Flying into Matsue, on the shores of Lake Shinjii, the ground glows green with rice and buckwheat. The area is famous for its soba noodles, ancient samurai houses, moated castle – and a succession of cherry blossom, peonies, azaleas and wisteria through spring.
The island of Daikonshima, in the middle of brackish Lake Nakaumi outside central Matsue, is a centre for peony-growing in Japan. In the Edo period the local farmers realised that the volcanic soil of the island was especially good for growing ginseng and peonies. The peonies are seen to perfection at Yushien, a garden on the island, where each spring a peony festival celebrates the 250 varieties grown in the garden.
Strolling around Yushien Garden, in and out of the dappled shade of Japanese maples, over stone bridges, across zigzagging stepping stones is a simple pleasure, but peonies are the prize and in May the lake in the garden is a pink profusion of floating peonies.
The meticulously maintained gardens here wrap around the museum like paintings – to be viewed not walked. The Japanese landscape is represented in garden form, as islands, forests, bamboo glades, pine-topped mountains, rushing rivers and the swirling sea. Unlike the paintings inside the museum, the living masterpieces outside change with each season, but are always spectacular.
Start an exploration from the moated castle, visit the wooden samurai houses that line the canal and house antiques shops and cafes, enjoy the fragrance of rambling wisteria and spring shrubs and take a ride on one of the canal boats – you’ll need to lie down flat when the boat ducks under a low bridge.
Along the canal-side samurai street is Ya Kumoan, one of this town’s most famous restaurants. On the menu are Izuma soba noodles made from buckwheat and served in a three-tiered lacquerware bowl, stacked with sauce and toppings including nori, shredded radish and green onion. For dessert there’s delicious matcha-flavoured cloud cake that melts in your mouth.
Our new tour, Japan Spring Flower Festivals, takes in the peonies of Matsue, as well as azaleas and wisteria and the art island of Naoshima. Check the full itinerary at www.rosstours.com or call Royce or Ros on 1300 233 200.
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