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San’in Trip: Day Five-Historical Silver Town-Iwami Ginzan

On the fifth day, we started the day in Izumo and visited Juji Asahi right in the shotengai in front of the JR station. As you may remember from our previous posts, there’s something about the brew that keeps us going. I call it as my energy booster. Anyway, after plenty of blessings in Izumo, we got in the car to drive two hours to the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine.

Before we got to Iwami Ginzan, we knew very little about the place other than the fact that it was just named a World Heritage site in 2007 and there’s a sake label with the name. Just from the sound of it, I associate the old silver mine with the colonial silver town of Taxco in Mexico where you find loads of sliver jewelry shops. The other thing I associated with this historical mine was Ashio Copper Mine. I pictured the surreal scenery with barren mountains and traces of pollution from modern industrialization. Even with good travel guidance from Inoue-san at the Shimane Tourist Promotion Center in Nihonbashi including descriptions and details on the logistics and what to see there, I was a bit skeptical about allowing as much as three to four hours for this historical silver town.

I was so wrong! I think the description in JNTO’s site about this ruin really sums up the true beauty of this area.

“The entire area of Iwami Ginzan, covered in rich forestland, is enveloped in an almost mystic air. This is the fruit of the efforts made by the people formerly working in the mine to fell only the required minimum amount of wood needed for the refining process and to replant trees there.

The area surrounding area has retained the streetscapes of the countryside that cannot be found in cities, and you will find it most pleasant to leisurely stroll amid such landscapes.” quoted from JNTO site

As part of the continuing effort to preserve the area and the historical sites, a 3 km stretch from the Former Magistrate’s Office to Ryugenji Mabu Mine Shaft, is closed traffic. You have to park the car at designated areas, then take a shuttle bus to one of two starting points. So, we started in the middle near the tourist information center, then walked along the river on a path filled with flowers and sound of birds to the Ryugenji Mabu Mine Shaft.

On the way back, we took the main route dotted with temples and old houses to what used to be the center of town where I was expecting lots of silver shops. Red tiles may be the only thing Taxco and Iwami Ginzan have in common! Downtown was surprisingly quiet with more historical sites, a few shops, and a captured glimpse into people’s daily back in the good old days. When I peeked in the old-style barber shop with a big tricolor swirling sign, I saw a guy getting a shave as he reclined on a raised leather chair. Through the tiny opening of the window at a doctor’s office, I caught sight of a nurse in a classic old white uniform and a starched white cotton cap. There are only a few shops here and they all blend into the surroundings: the restoration and conversion of old buildings into in shops is tastefully done. My favorite shop, Gungendo, is a great example how the stores are integrated into the community.

So, that four hours at the site went by far too quickly. At the same time, we took a leisurely slow pace without being rushed or feeling we had to run to see one thing after another. Then, we continued on to the nearby onsen by the sea, Yunotsu.

Links:
About Iwami Ginzan on JNTO site
UNESCO site about Iwami Ginzan
Good English guide of Iwami Ginzan area by Shimane with some historical and practical information.
In depth information about Iwami Ginzan by Ohda City
Gungendo web site in Japaense. Check out their corporate head quarter building!
Shimane Tourist Promotional Center in Tokyo:in Japanese
About Iwami Kagura, performance dedicated to god, from the Iwami area
Please visit Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip: Day One, Day Two–Follow the Crab, Day Three-Fished Out and Monsters Too, Day Four-A Glimpse of Samurai Culture in Matsue, and Day Four-Izumo-Land of Myth and Faith, Day Five-Historical Silver Town-Iwami Ginzan. For locations of the sites in the post, please visit Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip Series post.

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