Shimane Prefecture, on the southwestern portion of Honshu, is a region of Japan well known for their tea and wagashi culture. Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, usually made with ingredients like mochi, anko (red bean paste) and fruits. Many wagashi are gorgeously ornate in nature, and if you want to enjoy some of them for yourself, there’s no better place to do it than in Shimane’s capital of Matsue. If you’re contemplating a trip to the region to soak up the tea and wagashi culture, here are three of the best ways to do that.
The up-close experience
If you want to see wagashi being made up-close by someone with decades of experience, look no further than the Kissa Kiharu Cafe (喫茶きはる), which is sneakily tucked inside the Matsue History Museum (松江歴史館). The master wagashi maker at the cafe is Tsugio Itami (伊丹 二夫), who makes some of the most intricately designed sweet treats you’re likely to see in your life. Many of his creations are seasonally inspired, with plenty of beautiful floral pieces to choose from. The piece I chose to enjoy with my tea was even topped with a little piece of gold leaf – fancy! When you sit down on the tatami floor to sip your tea here, you’re greeted with some fantastic traditional garden views, and Matsue Castle off in the distance.
- The Matsue History Museum is located at 279 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, 690-0887.
- Head inside the museum, and the Kissa Kiharu Cafe is to your right.
- You are able to visit just the cafe without paying for admission to the museum itself, but if you do want to learn some more about the history of Matsue it is well worth the visit.
The hands-on experience
If you’ve marveled at the intricacy of these sweets and wondered how you’d fare at making them yourself, the Karakoro Art Studio (カラコロ工房) gives you the opportunity to give it a try! For only 1,350 yen, you can attend one of their hands-on classes where you’re able to make a couple of different wagashi varieties, and all the materials and tools are right there waiting for you. The classes run for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, and are held daily at 11 AM and 2 PM every day except Wednesdays. The classes are capped at 20 participants a session so they do advise prior bookings, however I turned up an hour before a class without a reservation and there was still room for me to attend.
- The Karakoro Art Studio (link in Japanese) is situated at 43 Tonomachi, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken 690-0887, approximately 20 minutes on foot from Matsue Station.
- An easier way to get there is via the Lakeline City Loop Tourist Bus which departs regularly from the station itself. There is a dedicated stop for the art studio.
The temple experience
Gesshoji Temple (月照寺) is one of the most well-known temples in Matsue. It was frequented by the writer Lafcadio Hearn, and it’s a gorgeous spot in the rainy season when the hydrangea bushes are all in bloom. No matter the time of year you visit the region, however, a stop at the teahouse on the temple grounds is worth your while. For just a few hundred yen, you’re able to enjoy some freshly whisked matcha and some wagashi while you appreciate the garden views. Be sure to spend some time wandering the dreamy temple grounds before or after your tea break, too!
- Gesshoji Temple is located at 179 Sotonakabaracho, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture 690-0875.
- The easiest way to get there is using the Lakeline City Loop Tourist Bus that departs from Matsue Station. There is a dedicated stop for the temple.