Gifu Prefecture is lucky to have so many old castle towns due to being a crossroad between the east and west of Japan. Gifu’s strategic location made it a valuable area to control during the samurai age of Japan. There was a famous saying during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period “Control Gifu and you control Japan”.
One such town is Iwamura, a former Edo period castle town located in the Ena District of Gifu Prefecture. The area is famous for its beautiful scenic landscapes and valleys.
Photo: つだ on FlickrThe best place to start your visit of Iwamura is at Iwamura Station. From the station you can make your way up the famous historical street of the old part of town called Iwamura Jouka Machi to Iwamura Castle. The atmosphere of the old street and historical buildings lets you feel what a castle town would have been like during the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868).
Recent construction which was completed in March 2013 has placed all the modern-day necessities of electric wires and telephone poles underground, which adds to the authentic feel of this old street, and you truly feel like you have left the modern world behind and taken a step back in time here.
The street is lined with Edo period houses with many of the traditional buildings now shops, galleries and museums.
Make sure you stop for some local food on the way as well. A must try is the goheimochi, which is a grilled rice cake that is skewed and basted in a thick sweet miso sauce.
At the end of the town you will find Iwamura Castle, which is regarded as one of Japan’s “Three Great Mountaintop Castles”. The castle was first founded in 1185 and is Japan’s highest elevated castle at 717 meters above sea level.
Photo: kurokayo on FlickrThis mountain fortress was extremely difficult to attack due to its location high in the mountains but it also had nature on its side as a natural defence. The land around the castle was often blanketed in a deep fog, which made the castle hard to see and was used as a natural camouflage for the castle. This lead to the cool nickname of “Kiriga-jo” or “The Misty Castle”.
Photo: kurokayo on FlickrThe castle was once ruled over by the aunt of the famous samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga. Today you can see adorning the eaves of the houses in the castle town blue curtains that contain the name of the female lord of Iwamura Castle, which is a nice reminder of its historical past.
The castle survived the samurai period up until the Meiji Restoration when it was dismantled and destroyed. The stone foundations and some stone walls still remain and the set of ruins are considered one of Japan’s 100 finest castles to this very day.
Photo: kurokayo on FlickrThe old streets and historic castle town of Iwamura in the picturesque Ena district of Gifu Prefecture has a history of over 400 years, and is a beautiful reminder of what an Edo period castle town would have looked like back in the day of the samurai.
Address: Honmachi, Iwakura-cho, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture 509-7403
Take the JR Chuo Line from Nagoya to Ena, which is around 70 minutes. From Ena you can take the Akechi Railway to Iwamura Station with the journey taking around 30 minutes. Iwamura Castle is walking distance from the station.