The Treasures of Inuyama
Inuyama is a gorgeous large town by western standards. It is located in Aichi Prefecture. There is plenty to eat, see and soak up in one day. It is a simple place to reach for visitors from Kyoto and Nagoya and is a thirty minute train journey from both Nagoya and Gifu City. The castle was founded by Gifu’s historical hero, the grandfather of Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga’s family is one of the most interesting stories of sixteenth century Japan and Inuyama castle is the oldest wooden castle in Japan.
It was built in 1537 and one experiences an authentic sense of Meiji Era Japan as one enters. The stairs are thick and steep, and climbed by young Japanese children and senior citizens with equal verve. Interestingly, the floors are kept basic which adds to the atmosphere. But they do include the Inuyama Artifacts Museum with samurai outfits, and the Karakuri exhibition room for puppet lovers. On the whole, I can see why Inuyama castle is considered a treasure.
The castle is an ode (no pun intended) to the people who live in the area today, as much as the people from the old days. Sato San has been a volunteer guide there for over four years. During that time he has guided more than 1200 visitors. Mr Sato enjoys the opportunity to speak English to people, and he enjoys showing guests around Inuyama. He explained that he does this because ‘’Inuyama has two national treasures and special traditions, especially during the festival’’.
Beth Baldwin is from Newcastle in the United Kingdom and she will remember her visit to Inuyama Castle last autumn for the rest of her life. ‘’The castle was well maintained and I was surprised by how much tradition had been preserved. My first thought was how scenic and pretty it was. Then I ascended the stairs and was blown away. It was worth it though. I particularly liked the top floor because it had old pictures of the former visitors to the castle. The view from the top was also excellent’’, she said.
At the foot of the castle stands the Haritsuna Shrine which leads visitors to and through Jokamachi district. This is a long street which contains many restaurants and stalls which sell traditional Japanese snacks on sticks, delicious soft cream and delicious ramen. There is no need to buy anything, though. If culture is your thing, then observe the ancient boats which lie at the entrance of buildings, and spend time visiting the small and detailed museums. But beware; the street is closed on Thursdays.
There is also a lively festival held every year. It dates back to 1635 and according to the locals; it is an ode to the positive relationship between the lord of the castle and the people in the town. 13 floats are carried through the town and many stalls are opened for the occasion, puppets are showcased, and there is a night procession. Mr Sato spoke highly about the festival and actively encourages foreigners to attend. It takes place on the first Saturday and Sunday of April every year.
In summary, Inuyama is a pleasure for visitors who are interested in Japanese history, albeit the 16th – 17th century and aftermath of Oda Nobunga or the Meiji period. However, because of its accessibility, Jokamachi district, and friendly guides, I highly recommend it. It is easy to hop on the train from Gifu or Nagoya City. One final piece of advice, take a walk around the sides of the castle for there are some beautiful lakes and bridges which are sublime during the cherry blossom season.