Matsue Japan – A Complete Travel Guide To Explore The City Of Water
Matsue, Japan – The quaint, unassuming city of Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture in the southwest of Japan, is the ideal romantic and nostalgic getaway that you’ve been searching for. Matsue has been aptly nicknamed the “City of Water” due to its unique location on the north coast being a meeting point between Lake Shinji, Lake Nakaumi, and the Sea of Japan. It’s literally a city that’s surrounded by water, and that’s what its beauty is derived from: the natural landscape, the sea salt air, the endless ocean pushing into the distance.
From the outside, Matsue is quite a traditional city. It is a former feudal stronghold, and still boasts one of the twelve original castles still standing throughout Japan. This castle is the Matsue Castle, and it is frankly a work of art. True to its history, Matsue still boasts the same canals which run through the city that caused enemies many headaches back in the day. Aside from picturesque traditional Japanese scenery, Matsue is a great destination for those seeking a multitude of different experiences including onsen hot springs, mountainous views and activities, and beaches, which can’t be said about many other cities in Japan!
How To Get To Matsue, Japan?
From Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama, and then transfer to a limited express train to Matsue. It will take roughly 5.5 hours one way if you use the Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo (not covered by JR Pass), or just over 6 hours if you use the Hikari Shinkansen from Tokyo (covered by the JR Pass). If you don’t have a JR Pass, the one-way travel will cost just under 20,000 yen per person.
If you’re looking for a more budget option, there are night highway buses that depart Tokyo for Matsue, operated by Willer Express, Ichibata Bus and JR Chugoku Bus. The ride will take roughly 12 hours and cost between 6,000 yen to 11,400-yen one way.
Lastly, if you’re in for a bit of an experience, we recommend looking into ‘The Sunrise Izumo’ overnight train. This train will take you all the way from Tokyo to Matsue by way of Okayama. It’s actually one of the luxury Seven Stars night trains in all of Japan! This train departs Tokyo at 10:00pm, and arrives in Matsue in the morning the day after. There are several sleeping arrangements that you can reserve beforehand, including sleeping cabins in single or bunk-bed forms.
If you want even more of an experience, don’t reserve a room at all and just sleep in the ‘nobinobi’ areas, which are areas on the train cars with clean, carpeted flooring to lay out futons. It’s not fully private, but it’s free and somewhat comfy and cosy enough for an overnight ride. Reservations are mandatory, but all you need to do is take your JR Pass with you to any JR ticket office and ask to make a reservation. If you’re after an actual sleeping cabin, you will need to pay a fee.
Where To Stay In Matsue, Japan?
Capsule Hotel in Matsue, Japan – Urban Hotel CubicRoom
This simplistic capsule hotel located in the middle of the city right next to Matsue Station is the perfect place for budget conscious travellers to stay. It’s also set in amongst a plethora of other attractions including the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum, Shimane Art Museum, and the beautiful Lake Shinji. The pods are spacious and comfortable, each fitted with a flat screen TV for your enjoyment. The bathroom is well-equipped, with plenty of amenities for you to use and pamper yourself with.
Guest Tips: If you’re conscious about eating healthy, their breakfast buffet is highly recommended, as there were many healthy choices there for a very affordable price.
Book It Now: Matsue Urban Hotel CubicRoom
Ryokan in Matsue, Japan – Naniwa Issui
Naniwa Issui is a ryokan located right on the shores of Lake Shinji-ko. It’s a charming premium accommodation choice for those after luxury, grand views, and amenities and services that go above and beyond what is expected. There are a few indoor and outdoor public hot spring baths onsite for guests, a spa, and massage services. Certain guest rooms also come with their own private open-air onsen. If you’re after some entertainment, you can enjoy karaoke well into the night onsite or simply rent a bike for the day and go sightseeing.
Whilst the ryokan has been well-maintained and appears clean and new, there is something quite traditional about this property, and you can see it in the way you’re served by articulated staff members and feel it in the refreshing ocean air. If you’re staying here during summer, the hotel actually hosts lake-side barbeque buffets!
