Cycling Explorations in Hagi and Iwami
About Hagi Iwami Airport
Located a 90-minute flight from Tokyo, Hagi Iwami Airport is located on the southwestern edge of Shimane Prefecture in the city of Masuda. While Hagi is located about an hour drive from the airport in neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture, the latter part of the namesake Iwami is about a 2.5 hour drive away.
Geographically remote from larger cities, Hagi Iwami Airport offers two daily round-trip flights from Tokyo, as well as one daily round-trip flight from Osaka on a limited seasonal basis. Visitors can fly into Hagi Iwami Airport in the morning and arrive before lunchtime with the rest of the day to spare.
Cyclists are especially welcomed in this part of Japan. Upon arrival and before departure, visitors may utilize the cycle station on the first floor of the airport to assemble or pack their bikes, as well as change into cycling-appropriate outfits. Those coming empty-handed can venture just 15 minutes to the Masuda Sightseeing Information Center near Masuda train station to choose from a wide range of rental bikes, including road bikes, city bikes, and children’s bikes.
Rolling Out to Tsuwano
Starting from Hagi Iwami Airport, we hopped on our bikes and embarked on our journey of about 35KM or 22 miles towards Tsuwano. Far from the city, there is very little vehicular traffic and with mostly flat roads, it’s an easy bike ride to town. Leisure cyclists can expect to take about three hours.
We cycle alongside the Takatsu River, a spectacularly clean body of water known for its purity. Freshwater fish with a preference for clear waters, such as ayu and Japanese eels, can be caught seasonally. On the bike, you’ll see large fields sprawl lazily around the river and an idyllic landscape spread out for miles.
After the first 25KM (about 15 miles) from the airport to Tsuwano, the Takatsu River will gradually turn to the Tsuwano River. At this point, Mt. Aono will become visible in the distance.
An old volcano, Mt. Aono plays an important role in the region’s farming and agriculture. Rainwater that soaks into Mt. Aono becomes mineral-dense and is ideal for growing rice and tea.
At the foot of Mt. Aono is Chaen Shusuien, a tea plantation known for cultivating an exquisite green tea. Their mamecha tea can be enjoyed and purchased at the tea garden shop; those interested in immersing more deeply into the art and craft of Japanese green tea may be interested in attending the workshop (Japanese only).
A Stop at Tsuwano
After passing the tea garden and traversing a small pass, you’ll bike right into the heart of Tsuwano.
Sometimes referred to as ‘Little Kyoto’, Tsuwano retains a distinctly Edo period vibe untouched by time. Lacking garish signs and modern elements, the townscape is reminiscent of Japan in days long past with historical samurai homes, old sake breweries, and vintage shopfronts.
To fully experience Tsuwano, visitors are encouraged to stop by the Furuhashi sake brewery, Kasen sake brewery, and the Tsuwano Catholic Church.
Symbolic of old merchant activity and traditional Japanese architecture, Tonomachi-dori (Tonomachi Street) is a quaint visitor destination in the heart of Tsuwano.
On both sides of Tonomachi Street, thousands of large colorful koi swim freely in the canals. Contrasted with the blooming of iris flowers in early June, this part of Tsuwano is especially picturesque in the warmer months.
The town of Tsuwano boasts three breweries making sake from locally-sourced water and locally-grown rice. In particular, groundwater from wells around Tsuwano are thought to be among the cleanest in Japan. Unlike the hard water found in most parts of Japan, the water in Tsuwano is soft and makes for a more satisfying taste.
Enjoy a relaxing walk along the quiet streets lined with traditional buildings made of dark wood and white mortar. From sake breweries and storefronts to well-preserved samurai residences and a folk history museum, the street possesses a nostalgic vibe reminiscent of daily life centuries ago.
Taikodani Inari Shrine
Tsuwano is home to one of Japan’s five great inari shrines, the Taikodani Inari Jinja (Taikodani Inari Shrine).
Built in the mid-18th century, this particular Shinto shrine is a visitor-friendly spiritual landmark meant to protect Tsuwano Castle (now in ruins) against evil spirits.
Visitors must pass through a photo-worthy tunnel of more than a thousand vermillion torii gates to reach the main shrine grounds. With nearly 300 steps leading uphill, you’ll want to wear your walking shoes for the 15-minute climb!
Arts, Culture, and Food in Tsuwano
Compared to other parts of Japan, Tsuwano’s culture and traditions are unlike much of the country. Largely attributed to its far-flung geographical location, Tsuwano’s performance arts in particular are especially distinct.
Among their traditions, a beautiful dance that is performed once annually on July 20 can only be witnessed in Tsuwano. In this dance, two dancers dressed in white costumes imitate the elegant, graceful movements of herons dancing.
Nearby, another traditional performance art and entertainment has roots in the Iwami region. Every year, the Iwami Kagura takes place in October as a means of demonstrating gratitude for the autumn harvest.
As farmers rejoice in their harvest, crops are gifted to the gods, ritualistic dances are performed in elaborate costumes, and the celebrations are accompanied by rhythms from traditional Japanese instruments.
As with most journeys, food plays an integral role in both nourishment and adventure. During the summer, local ayu (sweetfish) and eel make for delightful freshwater catches.
Local cuisine is best paired with Tsuwano’s bountiful rice and sake made from the area’s crisp, clean waters.
See you in Tsuwano!
A visit to Tsuwano is exciting year-round! Seasonal events include the Yabusame Shrine in April, Sagi Dance in July, Bon Odori in August, Iwami Kagura in October, and autumn foliage in November. And once in Tsuwano, we recommend using a bicycle to get around town!
Interested? Learn all about Shimane Prefecture, the Iwami region, and the town of Tsuwano here.