San’in ~Japan’s Land of Mystery Seen Though an Egyptian Studentnt’s Eyes
Hello! I’m Magdy. I’m from Egypt, and I am currently studying at a university in Japan. It’s been a year and a half since I came to Japan, and I am really interested in learning about the people and culture of Japan, which are so different from my home country.
When I heard there were guided English language tours available in Shimane and Tottori, I booked one right away. I’m not so good at Japanese, so tours being available in English was a really appealing point for me. Soon after I booked my tour, I made contact with Yuka, a very friendly and courteous staff member at Huber, the company providing the tours. Yuka explained the trip to me and helped me get in touch with my guide.
The day of the trip came, but so did a typhoon. All kinds of transportation were affected, and I was really nervous about whether or not I could actually make the trip. My guide, Shin, said, “If it’s necessary, I’ll drive you to Hiroshima, so you don’t need to worry.” That put me at ease, and I really admire his kindness.
Around noon, I arrived in Matsue, Shimane. Yuka and Koki, the San’in Huber team, and my guide, Shin, greeted me warmly when I arrived. Their English was excellent, so we were able to communicate very smoothly.
The trip started off with Shin taking me to a delicious udon noodle shop, and then we set out for Izumo Grand Shrine, about an hour from Matsue by car.
Temples and shrines in Japan fascinate me, because at many of them, the object of worship is in nature.
Shin knew a lot about the area’s history and many other things, which made our trip fun and informative. He told me that the complex buildings and their structures all have historical meanings behind them. In particular, I was surprised to learn that the rope called a shimenawa that hangs at the entrance to shrines indicates the border between the actual world around us and the spiritual world.
Our next destination was Inasa-no-Hama Beach, which is fairly close to Izumo Grand Shrine. This place reminded me of Alexandria back in my own country, and it was a very calm place where you could really relax. The wind ruffles your hair, and the cool sand wraps around your feet. The sea seems to encircle the large rock and the surfers in a loving embrace, and it feels like the sky is gazing down upon you.
After that, we went to see the Hinomisaki Lighthouse. Due to bad weather that day, we couldn’t climb to the top, but we were able to enjoy the spectacular view of the ocean that the area around the lighthouse provides.
We wrapped up the first day with a dinner, where we were joined by Yuka and Koki from Huber. The menu was all written in Japanese, and the interior of the restaurant was of a very Japanese design. I had a very fun time with the new friends I had made here, and it became one of the best memories of this trip.
The second day started with a long drive from Shimane to Tottori City with my guide Shin. There is a real harmony to the scenery along the way, making it very comforting. The natural scenery that surrounds the route looks as if the gods themselves painted it with a brush of green.
Shin didn’t just drive me to my final destination; he knew about other spots along the way. The first place we stopped at was Hanamigata Cemetery in Akasaki, which surprised me because it was right along the coast. In my country’s culture, death is seen as a change in the repetition of life. Thinking from that view, there is no better place than a cemetery like this, enveloped in the infinite sea and sky. The soul is reborn, and we never really die.
Our next destination was Mitaki-en, and out of all the places I have visited in Japan, it is one of my favorites. Mitaki-en is in the middle of beautiful natural surroundings, with moss-coated trees lining the small river flowing through the grounds. There is a beauty there that makes you want to stop everything other than your feelings of respect for nature, stand still, and listen carefully as you take in the scope of it all.
There is a restaurant here, and we had our lunch in the middle of all of this wonderful natural beauty. Wooden chairs and tables, a traditional Japanese hearth, Japanese paintings hanging on the walls, the natural scenery you can see out the windows…Once you start talking about all the wonderful things here, there’ll be no end to it.
This area is managed not by the chef, but by area housewives. The owner greeted me in English and gave me a souvenir to take home. This made me think, “This must be that famous Japanese omotenashi (hospitality).” The food was very delicious, and it made me hope that he would always work there and not get hired away by some other restaurant. There’s really no way to compare Japanese food and Egyptian food, because they are so different, but consideration is put into how the food is presented, so that it looks delicious, and even just looking at the food was enjoyable. And it was so delicious that it seemed as though the flavors were dancing on my tongue.
After lunch, we finally arrived in Tottori City and headed straight for the famed Tottori Sand Dunes. The Japan that I had pictured in my mind up to this point was trees, mountains, small streams, snow or rain at times…but I had never pictured Japan as having a place that was one vast stretch of sand. Plus, the scenery here has sand dunes, mountains, and the sea all for viewing in the same place.
The last place we visited was The Sand Museum. To be honest, before we went there I had pretty low expectations, because I was thinking, “It’s probably just some samples or something made out of sand. It sounds boring.” I was very, very wrong. I was thrilled, picturing in my mind the professional sand sculptors who had gathered here from around the world (Canada, the USA, China, India, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc.) working on designing their sculptures. This is the first art museum in the world to specialize in displaying sand sculptures, and even though it’s not a particularly large museum, the displays have powerful appeal to spare.
Finally, my two-day journey reached its end. Shin drove me to the station where I was going to catch my shinkansen and helped me figure out which train platform I needed to go to. I took my bag filled with memories, new experiences, and thoughts of my new friends, and departed Tottori.
In conclusion, Japan is very beautiful and has many places worth visiting. You may know this already, but the reason for this is the temples and shrines, the food, the festivals, the scenery, and most of all, the people living there. For foreigners who cannot speak Japanese fluently, it may be a bit difficult to experience all of these things during a regular trip. However, by traveling with a local guide, I was able to experience them all during this trip, and I feel very fortunate. Shimane and Tottori have many more sights to see, more than I could during such a short trip. I hope from deep down in my heart that I will be able to visit both prefectures again.