Along with telling scary stories, visiting spooky sights is a popular activity during Japan’s summer because such places are said to send a cooling chill down your spine. Why you might ask? Well, due to the influence from Chinese culture, Ghost Month happens every seventh lunar month. It’s been said that the barrier between our world and the underworld becomes much thinner, which might explain why Japanese families celebrate Obon at this time.
Shimane, Japan’s second least-populated prefecture, is famous for ghost stories and legends—especially in and around the capital city, Matsue. If you enjoy traveling off the beaten path and testing your courage, here are five recommended destinations.
Fumon-in is known for two hauntings. The first is at the main entrance’s adjacent bridge, which is allegedly frequented by the ghost of a woman who becomes angry if visitors sing a particular song. Local lore says a samurai once sang the offending tune here, unafraid of ghosts. Upon finishing the song and returning home, a mysterious woman gave him a box containing a child’s head. The samurai then discovered his son’s decapitated body inside his house.
In addition to the bridge’s phantom, the temple’s main gate has a strange feature. Look at the gate’s ceiling while passing underneath, and you may see footprints or handprints, which supposedly belong to ghosts.
Matsue Ohashi Bridge
When this bridge was first built in 1608, it is said that floods and the soft riverbed often caused damage. All other solutions exhausted, it was decided that the first man to cross the bridge wearing a certain kind of hakama (traditional-style trousers) would be offered as a hitobashira (human sacrifice made to protect structures). Ultimately, a man named Gensuke was chosen and buried alive under the bridge’s central pillar.
Today, a memorial for Gensuke sits in a park on the bridge’s southern side.
This temple’s most famous feature is its giant turtle statue. During the day, this turtle receives many visitors because rubbing his head supposedly brings luck and longevity. At night, however, it is rumored he comes to life and consumes trespassers.
Gessho-ji is usually closed at night, but during events such as the Obon Festival, entering after sundown may be permitted.
Kaka no Kukedo Sea Caves
These twin caves are located north of Matsue. One cave known as Kyu Kukedo (Old Kukedo) is said to be connected to Sainokawara (a river bordering the Buddhist afterlife).
It is believed that children who die too young to have performed any good deeds become stuck at Sainokawara. Here they build towers of stones, which oni (demons) later destroy, forcing the children to start again. Amid these troubles, Jizo—the guardian of children and travelers—protects and encourages the souls in place of their parents.
If visitors join a local sightseeing boat tour, it is possible to explore Kyu Kukedo for a short time. Emulating Sainokawara, the cave is full of Jizo statues and small stone piles—offerings that visitors should be careful not to knock over.
Yomotsuhirasaka and Iya Shrine
Located east of Matsue, the most prominent feature of the site called Yomotsuhirasaka is a boulder, which allegedly seals the entrance to the underworld.
The story of this site begins with the death of the Shinto goddess Izanami. Her husband, Izanagi, was distraught by her loss and traveled to the underworld to bring her back to life. However, upon discovering his wife had become a living, rotting corpse, Izanagi fled and sealed the realm of the dead’s entrance with a boulder.
Now, Yomotsuhirasaka and the nearby Iya Shrine are places to pay respects to Izanami and others who have passed away.
Ever been to Shimane? Let us know in the comments!