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Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park in the 'new green' season.
Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park in the 'new green' season. Image: kazukiatuko/Pixta

Discover Japan's 'new green' season in Shimane and Tottori prefectures

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By Laura Payne

Domestic and international tourists flock to viewing destinations where they can see cherry blossoms and autumn leaves in Japan, but there is another season worth experiencing that is often overlooked.

After the cherry blossoms fall and before the summer heat arrives, forests and fields around Japan turn bright green with newly-grown leaves. Called the shinryoku season (new green) in Japanese, this young vegetation is said to represent the start of a new life cycle and often overlaps with cultural events and holidays. Mild weather also makes the shinryoku season a great time to enjoy Japan’s outdoors.

Two underrated destinations for shinryoku seekers are Shimane and Tottori, Japan’s least-populated prefectures. Home to national parks, expansive gardens and cities surrounded by nature, these prefectures offer numerous ways to experience shinryoku and Japan’s traditional culture.

Traditional and contemporary gardens

A foreground 'living paining' at the Adachi Museum of Art in Shimane Prefecture. Image: Laura Payne

Eastern Shimane and western Tottori are accessible via domestic flights or trains such as the Sunrise Express and Yakumo limited express. Stay a night in Yonago or Matsue, the biggest cities in this area, and gardens full of shinryoku are just a local train or bus ride away.

The Adachi Museum of Art in Shimane Prefecture has been named the most beautiful garden in Japan for over 20 consecutive years by the “Journal of Japanese Gardening.” Visitors are not allowed to enter these gardens, but are instead invited to view the foreground of tended landscapes and the background of distant mountains as “living paintings.” During shinryoku season, these living paintings are a vibrant green with azaleas adding color. Viewpoints around the museum place visitors in ideal locations to photograph the gardens, while on-site cafes offer spaces to leisurely enjoy the scenery.

In Tottori Prefecture, meanwhile, you can spend a day exploring the 50 hectares of Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park. Expansive wooded trails and numerous themed flower gardens provide the chance to view both shinryoku and seasonal flowers in the same location. Crafting workshops, restaurants boasting local specialties and the park’s famous Flower Train offer even more fun to visitors of all ages.

National parks and mountains

Mount Mitoku, in Tottori Prefecture, is home to Sanbutsuji Temple (Nageiredo Hall), a temple building and pilgrimage site perched on a cliff face often called Japan’s 'most dangerous national treasure.' Image: Laura Payne

Mountains in Daisen-Oki National Park are prime destinations for shinryoku viewing, hiking, camping and more. Cars are the most convenient way to access these mountains, but some locations are also reachable via local buses and trains.

Mount Sanbe, located in central Shimane, is a group of peaks that surround a basin. Six trails open the mountain’s forests to hikers of all experience levels. Those who want a gentle hike can trek Himenogaike (the shortest trail) or Higashinohara (a trail where visitors can choose to ride a sightseeing chairlift for part of the way). Those who want a challenge, meanwhile, can embark on the Traverse Course and hike a loop around Sanbe’s peaks.

Mount Daisen in Tottori Prefecture is the highest mountain in the region. Home to beech trees, wildflowers and other diverse plant life, Daisen is a popular destination for shinryoku viewing forest walks. The Daisen National Park Centre and Daisen Museum of Nature and History provide multilingual maps and trail information, and occasionally host guided walks to teach visitors about the mountain’s flora, fauna and heritage as a pilgrimage site.

Mount Mitoku — also located in Tottori — is home to Sanbutsuji Temple (Nageiredo Hall), a temple building and pilgrimage site perched on a cliff face. Nageiredo is called Japan’s “most dangerous national treasure” because reaching it requires embarking on a steep forest trail, which sometimes involves climbing vertically with the help of chains embedded in the ground. Climbing this trail alone is prohibited and your shoes must be inspected before hiking. If the tread is deemed insufficient, you must buy a pair of straw sandals which monks have used to climb the mountain for over 1,300 years. If you don’t fear heights, climbing this trail during shinryoku season is a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience.

Townscapes, nature and traditional culture

An abandoned track on the former JNR Kurayoshi line in Tottori Prefecture. Image: ばりろく/Pixta

Small towns in Shimane and Tottori are home to rich traditions, priceless historic sites and natural wonders that rival those in Daisen-Oki National Park. Take a rental car or public transit to these towns to discover daily life in Japan’s nature.

Fans of blacksmithing should visit Okuizumo, a town with the enduring spirit of traditional Japan in Shimane and a long history of producing tamahagane — steel used to create samurai swords. This tradition is preserved today in places like the Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum and Sugaya Tatara Sannai, a village that is home to the world’s last clay tatara forge. Okuizumo is also home to beautiful shinryoku viewing spots such as the Itohara Memorial Museum — the estate of a former samurai family that includes a wooded walking trail — and Oni no Shitaburui Gorge, which boasts a lush forest, pristine river and otherworldly rock formations.

Kurayoshi, located in central Tottori, is a former castle town that seamlessly incorporates the past into the present. Utsubuki Park, which was built to commemorate a visit from Japan’s crown prince in 1904, boasts a photogenic pond garden and access to trails on the adjacent Mount Utsubuki. Once the location of Kurayoshi’s castle, this wooded mountain is an accessible shinryoku viewing spot where visitors can take a quick hike. Other famous trekking courses in Kurayoshi follow the path of a railway that shut down in the 1980s. The most famous section of the old Kurayoshi Line today is a trail where visitors walk atop a section of the railroad and encounter a bamboo forest that surrounds the tracks.

Finding your favorite spot

Nature is never far away in Shimane and Tottori. No matter where you travel or stay in these prefectures, your new favorite shinryoku viewing spot might be just around the corner. Moreover, you don’t have to explore these prefectures alone. Organizations such as the Shimane Interpreter-Guide Association and ThoughINAKA connect travelers with local multilingual guides who can help to break the language barrier and introduce a new corner of Japan.

Laura Payne is a teacher, freelance writer and photographer. You can follow her work on social media @bylaurapayne

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1 Comment
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Shinryoku is so wonderful. Shimane and Tottori prefectures are so wonderful. Japan is so wonderful. Our planet is so marvelous. It is our responsibility to safeguard this rare planet, not let it to be lost.

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