Just half an hour from Nagoya is Inuyama, an ancient town that was at one time one of the most important domains of the ruling Oda clan. It is especially reknowned for its stunning castle that overlooks the Kiso River, a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms in spring and the turning of the leaves in autumn. But the town has so much more to recommend it.
However, no review of Inuyama can be complete with out a reference to Inuyama-jo. As well as being one of only 12 Japanese castles remaining from the Edo period, it also holds the distinction of being one of just four castles designated as national treasures, and it is claimed that, with its construction in 1440, it is the oldest castle in the country.
The building itself, which had at one time been under the rule of Oda Nobuyasu (the uncle of the powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga), is made of wood, and the internal plans give the authentic layout of an old Japanese castle, right down to the steep, polished wooden stairs, which can be a little treacherous in your bare feet. Tours in English can be provided by volunteers upon request.
Jokomachi, as the old town is also known, leads down from the castle and is a beautiful area of Edo era buildings, with shops selling everything from souvenirs and handicrafts to local goods and unusual clothing.
There are also a number of restaurants, many of which have English-language menus. A particular local delicacy is tofu dengaku, grilled tofu covered in red miso paste served on a stick, which has been an Inuyama delight for many generations. If you aren’t a fan of tofu, you can also find stalls selling goheimochi (the same thing but with rice cake rather than tofu, pictured above) and ice cream. Try the ‘soft de moriguchi’ pickled radish ice cream if you dare!
Also along Jokomachi you can find the Karakuri Exhibition Room, a small museum displaying the mechanical dolls that ride atop the floats of the famous Inuyama Festival. At the end of the street, sitting at the foot of the castle, is Sanko Inari Shrine, which is distinctive for its heart-shaped ’ema’ prayer cards.
Designated a National Treasure in 1936, Teahouse Joan was designed by Oda Urakusai, younger brother to the aforementioned warrior Nobunaga, and was first built in Kyoto in 1618 in the grounds of the Kyoto temple Kennin-ji. Urakusai, a great enthusiast for the tea ceremony who would renounce his own violent past, was a disciple of Sen no Rikyu, Japan’s most famous tea ceremony master, and in accordance with the strict rites and aesthetics of the Tea Ceremony, the teahouse is of a simple design. It has low, wooden shingle roofs and clay-clad bamboo lattices, and peering inside you can see a number of unique ‘fusuma’ paper sliding doors, as well as an ancient lunar calendar. Classic, elegant, strikingly simple, it is considered by many to be a masterpiece of teahouse architecture, and one of Japan’s three finest teahouses.
Befitting of the home of such a charming representation of a nation’s cultural heritage, Urakuen Japanese Garden is designed with the aesthetic of the tea ceremony in mind. Named after Urakusai himself (the name roughly means Uraku’s gardens) like the teahouse, Urakuen is imbued with the concept of beauty in simplicity. Wandering along the stone-paved paths that cut through bamboo groves, you can feel the calmness and serenity that is associated with one of Japan’s most famous art forms.
The Japan Monkey Center is a zoological garden dedicated to primates from all over the world. It holds around 1,000 primates from 100 species within its 250,000m² grounds. Thanks to this vast expansive space, the animals can live in a relatively free environment in enclosures that broadly reflect their natural habitats.
There is also a visitor and educational center at which you and your family can learn about how the monkeys live before going on to see the various enclosures of Gibbon Inland, Spider Monkey Inland, Squirrel Monkey Inland as well as troop of Japanese Yaku Valley Monkeys. Be warned that some of the monkeys are given quite a lot of freedom and that there is a ‘drop zone’ over which some primates such as the spider monkeys traverse a specially created wooden bridge. A lot of fun to watch, but there are inherent dangers within!
After watching the jungle VIPs going about their daily life, it could be time for you and your own little monkeys to start monkeying about, which is where the Japan Monkey Park amusement park comes in. Here there are over 35 attractions and rides for your to enjoy.
At Little World Museum of Man (リトルワールド or ‘ritoruwārudo’), the world truly is your oyster. Along a two and a half kilometer walk you get to experience interesting cultures and exciting peculiarities from all around the world. From India to Peru, from Taiwan to Italy, there is barely a part of the globe that is not represented in this fun open-air museum.
Along the path you will find a collection of unique regional villages featuring over 30 authentically recreated houses, buildings and cultural structures, many of which have been relocated from their original sites around the globe, shipped to Inuyama, and expertly recreated here. Particularly impressive are the Nepalese Buddhist Monastery, the mud huts of the Burkino Faso Kassena compound, and the German Bayern village (above).
Overlooking picturesque lake Iruka, Meiji Mura is a lovingly-recreated village displaying over 60 original buildings from Japan’s Meiji era, a time of great architectural advancement. Following the rapid industrial expansion in post-war Japan, many of the older brick and stone buildings from the Meiji period were torn down to make way for the advancement of newer buildings.
Having been greatly distressed by the destruction of Tokyo’s Rokumeiekan building in 1941, perhaps the predominant symbol of the Meiji era’s dalliance with western style construction, architect Yoshiro Taniguchi petitioned his friend and then vice president of the Nagoya Railroad, Motoo Tsuchikawa, to assist him in rescuing some of these historical buildings. In 1962 a foundation was formed and using funds provided by Nagoya Railroad, the pair set to the task of finding and then relocating the buildings for their theme park-like museum. You can easily spend an entire day wandering the grounds, riding old buses and trains and eating Meiji era delights
Image: Creative Commons “Castle in Inuyama” by ThorstenS (CC BY-SA 3.0) -Modified
Image: by Bong Grit via flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Image: by Yuya Tamai via flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Image: by Vanessa via flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Image: by あやがね via flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Image: by Mark Guthrie (Own Work)