Izumo; The Province, the City, and the Shrine

There are three different locations connected to the word “Izumo”. First, there’s the reference to a Japanese city which is still active until today, then there’s Izumo province; an ancient administrative division of Japan before the Meiji period, and lastly, there’s the Izumo-taisha, which is the oldest Shinto temple in all of Japan.

The Word "Izumo" Found in Other Labels

Izumo represents many ideas; the word also pops up in names of ships at sea, helicopters (Izumo s class helicopter destroyer), and an armored cruiser called “Japanese cruiser Izumo”. Then there are mentions of the word in fiction as well; it’s part of the name of a space ship in the science fiction franchise “Robotech”, it’s part of an anime series (Izumo: Takeki Tsurugi no Senki) and manga series, (Kunisaki Izumo no Jijō). On another note, it’s part of the name of a train system based in Japan (Sunrise Izumo and Izumo) as well as the name of a protein that makes up sperm cells; “IZUMO1”.

Izumo, In Reference To The City

Though the name is used often to reference different ideas, one of them most well-known of them all is the reference to the Japanese city. Located in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan lies the city of Izumo, called “Izumo-shi” in Japanese. Shimane Prefecture lies within the Chugoku region, and Izumo is in the eastern part of this.

Izumo measures to be around 624.36 square kilometers large. As of March 1, 2017, it was measured to have a population of 172,039 people, with a density of 280 kilometers per square meter. The symbols used to represent the city of Izumo are the Japanese Black Pine tree and the Chrysanthemum flower. Izumo’s current mayor is Hideto Nagaoka.

A Brief History of Izumo, The City

Ancient civilizations were proven to have been occupying the area of what is now known as Izumo city as far back as 120,000 years ago which disproves the old theory that humans only came to settle around the area of Japan 40,000 years ago. This was established when archaeologists who were picking through the Sunabara Remains; near Kirara Taki beach and found tools – 20 of them – that were hypothesized to be thereabouts of 120,000 years old.

The Yayoi period, which went on from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D., also yielded many artifacts found in discoveries by archaeologists. Some of these artists include bells and bronze swords. These showed that Izumo was a province bustling with culture, spirituality, and life. By the 6th century, settlers were constructing temples, as well as tomb clusters, showing a sense of respect for those who passed on, and the possible belief of an afterlife.

18th Century Izumo, Onwards

Izumo was once written about by Lafcadio Hearn, a prominent international writer who specialized in writing about Japan, particularly about its legends and mythological ideas. He mentioned, a little over 100 years ago, that Izumo was the land of the gods. He had read about it from an ancient Japanese manuscript; a “Record of Ancient Matters”, called the “Kojiki”. Perhaps Hearn felt this way due to the abundance of the stories mentioned in the Kojiki being about Izumi, what with its presence rooting so far back in ancient times.

Over time, humans evolved from hunter-gatherer to pastoral and horticultural – but Izumo’s lands were barren. This all changed when Okaji Shichibei built a canal that would lead water from the Hikawa River all throughout the town. This canal would be called the Takase River. Since then, the Matsue area was planted full of rice crops and became sufficient in growing and providing rice for the town.

The Foundation of the Modern City

Izumo, as a city, was only officially founded on the 3rd of November 1941. Hirata city, and other small towns such as Sada, Koryo, Taisha, and Taki, which belonged to the Hikawa District, became part of Izumo on the 22nd of March 2005. By October 2011, Izumo merged with the Hikawa district as well.

Izumo, The Province

The entire eastern chunk of the Shimane Prefecture (still under the category of the Chugoku Region) belonged to what was once known as Izumo province, nicknamed Unshu. During the olden times, it was called “Idumo”. Izumo, the province was crucial to the development of medieval Japan, as many daimyos and influential political figures and clans would form here.

Izumo was also a land that was heavy on spiritualism, as it was into sacerdotalism during the fourth century, once it became part of the Yamato state. The Izumo Shrine played a large part in the culture and politics of citizens of Izumo, though much of their grasp on power would he lost once the Sengoku period rolled around. This is because the Mori clan had overturned Izumo through their win at the Battle of Sekigahara. After, Izumo province was reduced to a humble castle town located in what is now known as Matsue, the capital city of the Shimane Prefecture.

There are still many mythological ties to Izumo. It is said that Izumo is the place where the portal that leads to “Yomi” is. Yomi, short for “Yomi-no-kuni” translates to yellow springs but is a Japanese term for the world of darkness or land of the dead.

