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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Boxing Clever in Tsuwano

Taikodani-inari Jinja

It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Monday when we arrived in the beautiful old castle town of Tsuwano 津和野, population 7660. Our minshuku 民宿 (Miyake みやけ) was only a few minutes' walk from the train station:

My wife by this point in our trip was beginning to suffer from the effects of a bad cold and so decided to stay in our room and relax. My daughter was feeling fine, however, so I took her with me on a brief exploration of the town before dinnertime. It was a short walk to the small chapel of Otometōge Maria Seido (Chapel of St. Maria) 乙女峠マリア聖堂, located in the hills to the west of Tsuwano Station 津和野駅. In 1865 150 "hidden Christians" 隠れキリシタン were moved by the Tokugawa Shōgunate 徳川幕府 government from Nagasaki 長崎 to Tsuwano, where they were subjected to various ordeals that resulted in the deaths of 36 of them (the ban on Christianity wouldn't be lifted by the Meiji government until 1873). The chapel was built in 1951 to commemorate the victims:

Tsuwano is noted for its colorful carp swimming in roadside channels, originally bred as emergency food supplies in the event of famine and other emergencies, much to Amber's delight:

Tsuwano Catholic Church 津和野カトリック教会 was lit up for Christmas but was surprisingly locked up, considering the day (apparently there are tatami mats instead of pews inside):

Dinner in the minshuku. Just one of many delicious feasts we had on this trip:

Shu-E samples some sake 日本酒:

Boxing Day was cold and occasionally drizzly as my daughter and I set out to check out more of "Little Kyōto" (my wife elected to stay in and rest, as well as get some laundry done). The old samurai 侍 quarter of Tono-machi 殿町 is only a short walk from Miyake - the neighborhood was home to many samurai families, the houses of which still retain their distinctive black-and-white plaster walls (and now function as cafés, galleries, restaurants and shops). Among the buildings are several sake breweries, identified by the sugidama (cedar balls) 杉玉 hanging out front:

At the end of Tono-machi stands a torii 鳥居, pointing the way to our next destination:

Taikodani Inari-jinja 太鼓谷稲荷神社 was built in 1773 by the daimyō 大名 Kamei Norisada 亀井矩貞 and is one of the five major Inari shrines in Japan. Inari shrines are dedicated to the Shintō 神道 god associated with fertility, good harvests and foxes (kitsune キツネ). Inari shrines are distinguished by their vivid vermilion colors, and the approach uphill to the main hall is a stunning walk through more than a thousand bright-red torii:

Looking down over the town and the valley after reaching the top:

The colorful main hall and surrounding shrines were worth the effort to reach them:

Next, Amber and I hiked up to the ruins of Tsuwano-jō 津和野城 castle, accessed by a steep, kilometer-long trail that starts near the Taikodani Inari-jinja shrine. There is a chairlift that eliminates most of the walking, but in winter it operates only on weekends and national holidays. At one point the trail crosses under the chairlift - one look at the rickety chairs and my daughter was glad it was an ordinary weekday (in Japan anyway):

The castle stood on a commanding hilltop location on the west side of the valley. Tsuwano-jō was constructed in 1295 by Yoshimi Yoriyuki as protection against possible Mongol invaders, but the wooden structures were burned and taken down at the beginning of the Meiji period 明治時代. Today only the sturdy castle walls remain:

Great views were had from the grassy plateau at the top, though the sleet did get in Amber's eyes at times:

Time for a snack break. That glutinous sweet being consumed by my daughter is uirō ういろう:

Heading back downhill:

Amber reassured me that the bears were probably hibernating at this time of year:

ライオン, トラ and 熊. Oh my!

Back at Taikodani-Inari-jinja:

Descending through the torii tunnel:

Looking up at the tunnel before heading back into town:

Lunch at a small restaurant near the station. If I had to pick just one Japanese dish, the most likely choice would be tonkatsu 豚カツ:

The Mori Ōgai Memorial Museum 森鷗外記念館, at the southern end of Tsuwano, is dedicated to Mori Ōgai 森鴎外, a novelist, poet, surgeon and translator of the Meiji-era, and contains many of his personal effects. Truth be told, the museum served more as a place to take a break and to use the restrooms - I didn't know much about Mori, and as the displays were mostly in Japanese, they held only minimal interest for Amber:

More interesting is the Mori Ōgai Kyūtaku (Mori Ōgai Former Residence) 森鴎外旧宅, located next door to the museum (that's a bottle of Calpis Soda カルピスソーダ she's wielding, in case you're wondering):

Back in Tono-machi we stopped at a shop to sample one of Tsuwano's traditional sweets, genji-maki 源氏巻, a soft sponge cake filled with sweet red-bean paste:

The last place Amber and I visited before returning to our minshuku was the temple Kakuōzan Yōmei-ji 覚皇山永明時, dating from 1420 and used by generations of Tsuwano daimyō. It was too late in the  afternoon to see inside the thatched main hall but we could still admire the traditional garden:

Following another sumptuous meal we retired to our room to enjoy the bottle of sake Shu-E had purchased from one of the sake breweries in Tono-machi earlier that day:

Sleepy, peaceful Tsuwano was probably my favorite destination on this trip - an old castle town stretching in a narrow valley of the Tsuwano-gawa 津和野川 and presided over by a mist-covered extinct volcano to the west (Aono-yama 青野山, standing at 908 meters/2979 feet). This 700-year-old town with its ruined castle, vibrantly-colored shrine and charming samurai quarter somehow manages to bring to life all those coffee-table book/tourist literature images of Japan and is well-worth seeking out to visitors exploring the Chūgoku region 中国地方 of western Honshū 本州. If you do visit, consider staying at the Miyake minshuku - the price is reasonable, the rooms are small but comfortable, the food is delicious and the woman running the place is very friendly.

Amber, by the way, couldn't get over the fact the characters for Chūgoku are the same as those used to write the name of another well-known Middle Kingdom, and never got tired of remarking how much she liked this part of China.

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