LIFESTYLE HERITAGE AS TOURISM
(Experience the Wonders of Everyday Life in the Iwami Ginzan Region )
Hi there, my name is Shun and I’ll be your Tomodachi guide!
I moved from the U.S to this town of Omori last year, and I would love to show you guys around some of my favorite spots here.
Omori is a town located in the city of Oda, Shimane Prefecture in Western Japan. This town is included in the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine Region which was given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2007. At its peak mining period, Japan provided about a third of the world’s silver and supposedly boasted a population of about 200,000.
Today, Omori is a town with a population of about 400 people and is gathering attention for its recent increase in the number of young individuals moving to this small countryside town.
It is here where I currently live, together with the history, the natural environment, and the community.
What makes living in Omori so special is that the town takes what the Japanese call Kurashi, or “Lifestyle”, very seriously. Instead of simply trying to appeal to the touristy nature of a World Heritage Site, Omori focuses on maintaining the lifestyle of the townspeople. I find that the lifestyle here in Omori is beautiful, and it draws you in because we seem to sometimes forget how important the “everyday” is in our lives. The spots I am going to be showing you today are a representation of both the lifestyle heritage that has been maintained, as well as the lifestyle heritage that is being built here in Omori!
This is Mt. Sen, the mountain where silver used to be mined and which is always in the background of Omori. When people visit Omori, they tend to focus more on the town itself, but I think it’s also important to appreciate the natural environment that is surrounding it as well. Here we live together with the mountain, specifically with the tasty seasonal bounties it provides us!
During the springtime, I go foraging for the young spring buds from various trees and plants which are called sansai. Making tempura out of sansai, with its signature bitterness and earthy fragrance, is a seasonal treat. In the summer we can catch crabs and eels, the fall mountain is time for chestnuts and walnuts, and in the winter we sometimes can get our hands on some wild boar!
Omori is surrounded by a vast living ecosystem which is part of our lifestyle here in Omori. Although Mt. Sen tends not to be included as a tourism “spot”, with a little local lifestyle knowledge it can be a fascinating part of the town to learn and experience. There’s always something seasonal in the mountains, so don’t be shy and ask what’s new with Mt. Sen!
As I mentioned before, lifestyle heritage is not simply being maintained here, but also being made, and Suzuki Farms is a great example of that. Suzuki-san moved to Omori about 7 years and now has started his own farm where he is growing an incredible variety of organic vegetables. His vision is to create a sustainable model of agriculture in Omori, minimizing the strain on the land he uses, and use locally sourced resources such as bamboo, cow manure, and rice husks.
What I really appreciate about Suzuki-san’s farm is that it provides fresh vegetables to the townspeople, uses unused land, and creates a new piece of the townscape we can all interact with. It’s great being able to eat organic vegetables grown in the town, some of which I helped out with! The vegetables taste so much better knowing who grew them and how they were grown. Not to mention, Suzuki-san uses unkept/abandoned rice paddies for his farmland, which helps maintain the land and reinvigorate the biodiversity of the soil in the area. There’s always something growing at Suzuki Farms, and if you’re lucky he might let you try something!
Bäckerei Konditorei Hidaka
There’s just something special about taking a walk in the morning and smelling the fragrance of freshly baked bread wafting through town. This is all thanks to Hidaka-san and his wife at Hidaka Breads, where these two make fresh bread and pastries using local and seasonal ingredients. Both Hidaka-san and his wife are Meisters, meaning they have professional degrees specifically in baking and pastry making.
What makes Hidaka Bread so special to me is that Hidaka-san goes around harvesting citruses from trees around town, chestnuts from Mt. Sen, and uses produce from local farmers for his bread.
Recently, Hidaka-san and Suzuki Farms made a collaboration cherry tomato bread. Shaped like a crescent moon, the chewy bread contains a generous amount of sweet cherry tomatoes that burst in your mouth as you take a bite. Hidaka-san, like Suzuki-san and myself, is not a native of Omori, but because of that he has a fresh perspective on everything he sees. Thus, he incorporates the inspiration he experiences in the lifestyle heritage of the town into his bread, making his breadmaking both tasty and full of meaning! Make sure to go as early as possible for the best selection, as the store tends to be quite popular between tourists and locals alike!
The Kumagai Residence
If you want to see what life in Omori used to be like, take a stop at the Kumagai Residence. This used to be the residence of a prominent merchant family. The inside of this house was renovated to display the various businesses the family ran, from the management of silver to sake making!
Today, the house is open to the public thanks to an organization run entirely by women called Ie no Onnatachi.
The history of the family is interesting, but I want to highlight the efforts the women of the NPO make to keep the house open to the public. For example, they hand sewed these intricate replicas of the meals which the family would have eaten throughout the different eras of history.
Not to mention, throughout the year they hold workshops on making miso, straw sandals, and brushes for the townspeople to take part in. They even have days when the town’s elementary school children can experience cooking rice in traditional Japanese wood stoves. I believe that the Kumagai Residence is a great place to go to appreciate not just the history of the town, but also the effort the women currently take to have the community experience these moments of daily life of the past.
One of the unique things I found here in Omori and the general Iwami Region is Iwami Kagura. I knew what Kabuki was, but Kagura was something I had never even heard of until I moved to Omori. Kagura is a theatrical dance where each dance corresponds to a tale from Shintoism or local folklore. From my experience, Kagura seems to be engrained into the DNA of the people in the Iwami Region. It’s quite common seeing young kids watching videos of Kagura on the internet!
Some of the kids in Omori also go to Kagura classes as if it is a recreational sport. The people of Omori, myself included, love watching the kids perform these dances at town festivals. Their ability to articulate emotion and storytelling through their dancing is sometimes better than the adults!
If you want to watch a Kagura performance while in Omori, I would recommend going to one of our neighboring towns called Yunotsu. Every Saturday they do Yokagura, or Night Kagura, on a stage located inside of a shrine in the town. It gets quite packed inside, but there’s just something really exciting feeling the wind made from the elaborate costumes graze your face as the actors twirl and jump to the music around the stage. At the end, they let the audience try on some of the costumes, and you can feel how heavy they are. It just lets you know how much passion and love they have for their culture, identity, and lifestyle as Kagura performers.
If you are looking for a place to stay, might I recommend Takyo Abeke? Abeke is an inn made from a refurbished 230-year-old samurai residency, owned by Tomi Matsuba. Ms. Matsuba lived in the house for over 10 years, carefully fixing and polishing the house and the interior atmosphere. Instead of using new materials, Abeke was refurbished from recycled materials collected from other old houses in the area.
Every night Tomi-san joins her guests at the dinner table in a family-style dinner where the rice is cooked in traditional Japanese wood-fire stoves. Through this inn, Tomi-san wants to relay to her guests her philosophy of rejuvenation innovation of Japanese lifestyle heritage. Instead of letting go of traditional lifestyles, Tomi-san finds that incorporating those traditions into our modern-day lives results in a better quality of life. This philosophy, I believe, fits in with the themes of the town of Omori itself. As the townscape suggests, the quality of life in Omori is not created simply from modernizing, but from the blending of past and future.
I hope you all enjoyed my tour of Omori!
It’s a small town, but it is rich in lifestyle heritage, making the visiting experience both intimate and special. Not only that, but you can also interact with the very people who are maintaining and creating new lifestyles here in the town. If you get to visit Omori, it would be my pleasure to show you around town! In the meanwhile I also write more articles and upload photos about my life here in Omori on my website, so please take a look! Hope to see you around!