Japan City Guides: Masuda
Masuda Shimane Prefecture 益田
- population 60,000.
- unspoilt, forested mountains nearby.
- located in Shimane Prefecture on the Japan Sea coast.
- birthplace of Heian Period poet Kakinomoto Hitomaro.
- good beaches on the coast.
- hiking in Hikimi Gorge.
- new Gran Toit performance and exhibition centre
- Hassaku Festival held in September.
- close to Hagi and Tsuwano.
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.
Sesshu garden at Manpukuji, designed by the priest Sesshu, Masuda
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 500 yen entrance fee.
Ikoji Temple garden, designed by the priest Sesshu, Masuda
Manpukuji Temple, Masuda
Founded in 1363, Ikoji was the family temple of the Masuda family. Ikoji belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. Sesshu was the head priest here from 1460 to 1485 and he designed the garden then. The temple and garden are a National Historic Site and a National Scenic Beauty Site. The rather weathered gate in front of the temple was the gate to Masuda Castle (Nanao Castle).
4-29 Somebacho, Masuda, Shimane 698-0011
Tel: 0856 22 1668
Open 8.30am-5pm. Entrance 500 yen
Manpukuji Temple was originally founded in 1374, it is believed Sesshu created the garden in the Muromachi Period style in 1479. Manpukuji Temple is a National Scenic Site. It later became an Obaku Zen temple. The Kamakura style main hall is a National Cultural Property and the woodwork still contains bullet holes from a skirmish between Choshu and pro-Tokugawa forces in the early days of the Boshin War in 1866.
24-33 Higashimachi, Masuda, Shimane 698-0004
Tel: 0856 22 0302
Open from 8:30 to 5
Entrance 500 yen adults.
Masuda City History & Folklore Museum, Masuda
Masuda City History & Folklore Museum is housed in a rather nice building that was the City Hall in the Taisho Period. The displays cover 1,000 years of the history of Masuda and has one room where exhibits of local historical products can be handled.
Open from 9am to 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Entrance 200 yen for Adults, free for children.
6-8 Honmachi, Masuda, Shimane 698-0005
Tel: 0856 23 2635
There are frequent buses from Masuda Station to Ikoji that also stop near the Masuda City History & Folklore Museum and Manpukuji.
Gran Toit & Ikoji Temple tatami room and garden, Masuda
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.