Masuda Shimane Prefecture 益田市
Masuda is a small city on the Japan Sea coast of Shimane Prefecture, near the border with Yamaguchi Prefecture, and with unspoiled, forested mountains nearby. A history as the capital of the former Iwami province has left Masuda a strong cultural legacy, apparent in the town's landmarks and activities, both ancient and modern.
Masuda was, from the 12th century, the seat of the Masuda clan, descended from the powerful Yoshiwara clan. The Masuda clan conquered the surrounding Iwami region (what is now the western part of Shimane Prefecture) in the 12th century. During the four centuries of Masuda clan rule, cultural pursuits flourished under its patronage, the most famous being ink painting. The ink- and wash-painting master, Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506) was active here on the invitation of the lord of the Iwami province.
Masuda has a tenuous claim to historical fame going back even further, to the 7th century, as the (unconfirmed) birthplace of one of the Heian Period's most eminment poets, Kakinomoto Hitomaro (c.660-724AD), said to have been born in the Masuda area.
The Manyoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry, contains dozens of his poems. He became governor of Iwami 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 ancient Japan's female poets, and her birthplace is in Gotsu, just up the coast, where there are several other shrines to her and Kakinomoto.
Shimane Arts Center "Grand Toit"
The Shimane Arts Center, better known as Grand Toit (pronounced French-style: "grang twa," meaning "big roof"), is a performance and exhibition center built in 2005, and which has made Masuda a cultural center of the region, offering world class performances and exhibitions.
The building's main feature is its unusual "toit": a roof 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.
The Iwami Art Museum is part of Grand Toit, and holds frequent special exhibitions on the history of the region.
10am-6.30pm (last entry 6pm), closed Tuesdays; 300 yen for adults, 1,000 yen for special exhibitions.
The Iwami Arts Theater is also part of the Grand Toit complex, and is the venue mainly for music performances, from traditional to classical to rock and pop.
Masuda History and Folk Museum
The Masuda History and Folk 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 9am - 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Entrance; 200 yen for adults, free for children.
6-8 Honmachi, Masuda, Shimane 698-000. Tel: 0856 23 2635
Sesshu Memorial Museum
The Sesshu Memorial Museum is dedicated to the ink and wash paintings of Sesshu Toyo, and his famous portrait of Masuda Kanetaka, the lord of Iwami province, designated an Important Cultural Property, is on display here. According to one version of Japanese history, Sesshu died in Masuda, and the museum occupies the the site of his supposed final resting place.
Hours: 9am - 5pm, Open every day except Tuesday and Wednesday. Open on Tuesday or Wednesday when either falls on a national holiday, in which case, closed the next day. Closed December 29 to January 3, and during preparatory periods for exhibitions. 300 yen for adults.
A short walk south of the Sesshu Memorial Museum is the Komaruyama Burial Mound, dating from the early 6th century, of interest maybe to those with an archeological bent.
Masuda Temples and Shrines
Ikoji Temple 医光寺
Founded in 1363, Ikoji was the family temple of the ruling Masuda family. Ikoji belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. Sesshu was the head priest here from 1460 to 1485 and laid out the temple garden. 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). Iko-ji is well worth the entrance fee.
4-29 Somebacho, Masuda, Shimane 698-0011
Tel: 0856 22 1668
Open 8.30am-5pm. Entrance 500 yen
Manpukuji Temple 萬福寺
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 8.30am to 5pm. Entrance 500 yen for adults.
The ancient Someba Ame-no-Iwakatsu Shrine 染羽天石勝神社 built in 725, has some interesting architecture and a somber atmosphere, being notable for its typical Momoyama Period design.
Kakinomoto Shrine, just west of the main township, across the Takatsu River, celebrates the birth of Kakinomoto Hitomaro on September 1st every year with the Hassaku Festival, featuring among other things yabusame horseback archery.
Sumiyoshi Shrine, in the foothills south of the main township, is quite attractive for its mountain forest setting, and has some good views over the city.
There are frequent buses from Masuda Station to many of the city's sights.
Iwami Kagura Performances
Iwami is the name of the province that Masuda used to be the capital of, and kagura is a kind of drama associated with the native Shinto beliefs, recounting Shinto mythology on stage, to music. Iwami kagura is distinguished from other forms of kagura by the dynamism of the dancing, the speed of the rhythm, and the flamboyance of the costumes.
Kagura theater is an autumn ritual, happening between September and November, and performances can be enjoyed in and around Masuda during this time.
The Mizuho Inn Iwami Masuda is a reasonably priced business-type hotel just a minute's walk from Masuda Station. The central location, renovated modern interior with attractive wooden flooring, compact modern and well fitted out rooms, make the Mizuho Inn Iwami Masuda a comfortable and convenient base when exploring Masuda and around.
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.
Access - Getting to Masuda
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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