I’ve written a lot about Tokyo and early on, I said “Tokyo doesn’t need you to like it”. Well, Matsue wants you to like it. Also, Tokyo is, by and large, butt-ugly while Matsue, by and large, isn’t.
(For context, see 島根 September — Kunibiki Messe.)
Aesthetics · Now I should probably apologize to the Tokyo folk. Tokyo has a lot of beautiful things and places, and really a lot of stylish fun-to-look-at people, but it’s too crowded and too polluted and overbuilt and garish. Doesn’t mean I don’t like going there, doesn’t mean I don’t love taking pictures of it, but a few days there make my eyes ache for grace and space and green and uncaged water.
On this last trip, I made a little shopping expedition into Tokyo, Shinjuku to be precise, in between airports on the way home. It’s a happening place, it’s buzzing with life, I enjoyed being there, but here’s a picture... see what I mean?
Now, down in Matsue, this little square is right by the JR station, and sure enough the buildings are uninspired-urban, but even in a place like this they give you some unstressed green to look at.
Remember those Kunibiki-Messe shots? If you stand right outside it, you see this.
Just a hop and a jump from the center of Matsue, those fields are rice paddies. Another time I saw a water-skier, and on the near side of that little backwater were a bunch of pleasure boats tied up, nothing fancy, a whole lot like I’d see in a low-rent marina out of Vancouver.
In Shimane, they’re up-front about wanting you to come down and visit. For a bunch of the tourist attractions, it’s half-price for foreigners; backwards to the way most places run things.
Night Life · Speaking of prices, that’s another nice thing about Matsue. On our last night, we realized we hadn’t had any sushi to speak of, so we got a referral to a place they said was good. Seven of us stuffed ourselves with nigiri and maki and inhaled ten or so large beers, and it came to ¥19,000, under $30 a head. Not bad at all.
Now, to be absolutely truthful, the sushi was not as good as I can get two blocks from where I live in Vancouver. Granted, the standard of Japanese cuisine in Vancouver is ferociously high, but still.
Speaking of nightlife, Matsue’s actually not bad. Here’s a rainy-night establishing shot.
In Japan, they’re masters at making a little restaurant look warmly inviting on a cool evening; here are a couple.
Of course, if I could read the signs, they probably say the equivalent of “Moe’s burger shack” or some such; but still, the presentation makes you want to go in.
We ended one evening at an “Irish” bar, tiny but with a gaijin host, perfectly fluent in Japanese of course, who knew the proper technique for pouring Guiness. The next night was a “Spanish” establishment, where our Japanese compatriots had a trio of sherries (I stuck with margaritas). The music was the Beatles and we played darts; it developed that a couple of our Japanese colleagues (Inoue and Maeda, both pictured here), had their own sets, which ought to have been a signal. Indeed, we got carved up at Cut-throat Cricket, a serious game, but I got lucky and won at 301.
The bartender wasn’t Spanish at all, but we did have some debate as to his or her gender. If this all sounds more than a little surreal, well, yep. But fun.
Brewpub! · It wasn’t until the nineties that they struck down an idiotic piece of Japanese legislation that made brewpubs illegal, so they’re only now becoming commonplace, and I’ve not been to many. But in Matsue there’s the Shimane Beer company, right behind that castle, and I recommend it.
The food was cheap & cheerful ingredients-at-the-buffet yakiniku. Maybe the best Japanese meal I’ve ever had was at a yakiniku joint in a dark expensive corner of Akasaka, and this sure wasn’t like that, but it was still tasty and the beer was good; well, the Pale Ale was, because I liked that and stuck with it.
It dawns on me that a yakiniku brewpub is a brilliant idea; the fresh-grilled meats and veggies set off the beer, and the constant flow of co-op cooking makes it a more sociable occasion. Someone should open a chain here in the New World, they’d make a killing.
Smiles · On several occasions, people smiled and said hello in the street, and a couple of them even dusted off a few English words for the purpose. When I bought some presents in a public craft market, the tabletop merchants, initially a little taken aback at the sudden gaijin, rallied and smiled and showed me alternatives and were happy for the business.
Matsue, it wants you to like it. I do.