Honjin Memorial Museum 出雲市立平田本陣記念館
Located a little over one kilometer from Unshuhirata Station near the western end of Lake Shinji, the Honjin Memorial Museum is often overlooked by visitors to the Izumo and Matsue area but in fact has much to offer and well worth a detour from the main tourist destinations.
Honjin were Edo Period travel accommodations for upper level government officials and daimyo (feudal lords). Often, as is the case here in Hirata, they were the homes of well-to-do village headmen or rich merchants, and in return for being designated as a honjin they were allowed to build walls, gates, and other markers of a status above their rank.
This was the honjin for the Matsue Domain and originally belonged to the family of Motoki Sasaki, who made his fortune in trading cotton and brewing sake. It was constructed in 1735. The Matsue Daimyo stayed at the honjin on visits to Izumo Taisha and also on falconry expeditions.
As well as exploring the house and its facilities there is a large exhibition hall which has changing exhibitions of a wide variety of art including contemporary and traditional and which are usually of a high quality, a Folklore & Local History Museum, and a lovely garden.
The temporary exhibitions will have an entrance charge, everything else is free to visit.
In the lobby of the building is a large and interesting sculptural tableau depicting Susano retrieving the sword Kusanagi from the serpent Yamatano Orochi. If you look closely you will see that the whole things is composed of ceramic plates, dishes, bowls, cups etc.
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, like this one at the Honjin Museum, 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 artform.
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.
The house itself that makes up the Honjin is large, 935 square meters, and somewhat unusually has two floors.
Most of the rooms are, in Japanese fashion, sparsely furnished and decorated, the exception being the Daimyo's own room which is lavish and sumptuous, as befits a powerful man of his rank.
For those visitors with an interest in the more mundane aspects of traditional life In Edo era Japan both the daimyo's bathroom and toilet are also accessible.
The second floor of the Honjinin Hirata is home to a collection of artifacts that make up the Local History Museum: wooden spinning wheels, tools, Hina dolls and traditonal articles of clothing etc.
The Honjin's garden is meant to be viewed from inside the house, and that is the best view, but there are paths that wind through it to a benched shelter and an old teahouse.
It is a "dry" garden done in the Izumo style.
Access - how to get to the Honjin Memorial Museum, Hirata
Honjin Memorial Museum is a five minute taxi ride or a twenty minute walk from Unshuirata Station on the Ichibata Line between Matsue and Izumo.
Open 9am-5pm. Closed Tuesdays and over the New Year.
Entrance is free except for the special exhibitions which cost 500 yen.
Honjin Memorial Museum
515 Hirata-cho, Izumo-shi, Shimane 691-0001
Tel: 0853 62 5090