Five castle keeps have been declared as National Treasures and now I have been to all. To the top of all.
They are: Himeji, Hikone, Matsumoto, Matsue and, the oldest, Inuyama. This last castle is today’s destination.
We ride the subway and the Meitetsu Railway up to Inuyama, a town we’ve passed many times en route to Takayama, but never stopped at.
The Honmachi Road up to the castle is lined with old shops selling food and souvenirs. We buy daifuku mochi with lemonade and melon flavouring. inside the “Shows Alley” are stalls selling skewers and local delicacies while a live band plays rock songs.
We buy Inuyama Dango (chewy grilled rice balls with sweet soy sauce), spicy yakisoba (fried noodles), grilled oysters and potato salad. I try Hida beef sushi and skewered grilled Hida beef from a stall whose owner’s daughter attended the same university as us in Australia.
The Hida beef isn’t as good a cut as what we eat in Takayama further up.
At the end of the road are temples and shrines that lead up to the castle’s entrance.
Inuyama’s castle is not as large as Himeji or some of the others, but it is well preserved with good signage. The interior stairs are scarily steep, but the views from the top are worth it.
The castle overlooks the Kios River, the same one we caught a train along yesterday.
Our next stop lies nearby the castle, the sublime Urakuen Gardens.
The gardens were a place for the younger brother of the lord to relax and contemplate. It contains the National Treasure of Jo-an, a beautiful tea house,. along with other tea houses, lanterns and gates, bamboo and moss.
I partake in a simple tea ceremony at Ko-an, another tea house in the garden. The quiet contemplation of bitter matcha tea, sweet and garden is interrupted by the constant chattering of the other two.
Although most buildings are closed for entrance, we can still peer inside. It is easy to picture time spend on the tatami, pondering the world, writing calligraphy.
Adjacent to Urakuen is the Hotel Indigo with a modern take on Japanese gardens. It looks very expensive.
In the late golden afternoon light we follow the Kiso and cross the bridge, pausing to photograph the silhouette of the castle and the hills, and extended sun reflected in the river’s waters.
There is indecision whether to take a JR train back to Nagoya, but the convenience of the Meitetsu Line wins out, as no change of trains is required.
At Nagoya Station we catch a lift up to the Gate Tower’s restaurant level and dine on the local specialties of oyako don and kishimen noodles. B orders “extra lever” on her dish, which turns out to be liver. Yuck!
Although it is already late, we agree to go to Nabano no Sato with its winter light show. The Kintetsu Line delivers us to the Kintetsu Nagashima stop, where a connecting bus awaits.
I enjoy the drive through the darkness, where each convenience store or family restaurant stands out with their bright lights, islands in the black.
We have an hour and a half to explore Nabano no Sato. The flower gardens are set with colourful lights, streams with mist and flames.
There are tunnels and fields of light and the centrepiece is a huge animated light installation depicting a sailing ship travelling across sea, sky and space.
Despite the late hour and limited time, Nabano no Sato is well worth it.
We have to wait a while for the return train, various limited express trains racing past with blasts of sound and wind.
There are ramen noodles and hot baths on our return.