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Matsue: where spirits loved by Yakumo Koizumi live

Last month, the first party of the Mystery Ghost Tour, which is organized by nonprofit organization Matsue Tourism Kenkyukai, visited the tree.
According to tour leader Bon Koizumi, the Mystery Ghost Tour visits various locations by bus in the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture where people can experience the feeling of awe before nature or at sites where mysterious legends are passed down and animate the surroundings.
http://www.yado.co.jp/kankou/kumamoto/kumamsi/kyagumo/kyagumo03.jpg http://www.npo-idn.com/0301hyousi.jpg

Participants are made aware of the destination of the six-hour daytime tour only after the trip has started.
Koizumi, a professor at University of Shimane Junior College, is the great-grandson of author Yakumo Koizumi (born Lafcadio Hearn), who lived in Matsue for a year beginning in the summer of 1890.
The study group has also organized a Matsue Ghost Tour walking trip since 2008, in which participants visit locations that served as backgrounds to Yakumo's ghost stories, such as shrines, temples or Matsue Castle in the evening. Under the guidance of legend-teller Sakiko Najima, 66, I took part in the tour--in addition to the Mystery Ghost Tour--which started at the castle after 5 p.m.

According to legend, when the castle was being constructed nearly 400 years ago, a Bon Odori Festival was held at Ninomaru square at the castle on a summer evening when the main tower was near completion. A young woman named Otsuru went missing that evening, and rumors spread that she had been made a human sacrifice for the sake of building the castle. During the following year's Bon Festival, the main castle is said to have started shaking on its own to the rhythm of a taiko drum.
"People began saying that the shaking of the castle was due to Otsuru twisting and turning out of her desire to dance. Since then, the clan leader banned Bon Festivals within its domain," Najima continued. "Bon Odori are still not held around the castle--no one dares, because it is frightening."

I then headed to Gesshoji temple to the west of the castle after visiting several sites, including Jozan Inari Shrine, home to 2,000 stone fox statues, which Yakumo often visited. At the temple, a gigantic stone turtle greeted me. Above the five-meter-long, 23-ton statue, which is said to have interested Yakumo greatly, is a 3.5-meter-high, 11.5-ton stone monument. Looking at the face of the turtle or its long, humanlike toes in the dim light, I felt as if the turtle was about to move like the one in the legend touched on by Yakumo.
I returned to Matsue Castle and found the main tower illuminated palely between the dark silhouette of the trees. Partly because it was Sunday evening, the town had become very dark. Although people say it became darker in Tokyo after the March 11 earthquake, the darkness in Matsue was incomparable.
Standing under the giant tree, which is dark even in the daytime, and listening to ghost stories in the evening in the castle town changes how you see the world. I thought I would return there if I felt like I was losing this sense of awe for nature or if I forgot the vulnerability of human beings.

By TS on Jul 4, 2011
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Author:T. SATOH