Monday, June 28, 2010

Inuyama Castle

Of the once 40,000 castles thought to have been built in Japan throughout history, there are about 50 that remain today, including castle ruins. Only twelve of these castles were not burned in and rebuilt after World War II (sorry Japan, for destroying your history). Four of those castles have been given the title of National Treasures since 1951 based on their "especially high historical or artistic value." Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture is the most visited castle in Japan and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other National Treasures are Matsumoto Castle in Nagano prefecture, Hikone Castle in Shiga prefecture, and Inuyama Castle in Aichi prefecture.

If Nagoya castle was pretty, I don't even know what adjective to use in describing Inuyama Castle.

It was a little walk from the subway station, but it was along a river and we could see the castle up on a hill and it was beautiful. All you can see in this picture is the main tenshu and the watchtower on top of it. The castle was built in 1440, making it the oldest castle in Japan, but it has undergone many renovations and changes, and the construction wasn't complete until 1620.

We got to the castle hot and sweaty after our walk up there, only to find that there was more to go. A huge rock saying 'Inuyama Castle' is very misleading when you haven't actually reached the castle yet.
Since all of the Japanese kids are taking finals for the next to weeks, it's just the foreigners who get to have fun. From left to right it's Mary and Adena, both YFU students in Nagoya this summer. The Japanese characters from left to right are 'inu' (dog), 'yama' (mountain), and 'jo' (castle). The kanji above The castle are the kanji for national treasure.
The next leg of our journey was not as long, and it was much more scenic. We were surrounded by trees, we could see and hear the river flowing past, and we passed this really cool Shinto shrine on our way up. In the building of the castle Harigane Shrine actually had to be moved, but I don't think it has anything to do with this shrine.
And since all of the Japanese castles kept getting burned, the city of Inuyama decided to put up signs that prohibit lighting fires when visiting Inuyama Castle.
The final and most treacherous leg of our journey. Japanese people in the 1500s and 1600s must have had amazing legs.
After conquering the hill we finally found some English guidebooks and entered the main castle courtyard. From the road we had only been able to see the top of the castle and, even though it wasn't a very big castle, it was really impressive.
The part on top of the castle is the watchtower. In fact, the architecture of the watchtower was such an old style that it lead historians to believe for many years that the Inuyama Castle donjon, or tenshu, was the oldest in Japan. Later, it was discovered that Maruoka Castle was built in 1576, whereas construction on the Inuyama donjon wasn't started until 1601 and was completed in 1620. On the bottom right you can also see one of the towers, which was completed in 1537.

A little description they had by the tiny model of the Inuyama Castle donjon.

There were probably close to a hundred of these little pieces of wood, each with different Japanese characters on them and I could not even come close to deciphering what they were. I asked my host sister, who had to ask someone else, and we finally found an answer. On each piece of wood was the name of a daimyo (the equivalent of a feudal lord in Japan) and a number. The number was the height of the area of the castle that each lord was commissioned to build, and the higher the number the more important the lord.

There was a room with all of the castles in Japan. This one is for Katie.

As we went up, the view from the windows got better and better. The view from the window that was meant for dropping stones on invaders was especially great because it was a huge window. The when we got to the top floor here the watchtower was, there was an entire balcony that you could walk around on, regardless of how short the railing was or how slippery the wood under our feet was from 400 years of use. The top of the watchtower is about 62 feet, so the balcony was probably 50 feet above the ground, maybe a little less. When you add that 50 feet to the height of the hill the castle was built on, the watchtower is very tall and the surrounding area is a very flat plain and the Kiso River. So, you can imagine the view. Inuyama City, and maybe Mt. Hongu somewhere in the background.
This is the Kiso River, and I think this is Kakamigahara City and that there is a Mt. Atago in the background. I could be wrong though.
Fun fact of the day: Every house in Japan that has this Japanese style roof has a design on the ends of the roof, and each design is different. Nagoya Castle had sakura blossoms on the tiles, Inuyama Castles has clovers (or at least that's what they look like), and I'll have to check the designs on the roof of my house. I'll report back soon though.
I don't know if it was worse coming down or going up, but the stairs in the castle were the steepest stairs I've ever seen. It was more like climbing a ladder than walking up stairs. This picture doesn't really do the stairs justice. TO put things in perspective though, one step went over halfway up my calf, and Mary's about to be perilously close to smacking her head on the beam above the stairs here. I was more than perilously close, and it hurt.
Once we got down from the castle it was already lunch time, since everyone had worked up an appetite climbing up and down stairs and mountains. We were visiting on a Monday morning so everything in Inuyama was sleepy and a little depressing, but we found a noodle shop to eat in.
There's my host sister going inside through the noren, the hanging banners used to tell if a shop is open or not.
There were a lot of us, so we got the long table that was about a foot and a half off of the ground, and it did not have any place to put your feet under the table. There was also no air conditioning, which isn't uncommon in Japan, so in addition to our legs being in pain and falling asleep, we were dripping with sweat. Sometimes a fan is just not enough.
I ordered tsukimi udon, which literally means moon-viewing udon. I knew it had egg in it, the big, round yolk is where the name moon-viewing comes from. I had forgotten that the egg was raw. Usually tsukimi udon is served hot and the egg slowly cooks, but since everything else was hot, I ordered cold soup. So, I ate raw egg yesterday and I won't forget tsukimi udon is in the future (even though raw egg doesn't taste like much).
After lunch we went to Little World, a sort of wooded park area where there are houses and foods from all around the world; Okinawa, Tanzania, Italy, the Great, Plains, Nepal, and about 16 other countries. My camera died in the first country, so no pictures. We stopped by a gelato place in Italy and I had 'kashisu' gelato (everyone else got mango), but no one could tell me what kashisu was, only that it was sour. When I got home and used Google translator, I found out that kashisu is black currant, and that black currant gelato is very good.
While we were waiting for a bus, everyone went into a department store in seek of air conditioning and an ATM. In the department store I came across this banner: So far this is the closest I've gotten to Matsujun, Feruza. I'm still on the lookout though, so don't be disappointed yet.
After Little World we napped on the bus back to Inuyama Station, took a train to Sakae, the downtown district of Nagoya, and wet to a really cool okonomiyaki restaurant. The restaurant had a place to put your feet, thank god. I also tried my first Japanese doughnut yesterday (green tea and azuki bean) and I'm addicted. I ate two more this morning. There will be an entire post about how wonderful Japanese doughnuts are a little ways down the road.


Katie B said...

Also an original, thank you very much! ;D

Rena your blog is rearry rearry sugoi! It is of very much enjoy during the moment of the jockstrap.

And why are you worried about getting close to Matsujun?! What about NINOO??

Lena Ray said...

Aw thaaanks :)
Feruza sent me on a mission to meet him, get a picture with him, and sing 'Kimi no tame ni, Fifi ga iru!' I think I do like Nino better though. If I meet either one, I'll get them to introduce me to the other one.

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