Two Mondays ago, it was a perfect, warm, sunny day, and since we hadn’t been on a trip in a while (aside from the water park in September) we decided to take a short day long vacation to Iga, which is in Mie Prefecture.
From Nagoya station it took about 100 minutes by bus, most of which I spent sleeping. For the brief moments I was awake, the scenery was really nice, and I can only imagine that it’ll be beautiful when the leaves start to change into their autumn colours. Upon arriving at the bus stop (which was near the train station), we found the tourist information place to grab a map. The lady was really sweet. And all around the train platform it’s decorated with ninja figures and images.
From the tourist information place, we made our way through the small town and over to the “Seven Temples Street”, which, like the title reads, is a street with seven temples on it. It was a nice little walk down the street, and things were pretty quiet. There were a few temples that were undergoing some construction, but no workers were out that day. Some of the temples were really nice. I personally liked the red one.
We did make a … friend. Some older man approached us, asking where we were from and then asked if the PARCO (sort of like a shopping mall) was still in Nagoya. He was super hard to understand, but seemed harmless. Maybe just lonely. We also passed a lady on a bicycle talking quite loudly to herself. The lady at the tourist information center didn’t really recommend venturing down that street, so we kind of wondered if that was why… haha.
From there, we headed to 上野公園 [Ueno Park]. I loved the ‘don’t throw your trash away here! Take it with you’ sign, and the male and female bathroom signs. As far as bathroom signs go, I haven’t seen anything cuter than a pink and blue ninja. The red torii are part of a small shrine that’s connected to 伏見稲荷大社 [Fushimi Inari-taisha] which is in Kyoto. The building that looks like a hat is to commemorate the famous poet from the Edo period, 松尾芭蕉 [Matsuo Bashō]. Apparently, he used to wear a straw hat (similar to the building shape) when on his travels.
Next up was the ninja house, which was interesting and super cool. They had lots of hidden passageways and trick doors, and the girls that gave the tour did a great job at explaining and demonstrating everything. They even had signs that they pulled down that explained things in English (the other couple there were English speakers as well). The photo with the guide shows a secret floorboard hiding space, where ninjas would keep things like swords.
The last photo shows a passageway that leads under the home, and houses a small museum. The underground museum had basic information on the way ninja’s lived, and a lot of their weapons and tools. The circular discs were shoes used for ‘walking’ on water. The way they had them set up, you could try them out to test your balance.
The last four photos are from a second museum that was just beyond the house. There was a lot of information in that one as well, but I was particularly interested in the different ways that ninjas communicated. Try reading the sample that they have on the ‘Secret Characters’ poster. The message is really cute. I don’t want to spoil it, so highlight to read the answer:
うえのにまたきてね [Ueno ni mata kitene; Come back to Ueno!]
Afterwards we decided to wait a few minutes to see the ninja show! It was 200 yen extra, but it was fun and therefore well worth it. There were mostly older people there, with a couple of kids, and it was more of a performance than actual fighting. We shot some video.
This first video is from the beginning of the show, where they demonstrated cutting with a sword. They also did a sword fight, but unfortunately I didn’t catch that part.
After showing how to use a sword, they moved on to 手裏剣 [shuriken; throwing stars] and another one that was more like a hatchet. The speed that they can throw those things is insane. When the show was done, you could pay to throw some at the wooden wall if you wanted. We passed (I have horrible aim. Horrible, horrible aim).
Last but not least was the usage of rope, which Iga ninjas were famous for. I think the rope demonstration was actually my favourite part, and it’s definitely something I never really thought of using as a weapon of choice.
There was a boy in the audience who was so excited to be there, but when the girl stabbed the guy with the sword, he got scared and hid behind his grandfather. Super cute.
Once the show was finished, we went to check out the castle. The Ueno castle has been rebuilt, but they’ve at least tried to keep it looking somewhat original, unlike Nagoya castle which now comes equipped with an elevator. The walls of the honmaru are the highest out of all the castles in Japan and (according to Wikipedia) stand at 30 meters high. They’re definitely pretty high when you’re looking down from up above.
Inside they had a bit of a museum, which included a collection of armour and a random ninja hiding against the walls. The original castle had five storeys, but when it was reconstructed they left the top off. Regardless, the view from the top floor is really nice and they get such a lovely breeze going through.
Here are a few photos from around the city, some from the beginning of our trip and some from the end. The first few are from a shrine we stopped at, and the cow is a statue that has apparently been touched by many. The surface was really smooth. I also really liked the telephone booth! Definitely different from what we have back home.
Last but not least, are two photos that I just thought were really cute and fit into the ninja motif oh-so-well. One is a manhole cover and the other is sidewalk tile. Many of these can be found around the town, and a lot of different cities in Japan have something similar.
On a closing note, whether you’re into the history of ninjas or not, there was a lot of really interesting and fun information Iga-Ueno! It’s in a reasonably rural area, so the scenery is nice and it’s a quiet place. It made for a perfect day trip from Nagoya.