Izumo Taisha is the oldest shrine in Japan, claiming to predate even the Ise Grand Shrine. From a map I saw, but could not read in detail--I promise I will keep studying--it seems to line up with Ise in the path of the sun, on the opposite side of the country.
Here is the deepest source and preservation of the history of Japan and its basis in Shinto, the way of the kami. The very ground is steeped in ancient spirituality. Gagaku music, the sacred music of the shines and the court, plays everywhere.
It's definitely not Buddhist. This is true even though a miko born in 1572 called Izumo no Okuni left the shrine and performed dance and music from the sacred heritage to raise money for one of the periodic reconstructions, known as sengu. Since this was very unusual, she was called kabukimono, or one acting against social norms.
Eventually, she created a theatre company called Okuni Ichiza performing Kabuki Odori or dance, as a continuing source of fundraising for the shrine. Unfortunately, it became so popular it was widely imitated by more commercial entertainers, including courtesans and yujo (less expensive and discriminating sex workers). In 1629, Tokgawa Iyeasu forbade women from performing in this style. Izumo no Okuni retired to become a Buddhist nun at a temple near Izumo Taisha and kabuki theatre was officially established as a male art form, though there are currently a couple of small all-woman companies.
Buddhism and Shinto have thus coexisted very peacefully for centuries, with Buddhism focusing on the enlightenment of the individual practitioner, while Shinto concentrates on interacting with the kami to solicit their help with daily life of the land and the people. Or so I understand it.
Izumo Taisha is enormous, and hosts one of the largest festivals anywhere, the annual meeting of the kami, in October, "Kamiarizuki" (month of the kami) in Izumo, but called called "Kannazuki" (month without kami) every where else, because they have all come to Izumo Taisha to discuss the coming year. There is literally a motel-of-the-kami in which all the kami who arrive on the beach and are escorted up to the shrine are housed during this event.
Like many events here, people can attend the various rituals surrounding this, and there are snatches of photographs and videos here and there, but photography seems very much discouraged.
In fact, my presence was discouraged, seemingly by the kami themselves.
I actually planned this trip to see the former home of the writer Lafcadio Hearn, now a museum, located by Matsue Castle on Lake Shinji, not far from Izumo and known for spectacular scenery. He didn't live there long, and it's not a fabulous museum, but it's fun, especially if one enjoys his works on Japan, a country he embraced to the point of becoming a citizen, immersing himself in folklore, faith and culture. Of course, I like him.
I also was on the lookout for snow, since Tokyo, on the Kanto Plain, is one of the very few areas of Honshu (main island) that doesn't get inundated with the stuff, owing to the placement of the mountains. Anyway, I am a train fan and not only is there a train, there is a special overnight sleeper train called the Sunrise Izumo. How could I resist?
It actually splits into two parts at Okayama, with half going to Takamatsu on Shikoku and the other half going across the mountains (snow!) to Izumo. I got the second level of one person sleeper cabins, the "Deluxe" Single being slightly bigger than a breadbox and unavailable. My Single was smaller than a breadbox and makes a capsule cabin on the ferry look spacious. There's a smaller cabin still, and a couple of twin versions, with bunks, and very large sort of divided carpeted area for those who don't value privacy as much. It takes 12 hours for the Izumo run. There are some drink machines, but you have to bring food. Of course, the station vendors take advantage of this. And the run takes place at night. So the time to do it would be in high summer, of course, when the sun is out most of the time and the mountain scenery is visible. But if you turn out your lights and open your shade, it's possible to see a lot, especially on the way over after the sun come ups.
Yes, there was snow. The area has plenty of mist and fog as the train runs through steep mountains along a river valley. The snow stretches like a blanket until it merges into the mist and clouds. Nicer than it looks!
The hotel I could book was in Matsue, near the Hearn museum and halfway between Izumo and Mt. Daisan, where I hoped to see plenty of snow, falling. Naturally, the instant I left Tokyo snow was forecast and did in fact fall there, though it didn't stick around and Sunday was quite warm. But I could spend Thursday, the day I got in, at Izumo Taisha, take a fun little electric train around Lake Shinji, go off to Mt. Daisen, and then visit the Hearn museum and adjacent attractions, and get the train back from Matsue. It almost worked.