One thing I love about Japan is that they seem to like ranking attractions of the country as the ‘Top’ this or that. Whether it be gardens, castles or rice fields, be sure that there is a list out there for what you’re looking for. While I’m sure these lists forget to mention many amazing places, there’s still a sense of accomplishment when one visits them all and it definitely helps to promote tourism.
Iwakuni is south of Hiroshima just past the border between prefectures (it’s part of Yamaguchi) and home to one of the Top Three Bridges of Japan! Kintai-kyo, as the bridge is called, was one of the first places I added to my must-visit Japan list —along with Amanohashidate, Hyuga and Naruto— when said list was first created when I was nothing but a 12-year-old, hoping that I would make it there one day. When I found that Iwakuni was so close to Hiroshima there was no doubt I’d be making time for a visit to the city in my itinerary.
Making the most of my 3-day Pass I reached Hiroden Miyajima-guchi Station with the tram for free before transferring onto the JR line for the rest of the ride to Iwakuni. There’s a bus going to Kintai-kyo from Iwakuni Station but I decided to transfer onto another train and get off at the next stop of Nishi-Iwakuni instead, walking about twenty minutes to the bridge from there (it was almost 300 yen cheaper).
Before saying anything about the sightseeing, a bit of Iwakuni’s history will help understand the place. Iwakuni Castle was built in 1608 by Kikkawa Hiroie, he became the head of the Kikkawa clan after the death of his father Motoharu (remember him? Kikkawa Motoharu was one of Mori’s sons who fought in the Battle of Miyajima) and his elder brother, successfully holding the Mori clan together for many years. Even though they are called the Kikkawa clan, they are still related to the Mori clan and were very close. Hiroie did have a pretty interesting history surrounding the Battle of Sekigahara, although I won’t go into details, and after Hiroshima Castle and most of the Mori domain was taken away from Mori Terumoto after the battle, Mori gave Hiroie an area (which appeared to be, of course, Iwakuni) of his new domain of Yamaguchi.
In 1614 Hiroie left the Kikkawa clan in hands of one of his sons, Kikkawa Hiromasa, but the castle was taken apart only seven years after its construction to abide to the ‘one castle per province’ law of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Nobody really talks about the rest of the city since all of the main attractions are in the same area of Kikko Park, but it was a pleasant walk and Iwakuni truly has some good-looking houses on the smaller streets. According to Google Maps it’s only around 1.60km.
Along my walk from the station I stopped at a shrine with the long name of Oshiinô Hachimangu Hongu. It was pretty hard not to take a look around because the stairs leading up to it where lined with red banners that really stood out. Like Gokoku Shrine of Hiroshima Castle, here they also had a chinowa purification ring so I washed away my bad luck once again. I hope that doesn’t cancel out my luck if I do it twice.
I also bought an omamori because the one I bought last year in Takasaki is starting to unthread since I have it as a keyring and it gets tossed around quite often (and I think you’re supposed to burn them at the end of each year? Or maybe that’s just Daruma dolls). I read somewhere that two omamori bought at shrines or temples dedicated to different gods can’t touch each other since the gods may fight, but I haven’t heard anyone else mention this so I don’t know how reliable that piece of information is. Either way, I’ll have to find a place for my new omamori far from my keys just in case.
According to the shrine’s website it was built in 1626 by Kikkawa Hiromasa. Google translator hasn’t been able to translate the text into anything remotely understandable so I don’t know anything else about it.
The bridge was only a couple minutes away, I arrived just after 9am but there were already many tourists that had beat me there, a small hut at the start of the bridge sells tickets to walk across (they open at 9am but if you arrive there earlier you can still cross the bridge and leave the money in a little box). I bought a combo ticket including the bridge —there and back—, the entrance to Iwakuni Castle and the ropeway up to the castle.
It was impossible to get a shot of the bridge without any people in it, so this will have to do.
Usually I would walk up to the castle but Iwakuni Ropeway was pretty cheap along with the combination ticket for the castle and bridge.
Iwakuni Castle was built in 1608, dismantled and rebuilt once again in 1962 closer to the edge of the mountain than its former location for better scenic views of the land. Or better views of the castle from below.
The displays mostly featured swords, there were a couple of samurai armours and photos of other cool bridges in Japan, but nothing particularly stood out from the museum. They did have an original way of making signs though, the lights on every staircase had the numbers of the floor printed on them.
The views were definitely stunning though, this one below wasn’t actually taken from the castle observation platform but from a corner of the park around it.
They had a Tanabata bamboo tree where I was allowed to write down my wish too.
Back at the bottom I walked around the rest of the park, starting by Kikko Shrine, one of the few places that had hydangeas that weren’t mostly wilted.
The iris garden had no irises, I guess I would’ve had to be there in June to see any, but was full of dragonflies instead and was still a pleasant walk around.
Sasaki Kojiro —aka Ganryū Kojirō— invented his tsubame-gaeshi move (the one he is about to execute in the statue, as he is holding his katana in that special way) by observing swallows flying at the bridge at Iwakuni. An interesting fact is that Kojiro was killed by Miyamoto Musashi at the island of Ganryujima, just off the shore of Shimonoseki at the southern tip of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Miyamoto Musashi grew up in a town near Himeji and trained at the temple of Mt.Shosha, he also helped plan the city of Akashi that I passed on my first day in the country!
The other side of the park was full of water and very fresh, it did well in cooling me down since it was a very hot day. There were some younger kids swimming and playing in the water.
Before leaving I stopped for some shaved ice and found a nice little spot to eat it. I discovered that water spiders exist too, seeing them flee as I walked towards the river and jump inside the water skidding away.
Iwakuni Station had plenty of American foreigners (there’s a US base in Iwakuni), there were almost more foreigners than Japanese people at the train station.
I was slightly disappointed by Iwakuni in general, maybe because I had too high hopes for it. I probably could’ve combined Iwakuni and Miyajima in the same day.
Back in Hiroshima once again I re-visited the Peace Park and some of the memorials I hadn’t yet seen, I mentioned them in the Hiroshima post for the sake of simplicity. I made my last paper crane and rang the Peace Bell of the park as part of my hope for peace and goodbye to this wonderful place. I’d be leaving the city once and for all early the next morning so these were my last moments in Hiroshima!