By Rey Waters
If you're someone who enjoys finding pockets of tranquility among the hustle and bustle of city life, Gesshoji Temple in Matsue is a spot to check out. The grounds are incredibly peaceful, and were frequented by the well known writer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in the area for a period of time.
The temple is perhaps most well known for the large stone tortoise which Hearn mentioned in some of his writing, describing it as the "monster tortoise of Gesshoji". Legend has it that if you rub the tortoises head you'll be blessed with a long life, but you might need to get up on your tiptoes to reach - its head alone stands about 2 meters off the ground.
Gesshoji Temple is also known as being a prime spot to enjoy the ajisai, or hydrangeas that give the rainy season those beautiful pops of color. If you time your visit right, you'll be able to enjoy them in all their glory. Even if you happen to visit outside the timeframe to enjoy the hydrangeas in bloom, the grounds are still stunning to walk around - there's everything from tall growing bamboo to lotus flowers that dot one of the ponds.
One of the most enjoyable things about a visit to Gesshoji Temple is the teahouse. For 400 yen you're able to savor some matcha and wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets, and soak up the view of the garden that the tea house faces out towards.
If you're an international visitor to Japan, or a foreign resident living here, don't forget to bring your passport or alien registration card when you visit. You get half price off your admission to the temple if you present either of those documents, from 500 yen down to 250 yen. Many of Matsue's tourist attractions have similar advertised discounts for foreign guests, making it a fascinating and cost effective city to explore.
The easiest way to get there is via the Lakeline "loop bus" that departs every 20 minutes from Matsue Station. Gesshoji Temple has a dedicated stop along the route. A one trip ticket on the Lakeline bus is 200 yen, or you can purchase an unlimited daily pass for 500 yen to do more exploring around Matsue.
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