Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Inuyama Castle Town

My plan was to spend two days in Inuyama City, but because the typhoon left me with no choice but to shorten my stay, I spent the one day I had exploring the city's castle town.

Inuyama's manhole cover features Inuyama Castle and cormorant fishing

Just a 7-minute walk from where I was staying was Honmachi-dori, the street which leads to Inuyama Castle. But Honmachi-dori is not just any ordinary street, it is a street flanked with many old, interesting buildings—a street with an old-timey feel.

Stroll along Honmachi-dori in a kimono

One of the old buildings along Honmachi-dori is the Old Isobe House 旧磯部家住宅, a restored merchant house, which is open to the public from 9AM to 5PM daily for free. This house was owned by a family who ran a kimono shop. Looking at it from the front, it looks small. But don't let that fool you. Let it fool the tax man: the narrower the front, the lesser the tax, because taxes in the Edo Period depended on just the frontage width. The Old Isobe House is narrow, but long—typical of machiya townhouses (shop and residence in one). 

The property consists of the main house, a back parlor, and storehouses. The main house is what we can see from the street. This was built sometime between 1865 to 1868. The back parlor was built in 1870, and the storehouses, which are situated at the far end of the property, was built in 1875.

 Old Isobe House

Inside the Old Isobe House

Like most areas visited by tourists, some of the buildings in Honmachi-dori have been turned into souvenirs shops, restaurants, snack stalls. But, no matter, it means I won't have any problem if I get hungry. An eye-catching one was Inuyama Inouetei, a restaurant with two very long radishes hanging from its eaves. But, too early for lunch, I settle for a stick of goheimochi at Yamada Goheimochiten instead.

Very long radishes hanging from the eaves of Inuyama Inouetei

 Yamada Goheimochiten


At the end of Honmachi-dori are two Torii gates. I go through the red one and pass by Sanko Inari Shrine and Haritsuna Shrine on my way to Inuyama Castle.

Sanko Inari Shrine includes many small shrines where you can pray for luck, for finding a husband/wife, and for money. The shrine has a pathway with rows of red torii and an area where, if you want to increase your wealth, you should wash your money. I want to have a ton of money so I could afford to go to Japan often and/or stay longer, but I do not want to bring wet money. Dilemma! Guess I will have to settle for short once-a-year trips.

Sanko Inari Shrine

The ema (wishing plaques) at Sanko Inari Shrine

A statue of a white horse in Haritsuna Shrine

What catches my eye at Haritsuna Shrine is the statue of a white horse. No idea what its significance is. If you know, please tell me.

I leave Haritsuna Shrine and its unmoving white horse behind and take the inclined pathway which leads to the gate of Inuyama Castle (open daily from 9AM to 5PM). But first, I buy a ticket at the ticket booth (the admission fee is 550 yen; combo ticket with Urakuen Garden is 1300 yen).

A friendly, elderly, smiley man, who is a volunteer at Inuyama Castle, greets me as I enter the castle grounds and offers to take my photo. I oblige: I will have at least one proper photo of myself during this solo trip. He tells me where to stand and snaps a photo with Inuyama Castle as my background.

Inuyama Castle, built in 1537, is one of the twelve castles in Japan that has survived natural disasters and wars. I enter the castle (with shoes off) and follow the designated path through all four floors (the castle is empty) until I reach the topmost floor and its wraparound balcony that offers a view of the town and of Kiso River. 

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle grounds

Kiso River

After visiting Inuyama Castle, I make my way back down, passing the shrines, until I reach the main road and walk half a kilometer to Urakuen Garden (open daily from 9AM to 5PM; admission fee is 1000 yen or buy the combo ticket with Inuyama Castle for 1300 yen).

There are three tea houses in Urakuen Garden: Koan, Jo-an, and Genan. The most important of which is Jo-an Tea House, a designated National Treasure. Beside Jo-An Tea House stands Shoden-in Shoin, a study room. Both buildings were built in 1618 and were originally located in Kyoto. Both were transferred to Urakuen Garden in 1972 and the interiors can only be viewed from outside.

Koan Tea House

 Jo-an Tea House

Inside Jo-an Tea House

It was a beautiful, serene stroll through the lush greens of Urakuen Garden (although it was autumn when I visited, the garden was a still green). Once I had circled the garden and seen its three tea houses, I paused at the exit. One of the staff saw me and asked where I'm from. He happily told me he'd been to the Philippines many years ago and bid me follow him to the garden (thinking I had just arrived) where we wove our way to Koan Tea House. Outside Koan Tea House, he showed me its tsukubai, a wash basin, used for ritual cleansing before a tea ceremony. At a glance, the tsukubai did not seem particularly interesting, but upon his invitation to lean closer and listen, there the secret was revealed: a beautiful tinkling sound, like that of a Japanese Koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument). If not for the brief pause I took at the exit earlier and him spotting me at that moment, I wouldn't have discovered this little secret. I thanked him for his time and took my time strolling through this garden a second time.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Chubu Challenge 2017

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