I’ve passed by the Izumo Cultural Heritage Museum (Izumo Bunkadenshokan) so many times on my way to other places, that you’d think I would have visited it earlier. Sadly, my assumptions that it was just another historical house convinced me to keep putting it off. Luckily, though, my curiosity motivated me to finally visit, and I’m so glad I did! Access to the grounds and gardens inside the museum is free, and it’s the perfect place to just take a quiet walk.
The Cultural Heritage Museum itself is made up of a historical house previously owned by one of the wealthiest families in Izumo, a modern tea house, a historical tea house, a soba restaurant, and a modern exhibition hall. Special exhibits come and go from the modern hall, showing things like art by classic Japanese painters, or works of textiles, which was the exhibit on display when I went.
The first building you encounter is the Izumo Yashiki, the historical house. This used to be the main building of a larger estate built in 1896, and it’s a designated cultural treasure of Izumo City.
Inside the house, there are several tatami mat rooms (make sure to take off your shoes before you walk through them!) that look out onto one of the museum’s gardens. This is a karesansui garden, it’s made up of beds of rocks and carefully placed stepping stones and is bordered by pine trees. You can’t actually walk through this garden for the same reason you can’t touch a painting. Take some time to observe it, though. This garden is meticulously cared for, and it’s view changes with the four seasons.
There is another garden on the grounds that you actually can walk through. This is just past the modern tea house through a small gate, and it surrounds the historical tea house.
This historical tea house, known as Dokurakuan, was built by Sen no Rikyu, one of the most famous Japanese tea ceremony practitioners of all time. It was preserved thanks to the seventh feudal lord of Matsue castle (sometimes referred to as Fumai), who was also an avid tea ceremony practitioner.
The idea behind tea house gardens is to create the illusion of being far away from your busy life and troubles. Walking along the stepping stones of this garden, you definitely feel like you’re someplace far away.
If you’re interested in photography, even as an amateur, this is the place for you. There are so many little details to discover, and in the early summer, dragonflies and butterflies might pay you a visit.
If a walk through Dokurakuan’s garden makes you crave some tea, look no further than the museum’s modern tea house. Here, you can enjoy some matcha and traditional sweets in a room decorated based on the seasons.
This was one of my favorite places in the museum, and it wasn’t just because I love tea and sweets. Looking back, architecture is something I’ve never thought much about, but looking around this tearoom really started me thinking on what details can add to a space. The hostess working in the tearoom the day I visited pointed out some of the smaller design details to me before I had my tea. Just above some sliding glass doors, there was a band of wooden panels that I hadn’t really paid much attention to. My hostess, though, slid the panels open to reveal tiny gourd-shaped decorative windows! She told me that this was a shape that Fumai liked, and it was supposed to be lucky. Some other wood cutouts I noticed in the tearoom were in the shape of drifting clouds, which reminded me of Izumo’s namesake; eight clouds drifting by, forming an eight fold fence for one to retire behind.
If you buy a ticket to the special exhibit, you can get a ticket for having tea and sweets at the modern tea house for half price.
Another one of my favorite features of the Cultural Heritage Museum was something next to the parking lot that I never expected to find; a water fountain shaped like an eight-headed serpent.
According to Japanese folklore, a giant eight-headed and eight-tailed serpent called Yamata no Orochi used to come to the Izumo area every year to devour one of the daughters of two minor deities. Eventually, only one of their daughters remained, Princess Inada. It was at this time that Susano’o, one of the major deities in Japanese mythology appeared. Susano’o offered to kill Yamata no Orochi if he could have Princess Inada’s hand in marriage. Princess Inada’s parents agreed to this. Then, Susano’o killed Yamata no Orochi by tricking the serpent into drinking eight pots of strong sake, and cutting off each of the eight heads when the serpent fell asleep.
You can see images of Yamata no Orochi just about anywhere in Izumo; on manhole covers, in paintings in restaurants, and even on the sides of buildings. This fountain outside the Cultural Heritage Museum dispenses spring water from a nearby mountain. When I visited the museum, several people came by and filled empty jugs with the water. One of the people stopping by told me that this water is good for making coffee and tea because it’s so fresh and clean. If you don’t happen to have anything to take some water home in, you can also just drink from the fountain.
The last fun thing I found around the museum was a seasonal wonder, hydrangeas! June is the time of year when hydrangeas are at their peak bloom. People will visit parks and gardens all over Japan just to get good views of the flowers. Just across the street from the Cultural Heritage Museum, there’s a small park with rows and rows of hydrangeas. Before I left, I had to stop and take some pictures of them.
The Cultural Heritage Museum makes for a nice, quiet afternoon, and it showcases some of what makes Izumo so special through its history, folklore, and food (I didn’t get a chance to stop by the museum’s soba restaurant this time around, but I’ve heard it’s really good!). It’s one of those things you can easily miss amid sights like Izumo Taisha or Hinomisaki Lighthouse, but it’s definitely worth a visit! It’s especially nice to know that even after living in Shimane for so long, I can still discover new places like this.