Translated by Richard Perkins
Take in 1200 Year Old Traditions in the Oki Islands, Shimane
Written by Maki
The Oki Islands in Shimane are an area with a unique culture, whose history goes back more than twelve centuries. This article introduces Dogo Island, where the impressive culture built around historical shrines and bullfighting still remains today.
Northeast of Shimane prefecture on the Sea of Japan, there is an area known as Oki. An area made up of four inhabited islands and a number of uninhabited islands, in the year 724 it was decided that the area of Oki was to be where criminals would be taken to be punished. Since then, many people have come to these islands, starting with one of the former Emperors of Japan. They say that people visiting Oki greatly impacted the culture there.
We’ll introduce the areas in Oki where one is able to feel the long history of the area that was built from this culture.
In Oki, an archipelago built upon a unique culture, there are a number of shrines. Most of these shrines were built using a unique construction method specific to Oki. Some of the shrines in Oki are very highly ranked and have been designated important cultural assets.
Tamawakasumikoto Shrine is a shrine with a long history, having had it’s name written in a book back in the Heian period (784 - 1185). The honden or main shrine hall that was built there has been designated an important cultural asset of Japan.
In the area surrounded by the shrine there is a yaosugi tree, a type of Japanese cedar, that has also been designated a national monument. This tree is over 1000 years old, measuring 30 meters tall with roots that are about 20 meters in length, making it the largest Japanese cedar in Shimane prefecture. The flourishing bark and thick branches of this tree can be seen from all directions, making quite an impact.
Mizuwakasu Shrine is another shrine that was constructed using the construction method specific to Oki. I is also an important cultural asset. There is even a dohyo, or sumo wrestling ring, inside. A portion of the Japanese movie ‘Kon-Shin’ was filmed there.
The area that is usually visited there is the haiden or the outer shrine, from where one is able to see the honden where the deity is enshrined. The distinctive style of construction can be observed here upon the roofs and the eaves of the roofs.
The Rare Culture of Bullfighting that Still Remains in Japan
Bullfighting washed to the shores of Oki back in the 13 century. It’s reported that it was brought about in order to please the ex-emperor Gotoba. Though it might not seem very Japanese, there are a number of areas in Japan where bullfighting still remains. However, the bullfighting that takes place on Oki has a history spanning over 800 years, making it the oldest traditional bullfighting that takes place in Japan.
What started off as an event that took place four times a years, the bullfighting that takes place at the Momo Dome now occurs as part of tourism-based events. The sight of huge bulls with bulging muscles slamming into one another is quite impressive and the whole battle will have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of the win. At the Momo Dome it’s customary for the bullfight to end in a draw, right before the fight actually finishes.
For more information about bullfighting in Japan please take a look at 800 Year Long Tradition: Watching Oki's Oxpecker Bullfighting (Japanese).
The History of a Town Supported by Fishing
In the area known as Yana no Matsubara there are roughly 20 small buildings resembling huts which were once used to house boats. With the blue sea and cedar bark roofs of the fishing huts all lined up in a row, there is unique atmosphere is in this unchanging fishing village.
The Oki Food Culture - The Fruits of the Sea and Land
Oki is best known for its fresh seafood, caught from the neighboring seas. Among the seafood caught includes local specialties such as a type of shellfish known as a turban, abalone, and oyster.
Even though the turban in Oki is chewy it’s also rather soft, and has a distinctive, fresh taste. Turban-don, a bowl of rice topped with turban, along with turban curry are two local dishes that are a must-eat when visiting the area.
Oki soba, made with 100% soba flour and served in a sweet mackerel broth, is a unique local cuisine. The soba here differs from traditional soba, as it crumbles to pieces inside the bowl. By slurping this dish as if it were ochazuke (rice that has toppings and green tea poured over it), you will be able to enjoy the aroma of the soba along with the rich flavor of the mackerel broth.
Growing rice is another industry that flourishes on Dogo, and this rice is used in the production of local sake as well. Made from local rice and pure waters that have been included in the 100 most exquisite waters in Japan ranking, this sake has its own distinctive taste that is mild, yet first-class.
Oki is a history and culture rich archipelago on the Sea of Japan. On these islands you can still find historic sights and traditional events taking place as they have for centuries - all of which invite visitors into their enduring world. Why not take a trip to the island of Dogo on Oki and pursue the history and culture for oneself?