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Adventures of Three Guys in San’In
(A Perfect Getaway Destination Discovered by Long-term Foreign Residents (in Japan))
Living in hustle and bustle of a big city like Tokyo inevitably makes you feel a need in changing your environment and spending time in tranquility. Many foreigners, when looking for a perfect destination to escape from their busy everyday life in Japan, think of the most popular destinations like Kyoto, Nagano, or Okinawa prefectures. These areas boast spectacular places and unique experiences for sure. However, it can be challenging to find what you are really looking for as the majority of these places are crowded with foreign and local tourists. In many cases, this leads to the failure of your expectations. On the other hand, I suggest you discover relatively fewer known destinations to meet your expectations if you would like to relax surrounded by untouched nature, see sacred historical sites without crowds of tourists, and meet the most cordial Japanese people. San’in region with its bordering Tottori and Shimane prefectures is a perfect place to feel ancient Japanese traditions, tranquil nature, and experience lifestyle of local people and their hospitality. Even a weekend in San’in will provide you with unforgettable memories and make you want to come back again.
I have been living in Japan for over 10 years and decided to visit San’in to see the difference from other popular destinations in the country. This visit made me reconsider my image of the Japanese countryside and I even regretted that I had not come here earlier. The region is a real gem for those who want to discover true Japan including not only historical sites and wild nature but get involved in the local’s lifestyle and appreciate a unique atmosphere that exists only in San’in. Seems like the time almost doesn’t touch the way how people live here and preserves the strong spirit of the area in its best traditional state.
So, one sunny autumn day I and two of my friends decided to find a perfect getaway area where no one of us had never been to. Our purpose was not only to enjoy local sights, but we also wanted to experience a rural lifestyle and meet with locals who are much more heartful than people in the big cities. San’in region turned out to be a perfect place to match our purpose.
It took me and my friends just 1,5 hours by plane to arrive in Yonago city in Tottori prefecture. Our guide Shin met us at the airport, and we moved to the sacred volcanic mount Daisen which is only one hour away from Yonago. Mount Daisen is one of the most important mountains for Japanese Shugendo and has been regarded as a god itself since the 300 BCE. We were lucky to arrive at the peak of the autumn leaves season and see spectacular Daisenji Temple and Ogamiyama Shrine sinking in the flashy colors of the autumn foliage. If you have more time, I suggest you hike around this mountain as it features one of the most picturesque trails in Tottori.
Mt. Daisen’s surroundings are famous for its freshwater springs. Its waters are deservedly considered one of the cleanest and freshest in Japan. Not only locals have a privilege to use it in their everyday life, but the high quality of local sake also drastically depends on this crystal-clear natural resource. Additionally, two major drinking water company Coca-Cola and Suntory established their production facilities close to Mt. Daisen. On the way to Okuizumo area, Shin took us to a couple of places where we could try this exceptionally clear and tasty water. These were Hongu no Izumi Water Spring and Ameno Manai Water Spring with Japanese style water mills.
Close to Ameno Manai Water Spring, we stopped for lunch at a traditional establishment run by an 80 years old lady – Itsuko san. She is so energetic and good looking that I would have never given her more than 50-60. She personally came to welcome us and suggested to try her signature dessert – a parfait made with sweet potatoes and pears that she grew in her garden behind the transparent wall of the establishment. This unique dessert followed outstanding home-made soba noodles which made our presence in her house even cozier. Itsuko san offers her parfaits with seasonal fruits, berries, and vegetables. So, next time you visit her, you will try something new! Here is the Instagram of the restaurant: https://www.instagram.com/amanomanai/
When we arrived in Okuizumo, we met our local guide Sameera who is from Sri-Lanka but lives in Shimane prefecture for a long time. We were very excited to learn about Japanese katana making as this area is famous for the best quality of iron not only in Japan but around the globe as well. In the Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum, we absorbed a lot of information about Tatara Smelting – a traditional method of producing iron by combusting iron sand, which residents took from surrounding mountains, and charcoal together in a clay furnace. I liked that this museum has an interactive approach, so any visitor can experience the way how people were producing iron in the old times.
On our way, we couldn’t miss an outstanding Oni no Shitaburui gorge with an impressive suspension bridge over the valley covered with breathtaking autumn foliage. If you come to Okuizumo in autumn, don’t miss this fantastic natural spot!
When it got dark Sameera and Shin took us to a very relaxing hot spring – Chouja no Yu onsen. This hot spring features alkaline property which makes the water have a velvety texture. It relieved us from fatigue after a whole day of exploring San’in. Besides, you can also buy fruits and vegetables from local farmers at this hot spring. It would be a great souvenir for a moderate price if you do not live too far!
The culmination of our fulfilling day was the arrival at Ooe no Sato (大上エの里) residence. This establishment features a 250 years old traditional Japanese house with a breathtaking view of the rice paddies. Here, you will easily feel yourself far from civilization. Sounds of forest and the sky full of stars will create a pleasant recreational atmosphere during your stay. If you would like to spend a night in a traditional Japanese house, but do not want to pay much for ryokan, Ooe no Sato is a perfect choice!
Takeshi and his wife Naoko were one of the kindest hosts I ever met. We were lucky to have a soba cooking workshop with Takeshi where he explained all the tricks to get the most delicious noodles for dinner! Besides, Ooe no Sato is a self-sustainable establishment. Rice made in a traditional pot, takenoko (bamboo sprouts), and other vegetables came from Takeshi’s farm or forest behind his house. We even had a chance to taste a wild boar that he hunted on his rice paddy. After the main courses, Takeshi generously opened a bottle of exceptionally tasty local sake and Naoko served kaki (Japanese Persimmon) from their garden.
All of us thought that this day could not become even more fulfilling until Takeshi brought his Shamisen (a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument) and a couple of small drums that locals use during the festivals and Kagura performances. He is very good at playing these rare instruments. On top of that, Naoko was kind to sing a couple of traditional Shimane songs that contributed to an authentic spirit of the evening and created unforgettable memories.
When we woke up the next morning, we were fascinated with a breathtaking view of the rice paddies and mountains from the establishment. Naoko made us a simple Japanese breakfast when our next guide – Koki came to pick us up. My friends and I were the first who left our messages in the guest book of Ooe no Sato. It was even a bit hard to leave these warm-hearted people after the hospitality they provided us with. We experienced so many nice emotions and learned a lot about the life of locals in this area. I wish they have many guests coming in the future and I personally would like to come and visit them again.