Momen Kaido Hirata's Cotton Road 平田の木綿街道
Hirata is a small town situated near the shore of Lake Shinji, part way between Izumo and Matsue in Shimane, and easily accessible from either city by the scenic Ichibata Railway which runs along the north shore of the lake.
With its location on the navigable Funa River close to where it enters the lake, the town grew as a merchant center and its prosperity peaked in the late Edo Period when locally produced Hirata Cotton became much sought after, especially in the Kansai region in the large cities of Osaka and Kyoto.
Several historic streets lined with Edo and Meiji period buildings are preserved and is known as the Momen Kaido, Cotton Road. Momen Kaido is a few minutes walk from Unshuhirata Station.
Among the many historic buildings along the two streets are some which still carry on with the same business today as in the Edo period: there are sake breweries, soy sauce breweries - where, if you are feeling adventurous, you can try soy sauce flavored ice cream!
There is also a shop specializing in ginger products where you can sip ginger tea and munch on ginger candies. Throughout the year events, concerts, and hands-on demonstrations are held at sites in the historic district, but a particularly good time to visit is July when the local people are preparing for the festival at the local shrine.
All over the town you will be able to see a unique type of folk art called Isshiki Kazari as sculptures are made for presentation at the shrine
This is a unique type of folk art created locally in Hirata known as Isshiki Kazari, which is best translated as 'decoration made from a single type of goods'. The most common materials are ceramics, but anything else can be used, wood, paper, metal even.
There is a famous sculpture of a lobster made completely out of bicycle parts. Now, you may say that there are plenty of examples of art made from everyday objects, but it's the rules of Isshiki Kazari that mark it as a unique art form.
The objects that make up the sculpture cannot be altered or damaged in any way. There can be no drilling, cutting, welding or gluing etc. Everything is held together by being tied with thin wire, the reason being that after the sculpture is made it is dismantled and all the objects can be reused again for their original purpose.
These rules can be traced back to the origins of the artform in the early 18th century when a local man made a statue of the god Daikoku out of tea utensils to present to the local Tenmangu shrine.
The tradition continues and in July when the shrine festival is held is the best time to view a large selection of the creations. It is worth repeating that this is a "folk" art, made by townspeople not professional artists. If you can't visit in July there are some permanent examples on display at various places around Hirata and Izumo including Unshuhirata Station and Izumo Station.
On a hillside a little way out of the town centre of Hirata is the Honjin Memorial Museum, a high-ranking samurai residence that includes a folklore museum and a rather nice garden.
If you like Japanese gardens then Kokokuji, a temple nearby is home to a little known example but which features in many books on Japanese gardens and which the American Journal Of Japanese Gardening once ranked in the top ten.
Kokokuji Temple dates back to 1322 but the garden is much newer, being completed in 1833 and built by Sawa Gentan, who worked for Matsudaira Fumai, the 7th Lord of Matsue. It is a karesansui, a "dry" garden that uses the borrowed scenery of a small reservoir and the 456m high Mount Tabushi.
It costs 300 yen to view the garden but that includes a green tea with sweet served by the priest's wife.
Kokokuji Temple is a 10 minute walk from Tabushi Station on the Ichibata Line, or a 5 minute taxi ride from Hirata.
Access - how to get to Kokokuji Temple, Hirata
1301 Kunidomicho, Izumo, 691 0011
Tel: 0853 62 2213
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