Guest Tips: Do NOT miss out on watching the sunset at Lake Shinji-ko from your bedroom window!
Book It Now: Naniwa Issui
The Best Things To Do In Matsue, Japan
Check out our list of the 6 best activities you should not miss when you visit Matsue:
- Matsue Castle
- Shimane Art Museum
- Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum
- Lake Shinji
- Matsue Vogue Park
- Daikonshima Island in Lake Nakaumi
As was mentioned previously, one of the things that makes Matsue Castle so special is the fact that, out of the hundreds of historic castles in Japan right at this moment, it is one of only twelve that’s still in its original form. It has survived hundreds of years of war, conflict, and natural disasters, and you get to see through the same eyes as the original builders back in 1611. How crazy is that!
The picturesque castle is located on top of a hill and is surrounded by a moat and thick walls. Visitors to this castle can tour the entire main keep of the castle, which has been converted to a colourful museum displaying artefacts and other historical pieces. They can also participate in a peaceful boat cruise around the castle moat; this is called the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat. During the ride, the boatmen will speak about bits and pieces of the history of the area. This is a lovely activity to do, especially on an autumn afternoon when the sun is low in the sky and the surrounding foliage has become beautiful sunburnt colours, making the scenery very picturesque indeed.
- Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887, Japan
- Access: From Matsue Station, it is an easy and leisurely 30-minute walk. Otherwise, you can hop on the Lake Line loop bus. This loop bus runs a full circle route in 50-minutes, stopping at all the major attractions (including the castle) daily. A single fare is 200 yen, and an all-day fare, which allows you to hop on and off as many times as you want, is only 500 yen.
- Hours: 8:30am – 4:30pm (until 5:00pm from Oct-Mar)
- Price: 670 yen (50% off for foreign tourists), 1,090 yen (including Hearn Residence and Hearn Museum),
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:00pm (Oct-Feb), 9:00am-5:00pm (Mar-Jun, mid Aug-Oct), 9:00am-6:00pm (Jul-Aug)
- Price: 1,500 (boat cruise)
Shimane Art Museum
This unique art museum located in the southern area of Matsue City houses a vast collection of western and local art pieces, including paintings, print items, sculptures, modern art, photography, and crafts. The architect who designed the exterior of this museum, Kiyonori Kikutake, is actually a prominent figure in the creative space, and was one of the original founding members of the infamous architectural movement group, the Japanese Metabolist. If you look closely enough, you can see that the building actually loosely resembles a painter’s palette.
The museum displays an impressive collection of ukiyo-e (a style of art from the Edo period which generally depict beautiful landscapes, courtesans, city life, and adultery) woodblock prints, amongst its other traditional art displays. The exhibitions change every now and then.
One of the best spots to view the sunset is actually from Shimane Art Centre (since it’s situated right on the shore of Lake Shinji), and thus the museum makes sure to stay an extra half-hour past sundown every day during the warmer months.
- Address: 1-5 Sodeshicho, Matsue, Shimane 690-0049, Japan
- Access: From Matsue Station, it is a leisurely 15-minute walk. Otherwise, take the Lake Line bus and it’s a 6-minute bus ride away, alight at Kenritsu Bijutsukan-mae bus stop.
- Hours: 10:00am – 4:30pm (Oct-Feb), 10:00am – 30-mins after sunset (Mar-Sep) (Closed every Tuesday)
- Price: 1,000 yen (50% discount if you show your international passport)
Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum
Lafcadio Hearn holds a special place in the Matsue community’s hearts, as well as the traditionalists and culturalists of Japan, because he was one of the first foreigners to travel to Japan and write about its beautiful history and traditions to extend to the outside world.
By the time he passed away and his works had finally been translated to Japanese, modernisation of the country had gone full steam ahead and much of the documentation of the past had been lost along the way, so his work was viewed, ironically, as somewhat of a saviour for the Japanese and a pioneer for the western world to understanding the Japanese. He was actually the first foreigner to renounce his heritage and adopt a Japanese citizenship, becoming naturalised as Koizumi Yakumo, which is the name he is still known as in Japan.
