Bucket list Japan: see the peonies at Yuushien Garden

Daikonshima in Japan’s Shimane prefecture is famous for peonies.

Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (1)

Head to the island’s Yuushien garden to see them in all their glory. This garden is kaiyu shiki teien or circuit style: you start at one end and wind your way around many different gardens.

“The most famous place for this spectacle is the little island of Daikonshima (Radish island), in the grand Nakaumi lagoon, about an hour’s sail from Matsue. In May, the whole island flames crimson with peonies; and even the boys and girls of the public schools are given a holiday, in order that they may enjoy the sight.”

Lafcadio Hearn

 

Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com

In Yuushien, Shimane’s prefectural flower, the peony or botan flowers year round, even in winter, when the blossoms shelter under little thatched roofs.  Spring, however, is the best time to see the garden’s display of floating peonies.Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (3)

Even if you don’t come for the peonies, there are lots of koi-filled ponds, moon bridges, waterfalls, moss gardens, and karesansui or dry landscape gardens to keep you interested. The gardens are arranged in such a way so that you can enjoy different perspectives of the environment. This garden aesthetic is what the Japanese call miegakure or “hide and reveal.”Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (4)

In a country often battered by natural disasters like tsunamis, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, the Japanese garden symbolizes how the Japanese try to control nature. It’s a place where they can contain their chaotic world and present it in a stylized form. Most importantly, the Japanese garden remains a therapeutic place that stills the Japanese mind racked by daily anxieties.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Would you like to visit Yuushien? Read more in my Savvy Tokyo story here!

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3 fire festivals in Tottori and Shimane you should not miss

In Japan, Tottori and Shimane often get a bad rap. The shinkansen doesn’t go there so they must be pretty backwater places. Au contraire, my friend, au contraire!  There’s always something going on, if you know where to look. Like other prefectures in Japan, Tottori and Shimane have their own quirky light and fire festivals. Here are 3 festivals you should not miss!

Daisen Fire Festivalwww.hotfoottrini.com

 

1. Daisen Natsuyama Festival

Mountain worship is serious business in Japan. Every June, Mount Daisen, Tottori’s most popular hiking destination, hosts the Natsuyama Festival to bless the summer hiking season. During the two-day festival, Shinto priests from Ogamiyama Shrine pray for the safety of the hikers. On the first day, there’s a torch procession from the shrine to the car park. Get there early to snag a good viewing spot. The path will be bumpy and slippery with moss in some places. The stairs leading up to the shrine are also a bit steep. At the shrine, grab a bamboo torch. Then join the procession. It will look like a river of fire coursing down the foot of the mountain. People will be taking selfies so look out for flames coming your way in any direction.matsue

2. Lantern Festival, Matsue Castle

Looking for a more raucous affair? Every autumn, Matsue Castle in Shimane prefecture hosts a taiko festival called Do Gyoretsu and a lantern festival known as Suitouro. The festivals re-enact the celebrations when Princess Iwa-hime of the Japanese Imperial Family came to Matsue to marry Lord Nobuzumi Matsudaira in 1724.  Take a turn hitting the taiko drums on one of many miyazukuri or drum floats. For the lantern festival, participants place paper lanterns on the castle grounds and along the darkened streets and Ohashi river. Spend the evening wading through a sea of lanterns depicting scenes from ancient and contemporary Japan and other parts of the world.

Misasa Fire Festivalwww.hotfoottrini.com

3. Hono no Saiten, Misasa

Feeling particularly brave? In October, head to Sanbutsuji in Misasa. Don a hachimaki headband and walk on freshly-charred logs during the Festival of Flames in central Tottori. Before you get a go, Shugendo priests will stride over the embers in tabi (Japanese socks), rope sandals, or naked soles. Like climbing Mount Mitoku, firewalking is an ancient Shugendo tradition designed to train the spirit and to “ward off evil and invite good fortune.” After you cross the fire, you can chomp on some free, ooey-gooey mochi (rice cake).

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography and Hot Foot Trini

Are you burning to go to these fire festivals? Have you been before? Share your experiences!

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A wedding at Izumo Taisha

The couple exits one of the halls at Izumo Taisha, surrounded by a tiny cluster of relatives. The bride steps on the path in a swath of white and holds her head carefully, under the weight of her domed headdress. She looks demure, apart from her crimson lips.

The wedding coordinator places her hand on the small of the bride’s back, guiding her along. The groom trails behind. As he turns the corner, I sputter, “Omedetou.” He quietly acknowledges the nosy gaijin. Soon afterward, the couple and family members stand neatly and smile delicately, waiting for commands from the photographer.

izumo
Japanese Wedding, Izumo Taisha

Izumo is known as the Land of the Gods.  Izumo Taisha in modern day Izumo, Shimane, is a popular wedding shrine because it’s dedicated to Okuninushi, the god of all things unseen, marriage, and relationships.

Close to Izumo Taisha is Inasanohama Beach. Here, Bentenjima, a tiny shrine, perches on a single rock. Instantly, it reminds me of Temple in the Sea in Trinidad. The coastline here is windswept, reminiscent of the choppy, muddied waters of Columbus Channel along the southwestern coast of Trinidad. Legend states that all the gods in Japan meet at Inasanohama during kamimukaesai, the 10th month of the lunar calendar.

Further along the Shimane peninsula lies Hinomisaki lighthouse. This white, stone structure looms over the promontory, keeping a watchful eye on the boats out at sea. Shops selling souvenirs, dried fish, and grilled squid line the deserted lanes that lead to the lighthouse. A wrinkled old woman peers out of her shop. “Dozodozo,” she tells us, waving her arms over a blue tray of colorful shells of dried sea creatures.

Families flock to the lighthouse on the chilly winter evening. Young boys frolic close to the cliff’s edge. The ocean is a clear sapphire close to the rock walls. Seagulls rest on stretches of harsh, brown rock. Too soon, night falls and drenches everywhere in darkness. The shops and restaurants draw their shutters down and we must leave.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Did you ever visit Izumo? What did you think about it?

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