely-populated, and most heavily forested, so there is plenty of good scenery and opportunities for hiking, especially Hikimi Gorge.
Masuda is a main station on the JR San-in Line, which runs along the north coast of Western Japan, connecting with Hagi to the west, and Hamada, Izumo, and Matsue to the east. The Yamaguchi Line connects Masuda with the Shinkansen at ShinYamaguchi.
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