Izumo, The Temple

Izumo-taisha is known to most as the Izumo Grand Shrine and officially goes by the name “Izumo Oyashiro”. With spirituality being taken very seriously in Izumo province tens of centuries ago, and considering its links to classic Japanese mythology. Unlike most temples that have at least a semblance of a date of when they were constructed (though it was renovated many times), Izumo Grand Shrine holds no documents about when it was initially established. The earliest literature found about it dated to the Heian period, explaining how it was the tallest building around to that date.

The shrine is dedicated to two gods: Okuninushi-no-mikoto, and Kotoamatsukami. Okuninushi so happens to be the god of marriage in the Shinto world. The origins of the Izumo Grand Shrine also have a legendary flair to them. it is said in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (A book of ancient Japanese texts) that this temple was presented to Okuninushi by the Empress Amaterasu because he granted the country to her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto when he visited earth.

Izumo, the area where the temple was built, really did have a reputation for being the “land of myths” and “realm of gods”, as it was supposedly built by the “kami” or gods themselves. The reason the temple was built, theorists assume, could possibly be linked to the animistic nature of Shintoism. One could say it was an attempt give the kami that existed around them a luxurious place to be that was at par with their holiness.

A Guide to Izumo City in Japan

Izumo is a quiet city; it’s perfect for those who are interested in stepping into what was once considered a sacred realm in Japan, where gods intermingled with humans. Izumo is more about letting you feel the energies of its intense spiritual history.

Much of the influx of tourists here is due to the popularity of the temple. Aside from the Izumo-taisha, though. There are also other places to go and sights to see, such as the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, and the Tachikue Gorge.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo is ranked as second place in the places you should visit. Displayed in this museum are many national treasures, as well as a lot of information about ancient Japan. Details such as what the previous models of the famous Izumo temple looked like are displayed here. Many bronze artifacts, all stored neatly in an architecturally modern building.

Those who enjoy nature can visit the Tachikue Gorge Shimane, full of statues of different buddhas displayed all over the area among the caves, cliffs, and around the floor. There are also suspension bridges that let you walk across a running lake. Also, because Izumo is known for its specialty in making the best soba

Soba Noodles; A Legacy of Izumo    

Soba noodles are buckwheat noodles; they are famous for being a part of the cuisine in the entire Shimane district, but Izumo soba is more famous for being part of the three top soba dishes in the country. The Izumo soba, in comparison to the other two sobas, is chewier, has a more pronounced flavor of buckwheat, and have a tint that is darker than its counterpart variant.

Soba season starts in November, because the plant’s flowers only bloom on September, and by October, its seeds are harvested. There is even a festival in Japan that celebrates the harvest of soba. It can be served in either the Warigo style or classic Kamaage style.

The Best Hotels in Izumo

There are two top hotels in Izumo; second place goes to Twin Leaves Hotel Izumo, and first place goes to Izumo Green Hotel Morris. Twin Leaves Hotel Izumo would set you back around 9,800 yen a night for a double bed. It’s well-maintained and equipped with most of what you’ll need in a hotel, such as a television, refrigerator, and electric kettle. The beds are also comfortable, and the hotel is relatively near the tourist site Izumo Taisha, as well as the train station. The downside to this hotel is that it isn’t as spacious as its reviewers would have wanted it to be.

When it comes to Izumo Green Hotel Morris, for near 11,000 yen a night, you can be assured that you’re getting a stay at a quality business hotel with a spacious room. It’s extremely clean, has a great WIFI connection, and is located right across the train station. It has a relaxing spa that’s perfect to use after a tiring day of touring. Around the hotel are other establishments such as convenience stores, restaurants, and drug stores in case you need anything.

Getting Around Japan: A Map of Izumo

If you need a map of Izumo for any reason, you will find everything you need and more use google maps and combine that with familiarizing yourself their bus lines, if you prefer taking public transportation.

A map of the different bus routes and places where you can walk (both provided by Google maps) is ample enough for you to navigate around the city, and have a general idea of what lays north and south around where you are. To travel around the city, you’ll need to hail cabs or take a private car. Using the train will only get you in and out of the city, as the JR system does not cater to transporting people to different parts of the same city.

Getting Into Izumo

Every day, there are five flights that fly from Haneda airport to Izumo. The duration of this flight is 80 minutes. It’s important to note that it takes another 30 minutes to get from the airport to Izumo station itself. There are also different ways to get to Izumo using a train, by bus, or by car.

Izumo once held the seat of power in Japan during ancient times, despite it being the humbler city that it is now compared to the bustling Tokyo. The temple is worth visiting the city of Izumo during any time of the year (during August, many tourists visit); as it can be both educational and fun; learning of how it was significant to Japan’s spiritual past.