Our story thus far: a gaggle of gaijin are invited to hold forth at RubyWorld 2009 in a little-noticed corner of Japan. The conference was on Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday they took us on a scenic Shimane tour. Matz and Ko1 and Prof. Takeuchi came along, and I got pictures so you can too.

(For context, see 島根 September — Liking Matsue.)

The logistics were complicated. Abigail and Evan Phoenix needed to fly to Tokyo that afternoon, as did Prof. Takeuchi (previously featured here) and Sasada Koichi. So someone figured out a bus route that would hit a bunch of the local highlights and still get them to the airport on time.

It started early; while we were waiting blankly in the lobby for the bus, Miyao-san the conference organizer said “Oh, Matsumoto-san will also come today.” So Matz got to do tourist things, some for the first time. I can sympathize, there are a lot of terrifically cool things around Vancouver that I’d never see if we didn’t have visitors to entertain.

Morning · Our first two stops get their own essays, coming later: The Adachi Museum with its famous garden, and the Abe family’s Washi atelier in the village of Yakumo where we admired and made traditional Japanese paper.

Along the way, the countryside was starting to speak to me. Houses scattered among a thousand shades of green, the kind of thing that makes us Pacific Northwesterners happy. Well, and then I had to keep checking that the bus wasn’t a cat, because it looked like we were rolling through a Miyazaki film.

House in Yakumo village, Shimane prefecture
· · ·
Verdant culvert in Yakumo village, Shimane prefecture

This rice paddy in particular needed to be photographed.

Rice paddy in Yakumo village, Shimane prefecture

Geeks On a Bus · Remember that along with Matz and Ko1 and Prof. Tak (of the Tak function), there were Charlie and Tom the JRuby guys, Bruce Tate the Java apostate, Jeremy the core-Rails dude, Evan of Rubinius, Stephen Kong representing Shanghai on Rails, and yours truly, the Web dinosaur who’s worrying more and more every day about how to sugar-coat Functional Programming. We spent way too much time ignoring the scenery in favor of actors and messages and procs and lambdas and specs and threads and standards politics and the deplorable state of certain gems and undergraduate education and a bunch of other things. Who knows, perhaps in retrospect this will turn out to have been useful.

Lunch · The people who had to go were flying out of Izumo airport, so that’s where we headed at mid-day. Izumo is famous for Shinto and Soba; we stopped for lunch in a local joint specializing in the latter.

I had naïvely supposed that soba meant “skinny noodles”, but it turns out the name refers to Buckwheat. I can remember Dad, an Agriculture Ph.D with a Botany bent, complaining about that word because, he said, the “wheat” part is a lie, it’s not even remotely related. Whatever you call it, That Plant goes into making soba and some very intensely-flavored honeys, so it’s OK by me.

I posted an Android picture of the meal on Twitter, and oddly the SLR version doesn’t improve on it. Soba was the theme and there were a lot of variations, most of them good, the highlight being the black noodles, so I had to buy some after lunch in the attached soba store.

Here’s the aftermath; I thought the restaurant decor verged on Canadian with all those rough-hewn logs.

After soba-centric lunch in Izumo

Left to right front to back: Matz, Bruce Tate, Abby Phoenix, Evan Phoenix, Charles Nutter, tour guide.

Observe the Japanese-style tables; low, with mats to sit on. I got a laugh, as lunch wound down, by pushing back and complaining about my White Man’s Knees problem.

The Countryside · Superficially, Shimane is kinda like where I live: green, near the ocean, lots of once-cut forests, mild climate. Here’s the big difference: Just about anywhere in the New World, when you get out into the country, you pretty soon encounter distinctly poor-ass homes and farms and roadside businesses, featuring rural decrepitude, peeling paint, rusting vehicles, and so on.

Shimane’s not like that. I think we got pretty far off the beaten track, and saw some extremely rural lifestyles close-up; doubtless they were unimaginably different from mine, but I saw no obvious outward symptoms of poverty, ignorance, or decay. Something’s different here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Here’s a random view somewhere in the rice paddies around Izumo:

Farmscape near Izumo, Shimane

That Shrine · Izomo-taisha (出雲大社) is an extremely-important group of Shinto shrines; here’s the first one you come to.

A large Shinto shrine at Izumo

Those really-big rope-ends hang down and the lore says that if you toss a coin up and it lodges there among the fibers, your wish will come true. My first try with a 50¥ piece lodged before I’d formulated my wish. Don’t ask what a person’s going to wish for when they know they hold a winning hand. World Peace is my story and I’m sticking to it. As I strolled away, the rest of the party were hurling coin after coin upward and not scoring much.

As at many Shinto shrines, you can post your wishes, on paper tied to trees or little flat boards on little-flat-board racks. I was in one of the big shrines at Kamakura once and someone had posted a little board with English writing: “I wish for a little flat piece of wood to write a wish on. Hey, it works!”

WIshes posted at the Izumo shrine

I don’t know the significance of the horse in the next picture; one of a cluster of metal animal sculptures, their faces similarly shiny from the stroking.

Metal horse with shiny face at Izumo shrine

This last shot is actually a half-sculpture; the other half, ten yards away or so, was a large whiskery divinity or semi-divinity apparently in awe at the golden orb.

Part of a statue at Izumo shrine

Geek bus trips, something I’d never imagined; but it seemed to work.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Janne (Sep 20 2009, at 07:29)

The Japanese countryside does not have much outward-visible poverty, but large parts of it is disappearing. Life as a small-scale farmer is lonely, backbreaking and unprofitable, and there's not nearly enough young people that want to take it up. Many farmers are old today, and their children have moved to the cities for a modern life, with modern conveniences (and who can blame them?).

A wrinkle is that family land is still held in high esteem, so when the parents die, the children keep the family land. But as they can't and won't leave their city jobs, schools and life the land ends up fallow, making life for the remaining residents even lonelier and less profitable (fewer people to share in common equipment and infrastructure purchase and maintenance for one thing).


From: David Anderson (Sep 20 2009, at 09:08)

I appreciate your Shimane blog particularly. I am a retired mathematics professor who taught English at the Shimane Women's College in Matsue for two quarters and a later summer. The Japanese treated me so well ... your blog refreshed all my memories. I am so pleased with your description and photos.


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September 20, 2009
· The World (144 fragments)
· · Places
· · · Japan (4 fragments)
· · · · Shimane (8 more)
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Ruby (93 more)
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