At this memorial museum, which sits right next to the house that he lived and raised his family in, you will get to witness some of the earlier and original works as well as get to know a bit about him as a person.
- Address: 322 Okudanicho, Matsue, Shimane 690-0872, Japan
- Access: From Matsue Station, take the Lakeline loop and alight at bus stop 10.
- Hours: 8:30am – 6:30pm (Apr-Sep), 8:30am – 5:00pm (Oct-Mar)
- Price: 410 yen (if you show your passport, you will get 50% off)
Lake Shinji might arguably be the lake that made Matsue the City of Water. Given that it’s the seventh largest lake in the entirety of Japan, with spectacular scenery and abundant activities along its shores, you can bet that it’s very popular with locals and tourists alike.
The most popular activity to do here is watch the sunset. Due to its position near the coast, you can imagine just how much the sun would pop when reflecting off the calm still waters. It’s been rated as one of Japan’s top 100 best sunsets. From Shirakata Park to Shimane Art Museum, make sure you find a spot when you’re there to take in the view.
Another thing to note about Lake Shinji is that it’s a host for a plethora of sea animals due to its unique mix of fresh and salt water. Thus, this gives birth to what is known as ‘The 7 Delicacies of Lake Shinji’, a group of varied seafood that are harvested directly from Lake Shinji throughout the year. They include the white back (in early spring), the Shijimi clams and eel (in summer), the shrimp (in autumn), and the bass, smelt and carp (in winter). The clams can be harvested throughout the year, however, and are the easiest to find and the most popular to try.
Try the fresh 7 Delicacies of Lake Shinji at any local restaurant!
Matsue Vogel Park
This stunning flower park is completely underrated, but is literally one of the most aesthetic attractions in Matsue. The Matsue Vogel Park is decorated with gorgeous flowers throughout the year, including the likes of begonia and fuchsia. This greenhouse park, of course, attracts all types of birds, and you can even feed them whilst there.
You can head here to relax in the outdoor area amongst the crowds flowers and take some gorgeous pictures for your Instagram. If you’re looking for a great view of Lake Shinji, the viewing platform here is one of a kind! Did we mention this place has been optimised for wheelchair access and everything is undercover so it’s perfect for a rainy day?
- Address: 52 Ogakicho, Matsue, Shimane 690-0263, Japan
- Access: From Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station, take the Ichibata Railway to Matsue Vogel Park Station (410 yen, 16-minutes)
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:30pm (Apr-Sep), 9:00pm – 5:00pm (Oct-Mar)
- Price: 1,500 yen (30% off if you show your international passport)
Daikonshima Island in Lake Nakaumi
Located in the centre of Lake Nakaumi, which is the fifth largest lake in Japan, Daikonshima Island boasts one of Japan’s most prolific natural gardens of Japanese peonies and ginseng! Yuushien Garden, located right in the centre of Daikonshima Island, boasts ponds, streams and even small waterfalls that you can walk through an explore in amongst all the blooms. The peony flower, arguably its main attraction, blooms in winter and spring, whilst during the rest of the year, visitors can enjoy irises, hydrangea, sasanqua and even momiji foliage. When you want a bit of a rest, there are three restaurants on site and a tea room where you can relax and enjoy the view.
- Address: Yatsukacho Nyuko, Matsue, Shimane 690-1405, Japan
- Access: From Matsue Station, take an Ichibata Bus bound for Sakaiminato (platform 9). The ride will take 25-minutes and cost 700 yen.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: 800 yen (12% off if you show your passport).
We can’t stress it enough – Matsue is a seaside town that is the place to be whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a repeat-traveller looking to get off the beaten path in Japan, or even a solo adventure seeker looking for some historical and cultural adventures. It may seem far on the map but it’s so easy to get to, and even the getting-to can be an adventure in itself! A few days here to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and dine on fresh seafood, educate yourself with some history and view amazing sunsets is the way to go.