During Day 01 and Day 02 of our road trip across Japan, it rained constantly. On the morning of Day 03, the weather finally broke. As the clouds departed to the north, we were headed south, and that meant nothing but increasingly clear skies and sunny weather from here on out. Our goal for today was to take the Isuzu 117 Coupé from Matsue City on the northern end of Shimane Prefecture to Shimonoseki, the southernmost city of Japan’s main landmass.
Before we bid farewell to Matsue City though, it was imperative that we swing by the Shimane Art Museum, located on the shores of Lake Shinji. The galleries were closed, but that didn’t matter; the museum had an outdoor sculpture garden overlooking the lake.
Continuing on the theme established on Day 02 at the Hakuto Shrine, our main reason for visiting the museum was a piece by Satoshi Yabuuchi called Lake Shinji Rabbits. Featuring a dozen bronze bunnies hopping towards the lake, it is said that rubbing the second rabbit in the procession is good luck.
Once we had our fill of cuteness, we hit the road with a new vigor that came with clear skies and beautiful weather. We traced the northern side of Lake Shinji, headed for Izumo City. The lake provided staggering views beyond the windows of the old Isuzu.
For the first time since we left Nagoya, the gas tank was finally starting to get low. We stopped at the next lakeside petrol station that we came across, a sleepy little Idemitsu. We did a little math to figure out what kind of fuel economy the 117 was getting. The Idemitsu attendant probably didn’t fill the tank as fully as we had done in Nagoya, but the numbers said that we’d been averaging nearly 14.4 kilometers per liter, or 34 miles per gallon! Needless to say, we were blown away with its performance.
Elated by our good fortunes, we got back in the car and fired up the engine. Suddenly, it sounded like a comet had hit the car. I nearly leapt out of my seat, my heart racing a thousand miles per hour. Remember, we had just done a head gasket change right before we embarked.
The sound had been deafening, frightening and immediate. We had no idea what happened. The engine was idling perfectly and a quick scan of the gauges showed that the oil pressure was fine, and water temp A-OK. Then I looked up and saw a pole lying against the door of the 117.
The roof above the pumps had a pole running along one of its supporting pillars. Over the years, it had rusted at both ends and was held up by only a few flakes of iron oxide. As the engine roared to life the sound vibrations must have shaken the pole loose, causing it to topple first onto the roof of the 117, then bouncing down and landing on the door.
Fortunately, Isuzu had built their cars out of some seriously thick steel, so despite the weight of the pole the damage was minimal. Insurance companies were called and apologies were profusely offered, but we were more depressed than angry. It wasn’t really anyone in particular’s fault. And it was probably about 1/1000th of what the owner of that tree-crushed 2000GT must have felt.
Sometimes these things happen for a reason though, and I saw a chance to turn lemons into Ramune. The 117 had a serious rust spot on one of its quarter panels. It’s a bit unsightly and embarrassing, given how clean the rest of the car is. So while on the phone with Classic Car Nagoya making plans to repair the pole dent, we asked if they’d also fix the rust spot at the same time (since they’d already have a batch of color-matched paint mixed up). The answer came back an emphatic “Hai!”
So, a little damage was sustained, but in the end the 117 will be in better shape than when she started. In the meantime, we still had a journey to complete, so we said our goodbyes to the Idemitsu staff and set back out on the road.
Our main destination for the day was the amazing Izumo Taisha Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It’s not known exactly when it was built, but it appears in writing dating back to the early 700s. Its massive torii gate alone is already quite impressive.
Passing through the gate leads to a wonderful downhill walkway surrounded by beautiful greenery. This leads to the heart of the shrine.
The shrine itself is a collection of beautifully constructed buildings and is, interestingly enough, dedicated to Okuninushi. If that name sounds familiar, he’s the man who, according to legend, saved the white rabbit at Hakuto Jinjya, which we saw on Day 02 of our journey.
As the story goes, after saving the rabbit, Okuninushi became the deity of good relationships and marriage. As such, many young people travel to Izumo Taisha Shrine to pray for love and a happy marriage.
The main temple is a gorgeous piece of ancient architecture. The shimenawa, or enclosing rope, serves as a boundary between the mortal world and a sacred space. It is believed that they are able to attract sprits and deities of the Shinto religion. Passing under the shimenawa, one enters a hall of worship.
Of course, you can also find plenty of rabbit statues, as Okuninushi became rather popular amongst the bunnies. The Izumo Taisha Shrine is a national heritage site and one of the most diligently preserved places in Japan.
On our way out of Izumo, we managed to grab a photo of something that’s a common sight on Japan coastal roads but which is nearly impossible to get a good picture of. Countless small rock islands dot the coast of Japan, and on quite a few of them a small shrine sits on the peak. The torii gates mark the entrance to a holy spot, but many of these islands are uninhabited and reachable only by boat. Usually, there’s no convenient stopping points or parking areas allowing for a good photo, but this time a traffic signal afforded us a rare opportunity.
Since we had no more planned stops for this leg of the trip, we snaked our way south along the coastal road and let the Isuzu swallow the kilometers. Needless to say, the scenery was breathtaking.
After bombing down the coast for about two hours, we happened upon a parking area and paused to stretch our legs.
A bit of poking around revealed that we were in a place called Sanrigahama. Aside from yet another stunning parking area, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything else around, except for the crashing waves and an abandoned boat slowly succumbing to the elements.
We slipped back into the seats of the 117 and ripped down the coast until we came upon the city of Hagi and a curious scale model of a castle. The real Hagi castle was destroyed in 1874, and all that remains of it today is a rock foundation that has been designated a National Historic site. The model of it was located at the entrance to the town.
As the sun descended upon the horizon, we too charged towards our goal of Shimonoseki. Village after village scrolled by, a distant cry from the towers and bustle of big cities. We made it just after dark. To be continued…
Our route for Day 03 covered around 350 km, the longest one yet, but we touched only two prefectures, Shimane and Yamaguchi.