Dateline: November 15, 2008
Up in the morning to catch some breakfast, and this was the only hotel during the trip where breakfast was included. I even had some soup! The plan for today was to hang out with another of my brother’s flickr contacts, Tabito, and see some sights. By the end of today’s journey, we will have visited two of Japan’s national treasures.
Off to Inuyama
We grabbed a Mietetsu train bound for Inuyama, 25 kilometers to the north of Nagoya. Instead of getting off at Inuyama Station, we instead disembarked at Inuyamayuen Station, which was one station further down the line. Unfortunately, we had some problems exiting the station as there was something wrong with the tickets we had (the ticket gates spat them back out saying they were invalid). Luckily, we had Tabito with us and he used a neat communicator near the ticket gates that you use to speak with the station master for just these types of situations. After seemingly getting nowhere, the station master came and argued with Tabito for a while, which was rather entertaining. There were phone calls back to Nagoya station and all sorts of fun as they each took turns speaking with whoever was on the other end of the line. Apparently the guy at the departure station caused the mixup by punching in the wrong things at the machine when we got our tickets. It turned out we paid too much … I think, though that wouldn’t explain why we couldn’t get out of the station. At least that’s what I’m led to believe as the station master gave us a little over ¥500 when all was said and done.
Uraku-en Garden & Jo-an Tea House
After everything got sorted out at the station, we went on our way and walked along the river en route to Inuyama Castle. However, before venturing there, Tabito took us on a small detour to check out Uraku-en Garden. The landscaping and pathways that cut through it were beautiful, sometimes lined with bamboo and other times with large trees (picture taken by my brother; you can see me blending into the hedge in the bottom center).
Once you’ve made your way through the garden, beyond some small traditional buildings and water features, you come upon the Jo-an Tea House. Originally built in 1618, it is renowned as one of the three best tea houses in Japan and was designated a national treasure in 1936. The part of the house in specific that’s held in such high regard is the round window which is made of woven bamboo.
On the way out of Uraku-en, but before we started up the hill to Inuyama Castle, we stopped at a small sweets shop for some Japanese treats. The inside of the shop felt very homey and it was nice to get in out of the rain for a bit (oh yes, it was raining on us once again). While good, the things we tried were surprisingly bland for the most part, but the red bean broth that one of the dishes came in was quite tasty. I wasn’t completely surprised by the “lack of sweet” in these sweets as I know they’re prepared differently from in North America; I’m just too used to refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup to appreciate real sweets I guess, which is a little amusing since the production process of HFCS was refined in Japan.
Now that we had a little something in our stomachs, we started to venture up the hill to Inuyama Castle, the second national treasure on today’s itinerary. There was a bit of entertainment on the way up the hill to get at the castle itself. As you ascend through the trees, you start up a cobblestone path which was fine for the majority of the distance. However, once we were two thirds of the way up, the path changed from a reasonable representation of a slope into an uneven staircase sort of thing. As we stood there for a few moments trying to figure out what our next move would be — immediately to our right was a small temple we could kill some time in, at the very least — our (apparent) helplessness was noticed by a group of Chinese tourists at the stop of the stairs. A few bounced down and inquired, through the very effective pantomime that gets used to overcome language barriers, if he needed help getting the rest of the way up. When he indicated in the affirmative, several more came down and after a few quick pointers on where to take a hand-hold on his wheelchair, they practically lifted him up and ran him up the rest of the way to the castle, like a chariot crossed with a Roman litter.
Tabito and myself ventured into the castle to check it out and take in the views from the top. Inside are very steep stairs that take you between the levels, so steep I was actually somewhat concerned coming down (though it probably didn’t help I was holding a video camera and a bag with my shoes in it at the time). The castle had a bunch of old items including sets of armour, writings, and other artifacts from the history of the castle. Once you climbed to the top, you could walk around almost the entire upper balcony except one section which was closed off, possibly due to deterioration. The view from up there was great, albeit a little cloudy.
Back on the ground there were some winter cherry blossoms to be seen! I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
City of Inuyama
Getting my brother down the path to the castle was far easier, which was nice. Next up was to just wander around through the streets of Inuyama. We stopped at a museum for Japanese dolls and saw how the small tea-serving dolls worked and also the behind-the-scenes of the Japanese equivalent of marionettes which are impressive if for no other reason than all the strings are inside the dolls and are typically controlled from underneath the stage.
We also checked out another museum which had examples of the yoyama floats that go through the city each April during the Inuyama Festival. They’re often three storeys tall, and some, like one of the ones we saw, are covered in lanterns. While here, I spotted a grandfather clock that looked practically identical to the one my parents have, which was really odd to see.
As we continued our wandering, we stopped at a small stand and had goheimochi from a busy food vendor. I could have stood there all day eating the stuff, it was that good. Basically, it’s just rice balls fried with miso paste.
During a late lunch, Tabito gave us each a gift: our full names written in katakana, hiragana, and kanji. The literal translation of my first name is “Time Get Well”. Tabito also gave me the “brush pen” he used to write out the gifts which is essentially a felt pen with a tip that bends and flows like that of a paintbrush. The lunch was at a ramen and udon place in the Ito Yokado department store beside the station in Inuyama. Mine came with tonkotsu (pork) and egg on rice, which was yummy.
Back to Nagoya
As we had Tabito with us (i.e. someone who spoke Japanese) we tried to book our Shinkansen to and from Kyoto for tomorrow’s day trip but ran into the same problems as the first time when we tried in Ueno. So, off to the station master’s office with a hand-written note from the ticket desk to have him figure it out. He said to come back in a few hours. Time-killing time!
We went back to the JR Towers and headed to the 15th floor to take some pictures and did some further wandering around in the Towers Lights displays below. Afterwards we headed back towards the hotel for dinner at Oyster’s “Fisherman’s Beer Cafe” which was also in the Lucent tower (where we had lunch the first day in Nagoya). The waitress had a neat digital pad for taking orders and prepping the bill. It looked like a big touch-screen cell phone with a flip open hinge and appeared to incorporate the same type of functionality as the registers at fast food places.
Having adequately killed time, it was back to the JR Station with us to see if the Shinkansen tickets were sorted out at 9:30 pm. We got the proper information from the station master and went back to the ticket desk to get the actual tickets. Three station attendants were working out how to write up the ticket; one of the sheets they were referencing had a diagram of the special paper ticket they were filling out along with instructions for how to do so. By now we had come to realize these types of bookings must not be a common occurrence, and indeed, every time we booked Shinkansen tickets for the rest of the trip we went through a similar process with varying “wait times”. At 10:00 pm, we finally had our tickets!