Shimane Prefecture may be Japan’s least visited, as well as its second least populated, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its charms. Especially for cheapos. In an effort to attract international visitors to this idyllic prefecture situated on the western coast of Honshu along the Sea of Japan, many of the main attractions offer deep discounts to anyone with a foreign passport or alien registration card, usually to the tune of about 50% off. Art, history, and nature, all at a leisurely place – Shimane has plenty to offer, and for once, tourists and “alien” residents alike can feel welcomed with open arms.
Izumo Taisha (Izumo Grand Shrine) is one of the most important Shinto shrines in the country, and the place where all the Shinto gods convene in the month of October (or the tenth month of the lunar calendar) to have a bang-up meeting discussing all the country’s important affairs (leaving the rest of the country to its devices). This shrine is also famous for blessing relationships, so is a favorite for couples looking for a boost to their pairing. Izumo is free to enter.
Adachi Museum of Art
The Adachi Museum of Art is one of the true stunners in the Japan museum world, and is well worth the trek for lovers of Japanese art. With a meticulously curated collection of Japanese art including Nihon-ga, children’s illustration, pottery, and contemporary art, the museum also boasts gorgeously manicured grounds in the classical Japanese garden style. International people receive half off, and a further discount applies for children or students. For this US-passport, student ID-wielding visitor, the 2300 yen admission was brought down to only 900 yen – but this museum is so lovely, I would have gladly paid full price. They even offer a free shuttle bus from various local stations and hot springs, so you have no excuse not to go.
Matsue, the capital of Shimane, retains its castle, and it’s a beautiful old specimen. The grounds too are lovely, being filled with picnickers and food booths during the cherry blossom season. Castle buffs will appreciate that Matsue-jo has some of its original walls and keep intact. Access to the grounds is free, and to the castle itself is 560 yen – but international visitors can go inside for only 280 yen.
Horikawa Pleasure Boat Cruise
If you’d like to see the town and the castle from another angle, the Horikawa Pleasure Boat Cruise is a great way to go. Using the still-functioning moat and canals of this old castle town, the boats hold about a dozen or so passengers and glide through the waterways of the town, the guide pointing out landmarks and occasionally singing local folk songs. The ticket allows you to hop-on, hop-off all day long, so you can spend as long as you like appreciating the old town and wildlife from a floating perspective. Regular admission is 1230 yen, and about 800 yen for international visitors.
Matsue History Museum
History buffs will enjoy the Matsue History Museum, with its samurai focus and glimpse into the feudal past of the city. Though not expansive, the museum still has a respectable collection, and the free audio guides in English, Chinese, and Korean will make understanding the exhibitions a snap. The grounds, too, are pretty, and there’s a lovely cafe where workshops such as incense making and Japanese sweets creation are held. Admission for international visitors is 250 yen.
Matsue is a really great town to explore by bicycle – it’s human-sized, and there are plenty of cute independent cafes, lakeside views, and things like ashi-yu (hot spring foot baths), to discover when cycling around town. Luckily, there are several places that will rent out a bicycle for a true pittance – as little as 300 yen per day will have you freewheeling in no time. Bikes are available at several spots around town, but one good place to check is the Shinjiko Onsen Station, a small rail station that has a free hot spring foot bath, a small train line that pootles off to various local attractions, and 300 yen bicycle rental.
Matsue has lots of other attractions that offer discounts to its visitors from abroad, including the Matsue English Garden (free), the Shimane Art Museum, and the residence and museum of writer Lafcadio Hearn aka Koizumi Yakumo, famous for his Kwaidan and collection of Japanese folktales. You could easily keep busy for a few days’ visit just with attractions alone – and all for cheap, or free!