Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum 絲原記念館

Jake Davies

Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Itohara Family Estate, Shimane Prefecture
Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Model of Edo Period tatara forge. The foot bellows, tenbin, invented in the region in 1692, greatly increased the capacity of iron production, Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane Prefecture

Itohara Memorial Museum History

The Itohara were a samurai clan that moved into the remote Okuizimo area of Shimane in the Chugoku Mountains from nearby Bingo Province, now Hiroshima Prefecture.

They were one of the nine families that controlled the production of iron in the region during the Edo Period.

The earliest iron in Japan was imported as ingots from Korea, but once iron sand was discovered the Japanese began to produce their own iron.

The highest quality iron sand in Japan is found in the Okuizumo area and is known to have been used to produce iron well before the 8th century.

During the Edo Period the Itohara became very wealthy from iron, and it was the mainstay of the economy of the Matsue domain, being exported all over Japan. By the early 20th century western style iron and steel production based on imported iron ore put most of the traditional iron making industry out of business and the Itohara family switched to forestry products. It was at this time that they opened their home as the Itohara Memorial Museum.

Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Displays of historical iron production at the Itohara Memorial Museum in Okuizumo
Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Samurai armour and other artifacts on display at the Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum Exhibits

A lot of the displays at the museum focus on the historical production of iron using the tatara forge. Models show the historical development of the technology from ancient times as well as many tools, charts, and old photos and drawings that explain how iron was produced.

The Itohara became very prosperous and another hall of the museum displays art and everyday objects belonging to the family. This includes such things as armour, clothing, as well as paintings and ceramics. There are also examples of Japanese swords. The display is rotated several times during the year.

Another hall displays things associated with the art of the tea ceremony. Due to Matsudaira Harusato (1751-1818), the Matsue domain became one of the great centers of the tea ceremony so high-ranking samurai like the Itohara would have been well versed in the art. The Itohara residence was also used to lodge the daimyo when he made inspection tours, so there are also displays connected to his visits.

Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Samurai sword made from steel produced in a traditional tatara forge in Okuizumo
Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Display showing what would have been served to the Daimyo when here stayed here

As befitting high-ranking samurai, the main house of the family is a massive 40 room affair covering 1,600 sq meters, and though traditional was not actually built until 1924.

You can peer inside but are not allowed to enter as the family still live here. In fact, with prior arrangement, you can have a personal tour of the museum and gardens by a member of the Itohara family.

The traditional garden can be walked around. It covers almost 1,200 sq meters and is constructed in the Izumo-style with a large koi pond, stone pagoda, and incorporating the landscape of the hillside behind. One feature of Izumo-style gardens is the use of a combination of round and rectangular stepping stones set in the white gravel.

A lane runs behind the property where there is a park-like woodland garden planted with more than 300 species of flowers, grasses and bushes.

A couple of kilometers away is Oni no Shitaburui, a dramatic, scenic gorge with hiking trails that once was part of the Itohara estate. A few hundred meters north of the museum a small road leads down to a path that goes down to the gorge.

The museum has a gift shop specializing in various kinds of knives made from steel produced from iron sand as well as other local products like Okuizumo style soba noodles.

Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Izumo-style garden at the Itohara family estate
Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Large woodland garden at the Itohara Family Estate in Okuizumo, Shimane Prefecture

Access - how to get to Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum (in Japanese)
856 Otani, Okuizumo-cho
Nita-gun, Shimane 699-1812
Tel: 0854 52 0151

Open 9am to 5pm. Closed over the New Year and for three days in March, June and September, when the exhibition is changed.

1000 yen for adults, 700 yen for high school students, 300 yen for junior high school students.

The Itohara Memorial Museum is located about 4km from Izumo Minari Station on the JR Kisuki Line, from where a local bus can be caught.

The Tourist Information Office located at the station has staff who speak English and can help with any enquiries. Tel: 0854 54 2260

A great way to reach Okuizmo is on the Okuizumo Orochi Sightseeing Train.

Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
Interior of the main residence of the Itohara family
Itohara Memorial Museum, Shimane, Japan.
View of the garden and main house at the Itohara Memorial Museum

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