A thing about castles….

Probably the most famous castle in Japan is Himeji Castle. It is nearish to Osaka. From our first trip in 2009 I wanted to see it, but it underwent a long period of restoration and it wasn’t until our 2015 trip that we got there. And it is spectacular. We had a volunteer guide on that day and he made sure that we saw every. single. thing. that there was to see. It was nearly the end of us!

But Himeji was not our first castle, nor our last. In fact it has become rather a thing with us. Osaka. Kumamoto. Kagashima. Kochi. Matsue. And on it goes. And eventually one begins to have opinions. Wilf has become interested in finding the oldest and most un-altered castles. Turns out – there’s a list of those.

There are five castles in Japan considered National Treasures because they are intact from the time of their construction in the late 1500’s early 1600’s. The castles are Himeji, Matsue, Matsumoto, Inuyama and Hikone. In 2015 we visited Himeji and Matsue. Last year we went to Matsumoto. And on this trip we are going to see the final two.

There are way more than 5 castles still standing in Japan. Many fell down, were taken down, were bombed and then rebuilt. The big five have never suffered such indignities. The rebuilt castles often used modern techiniques – for instance concrete for the tower rather than stone work. Some – looking at you, Osaka – have escalators inside to manage the huge number of visitors.

The original old castles don’t have the creature comforts. They were military installations, not homes. The staircases are more like ladders. The ceilings are low. Because the floors are original wood visitors go stocking foot. And of course – castles are on hills, right? So it is always an adventure to get up to them.

Leaving Nagoya we headed to Inuyama. Turns out we could hop on the subway, ride it until it popped above ground, make one transfer and there we were. When we were discussing the hotel we were mainly considering location – something not too far from the castle. We were walking along the river when we saw the sign for the hotel and turned in. And found ourselves walking through a beautiful park. Eventually we came around a curve and -‘Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more’. A beautiful hotel with the castle perched high above it.

A lovely young lady was standing out front to greet arriving guests. No standing at the counter to check in here. We were escorted to a low table, offered a cool drink and whoosh all the formalities were handled. We were rather distracted by the view from the lobby….

A pond, a park, a castle.

As is so often the case with us – things were not so straightforward. We were too early for the room. We thought we’d walk over to the castle area and scope things out. If the weather co-operated we would see the castle precincts and then go back in the morning to see the the castle proper.

We had hardly got around the corner of the building when the skies opened. Rain like in Singapore. We sort of swam upstream to the area directly below the castle. Inuyama is far enough away from the coast that it didn’t take direct hits during the war and the area directly below the castle has been preserved in a mid-century style. There are many small shops and historical buildings, though the pressure is on to infill with more modern structures.

We walked through part of this shrine, ducking the rain. At the ticket booth for the castle the thunder was booming.

Only a few more stairs before the entrance and shoe removal. (As you can see we didn’t totally miss azalea season!)

And up we go. Most castles have the entrance a story or two above ground (storage in the lower levels behind the stone walls) and then you go up another 3 or 4 levels from there. At least these stairs are stairs – steep ones, but still stairs and not ladders.

Even on a rainy day with a very low ceilings there is a view….

Across the river

The castle grounds looking to the old town with the city beyond.

The requisite model of the castle. The upper walkway is usually open, but not in the rain of the day.

The rain did not pound down all afternoon – came in bursts so we could find places to hide.

One of the things this area is known for is cormorant fishing. The fishermen use cormorant birds to dive for fish at night. The boats have a lantern hanging off them which attracts the fish. The cormorants dive and catch them and the fisherman take the fish from the birds. I doubt the birds – or the fish – enjoy this. Behind the check in desk at the hotel there was this graphic printed on a huge folding screen. I was so busy looking at the blue and white patterns that I couldn’t really see what I was looking at and could not figure out what the orange blobs were. It wasn’t until I took this picture that I realized it was a very stylized rendering of four boats, two of which had lanterns on curved poles hanging over the water…. The blue patterns that caught my attention depict the currents of the water.

The Hotel Indigo Inuyama Urakuen Garden may be the most beautiful hotel we have ever stayed in. Everything was so lovely and well thought out. There was a nationally famous garden on the property but given the monsoon we were experiencing we didn’t visit. Should you find yourself in Nagoya this would be a nice day trip – but even better to experience the hospitality of this hotel.

Author: Sharon

I like to make things. I like to travel. I like to talk about what I'm up to.

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