Road Trip on Ichibata Electric Railway (Part 1)
Recommended spots visited this week include a winery which sells desserts made from Shimane grapes, a temple connected to the famous Izumo Taisha Shrine and a hot spring hotel inspired by a rabbit.
Join us for a two-day trip along the Ichibata Electric Railway’s Taisha and Kita-Matsue lines in Shimane Prefecture. It was established in 1914 and was previously known as the Ichibata Light Railway. Various old-fashioned train cars, such as Kieo and Tokyu, are still used for its railway lines. The railway runs along Shinji Lake and offers beautiful views of scenic Japanese landscapes.
Our journey begins in Izumo City, which faces the Sea of Japan. We start by praying for a safe journey at the famous Izumo Taisha Shrine, which is actually dedicated to a deity of matchmaking. We then walk to Taisha Line’s Izumo Taisha-mae Station, buy a day pass, and take the train to Hamayamakoen-Kitaguchi Station, one stop away. We arrive at the station in two minutes.
We start exploring the area and find out from a resident that there are many grape farms here. Shimane produces many varieties of grapes, such as Delaware which is very sweet and Shine Muscat which can be eaten whole with its peel. The same resident suggests we go to Shimane Winery. Opened in 1957, the winery sells about 100 different kinds of wines and offers free tours of the facility too. Visitors can taste the wines produced here for as little as 300 yen. The winery’s store also sells cakes made with wine, and bread and jelly made from Shimane grapes. The most popular item is a sponge cake soaked in white wine.
After visiting the winery, we ask another local about recommended spots. We are told about a traditional confectionery store called Sakaneya. It opened in 1872 and is known for its homemade sweets, such as the famous Sukunemochi. The shop has been making it since 1912. It is named after legendary sumo wrestler, Nomino Sukune, the ancestor of the chief priest of Izumo Taisha Shrine. Sukunemochi uses citron produced in Izumo and is very flavourful. Another popular item of Sakaneya is Dorayaki, made from red beans produced in Izumo. The store has a cafe inside, where visitors can enjoy their purchased sweet treats and also try a sweet soup made of red beans.
Next, we catch the 11.20am train and advance to Takahama, two stations ahead. We drop by a day care centre for senior citizens and speak to a group of friendly ladies. They tell us there are no famous spots near the station, only rice fields. So we catch the 12.25pm train and head to Kawato, where the Taisha Line terminates and the railway continues with the Kita-Matsue Line. At Kawato, we decide to take the 2.10pm train later.
A local resident we ask recommends we visit the Kashima Shrine. Kashima Shrine was built at least 400 years ago. It is dedicated to Kushiyatama No Mikoto, a deity of cooking. Legend has it that Kushiyatama No Mikoto was in charge of cooking when the deity of Izumo Taisha Shrine held a feast. Thus, these two shrines have always been strongly connected.
After praying at Kashima Shrine, we ride the train along the Kita-Matsue Line to Midami Station, two stops away. The train arrives at Midami in less than five minutes. We ask the locals about eateries in the area, but find out reservations are required. One of the residents suggests we try our luck at restaurants near Unshu-Hirata Station. So we travel by the 3.10pm train and make our way to that station. The ride lasts about five minutes.
A local at Unshu-Hirata mentions a hot spring hotel called Souan. Unfortunately, the hotel later tells us it can’t accommodate us. So we ask Souan to recommend other hot spring hotels. The staff tells us there is a place near Izumo Taisha Shrine, called Tsukiyo no Usagi. It is actually located near the starting point of our trip, Izumo Taisha-mae Station. When we call the hotel, we are told a hotel shuttle will pick us up from Unshu Hirata Station. It takes 20 minutes to reach the hot spring hotel by car.
Tsukiyo no Usagi is in fact inspired by a rabbit which is mentioned in one of Izumo’s famous legends. In different parts of the hotel, one can see themes related to the legend. Tatami mats are used also throughout the hotel. After checking out our room, we head to one of the hotel’s private hot spring baths made of rocks.
1) No visit to Shimane Prefecture is complete without visiting Izumo Taisha Shrine
2) Grapes are a local speciality of Shimane Prefecture