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Okuizumo: Swords and Steel in Rural Japan

Explore hidden gems in Japan. Visit the Japan Heritage website and uncover Okuizumo in Shimane Prefecture—loved for its unspoiled nature, traditional steel forging practices and delicious food.

By 4 min read

Have you ever wished to escape the crowded cities of Japan and explore a more tranquil destination? Look no further than Okuizumo in Shimane, the second least-populated prefecture in Japan. Here, you can take a break from the fast-paced modern life and immerse yourself in traditional arts. Better still, there’s an online tool available to help you plan your visit.

The Japan Heritage Program guides travelers to discover Japan’s authentic charm in well-known and off-the-beaten-path locations. The website provides ample background information on various regions—including Okuizumo—so visitors can fully appreciate their travel destinations’ cultural and historical significance.

Okuizumo is a haven of nature, ideal for people enamored by Japanese culture and history. Over the centuries, artisans have used the region’s abundant resources to craft steel for swords and serve unique Japanese cuisine. Moreover, Okuizumo is a serene getaway to calm the mind. Let’s discover more about Shimane and what Okuizumo has to offer.

Forging Sword Steel

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Swords, cooking pans, lanterns and more are sought from Okuizumo.

Okuizumo, rich in timber and iron sand, is the ideal setting for the ancient tradition of creating steel in traditional tatara forges using foot bellows. This industry, thriving for over 1,000 years, involves tatara forges burning charcoal to melt iron sand, producing tamahagane—the prized steel for Japanese swords.

Sugaya Tatara Sannai village is home to the world’s last clay tatara forge, which is open for exploration. Nestled by a clear river, the village preserves the forge and historic structures, showcasing the evolution of tatara technology. In nearby Yoshida-cho, traditional townscapes linked to the iron forging industry, including storehouses of the Tanabe family, are well-preserved.

The surrounding landscapes tell the tale of tatara’s history. Once-exploited woods thrive through meticulous reforestation, while former mining areas have transformed into lush rice fields. Visiting natural wonders like Ryuzugataki Falls highlights Okuizumo’s environmental care, emphasizing the deep connection between the forging industry’s significance and environmental stewardship.

The Living Traditions of Artisans

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Learn from the masters.

Tatara and traditional blacksmithing decreased after World War II, but smiths at workshops like Kajikobo Hiromitsu continued the practice of hand-crafting products from molten metal. Items produced at this shop are practical works of art that fit modern lifestyles and needs, such as frying pans, lanterns and candle holders.

Another tradition that thrives around Okuizumo is sake (rice wine) brewing. Shimane is said to be the birthplace of sake because a myth from the Kojiki (the oldest written text in Japan) tells that the god Susano’o came to what is now Shimane and defeated an eight-headed and eight-tailed serpent called Yamata no Orochi by tricking the creature into drinking strong sake before beheading it.

Both sake connoisseurs and newcomers are welcomed to guided tastings at Sake Mochida Honten—a brewery that uses traditional techniques to craft sake from rice grown in Shimane. Founded in 1877, the brewery’s building is a piece of history and a designated Cultural Property.

Traditional Inns

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A tranquil stay could be all you need.

North of Okuizumo in Shimane’s capital, Matsue, visitors can spend a night in luxury at Minamikan—a ryokan (traditional-style inn) that has pampered guests since 1888. Each of the inn’s sixteen rooms blends traditional Japanese aesthetics with modern conveniences, and guests can experience Japan’s bathing culture by relaxing in the communal hot spring baths (a guest room with a private bath is also available).

Best of all, Minamikan sits on the shore of Lake Shinji—one of the biggest lakes in Japan. From guest rooms to the inn’s restaurant, visitors can marvel at the lake’s morning mist or stunning sunsets. In the summer, Lake Shinji is the venue of Suigosai—a festival famous for launching thousands of fireworks over the water.

Cuisine From Land and Water

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Taste the flavors of Shimane.

Both overnight guests and day visitors can indulge in local delicacies at Minamikan. The inn’s restaurant features a view of Lake Shinji and a gorgeous Japanese garden in the foreground. Specializing in kaiseki (course meals), these dishes are designed to suit the season and feature ingredients from local forests and waterways. In other words, these meals are truly a product of Shimane.

Courses include a variety of favorites such as sashimi, tempura and taimeshi, rice topped with tai (sea bream) and other ingredients that are mixed after pouring dashi (fish stock) over the top.

Discover Okuizumo

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What will you find in Okuizumo?

Visit the Japan Heritage Official Website to discover hidden gems of Japan and find your dream trip to Japan. Videos, sample itineraries and more are available to help travelers learn about Okuizumo and other cultural treasures throughout Japan. Plan today and discover your new favorite corner of rural Japan.

Have you ever traveled to Okuizumo or Shimane Prefecture? Let us know in the comments!

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