I woke up around seven to get started, I thought I’d be one of the first up but because I was sharing a female dorm, apparently half of the girls were already in the bathroom having started their lengthy make-up routine. I’ve never slept in a crowded female dorm before so I found it quite funny.
Leaving Nagoya for good, I picked up my bag and, after getting lost in the station again, finally got onto the train that would take me to today’s city. Everyone on the train got off at Inuyama station, so I was alone for the next few minutes until Inuyama-yuen. Inuyama-yuen is closer to the castle than Inuyama station, but is much smaller and doesn’t have any lockers so I carried my backpack with me, luckily still small and light since it was still the third day of the trip.
Because it was still early and the castle didn’t open until 9am, I decided to take a bit of a walk while I waited. Just outside the station is an uphill road with quite a few small temples and a big cemetery. A big Kannon statue at the top looked over the city and the distant castle. Kannon is a boddhsivarta, she has reached enlightenment but has prolonged eternal enlightenment (nirvana) to stay behind and help others. I don’t care much about Buddhist beliefs but Kannon is always my favourite statue so I like to stop every time I find one.
The road continued up the hill and two trails lead into the trees on either side. The right trail with little steps, according to a google search post-trip, continues through more graves and eventually leads to a giant buddha I would’ve liked to see, but I took the left instead, following a trail that zig-zagged up through the trees. Another small temple at the halfway point had a couple of men (I thought they looked like sumo wrestlers at first) in matching pink and blue dotted underpant-looking pyjamas cleaning the floors. It turns out they were sumo wrestlers because a while longer up the path I spotted another two dressed the same sweeping a sumo ring. They probably sleep in the temple and do their practise there.
Finally I reached a viewpoint. In reality I was looking for a more famous temple that is supposed to look beautiful in autumn. Looking at the time though (just a few minutes away from opening time) and considering it wasn’t autumn, I headed back down and towards the castle after a little break. The castle can’t be seen from the viewpoint (or, well, it can, if you’re tall like me and can lean forwards far enough to look around the side of the mountain), but it’s a nice view nonetheless. This side of Inuyama is very beautiful, with the cliff next to the river and lots of greenery; I have to admit that I liked this area more than the popular traditional street I stopped by later on.
The walk to the castle was longer than expected, so I didn’t get there until half past and the place was already surprisingly crowded. The tower was mostly bare and empty, just a couple of armours on display, the safety cushions above the stairs deformed after numerous accidental head bumps.
Inuyama Castle is often claimed as the oldest castle in Japan. I was a bit confused when I first heard this, as I thought the oldest castle was probably Kinojo in Okayama, built in the 600s, but what the sentence means is that it claims to be the oldest castle still standing today in its original construction. There are only 12 castles in Japan with original main keeps, the rest were destroyed and sometimes later rebuilt. I say Inuyama “claims” to be the oldest castle because the current donjon was built in 1601-1620, while Maruoka’s, another original, was built in 1576. Inuyama had a previous keep before this one was built, from the 1440s.
The traditional road of Inuyama was quite touristy, but the shops don’t sell many local products. I wonder what the speciality of Inuyama is. But the Folk Museum, with a big model of the old town and more traditional objects such as ceramics and lacquer, and the Karakuri Museum, a room full of well-dressed slightly creepy puppets, were both very interesting and shared a 200 yen combination ticket together with another museum about Inuyama’s festival with many floats. Inuyama also has two free residences that were very nice, so overall the city is quite cheap and very worth a visit.
People in Inuyama were also very nice, one old lady especially wanted to talk to me about my trip, a man showed me around one of the residences and gave me directions and another girl let me take a photo of her wearing a yukata.
The place I chose for lunch only had a Japanese menu with no pictures, so I just picked randomly. Apparently I asked for iced coffee with red beans and a sesame rice cake. I managed to swallow 3/4 of the big bowl but I eventually left Inuyama with renewed confidence in my hatred for coffee and desperately clutching some strawberry milk to get the taste out of my mouth.