Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 1)


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Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 1)

This week, we take a two-day trip along the Iga Railway Line in Mie Prefecture. Running through beautiful farmlands, it connects Iga-Kambe Station and Iga-Ueno Station in Iga City, known as the hometown of ninjas. The line has 14 stations and spans 16.6km. It opened in 1916 and was originally built to transport cattle through mountainous regions. Its “ninja train” started in 1997 as part of a town revitalisation project. The train is popular among railway fans and children too. The train cars were designed by manga artist Reiji Matsumoto, known for his works such as Galaxy Express 999.

We first buy a one-day pass which allows unlimited rides on the local line. We then take the train from Iga-Kambe Station to Uebayashi, two stops away. We want to find out about recommended spots here but are unable to find anyone to ask. So we return to the station and head to the next stop, Maruyama Station. This area is the birthplace of Momoji Sandayu, the founder of Iga ninjas. We go to Maruyama Construction to get some information. We are told about Shikibuzuka, where people sever unwanted relationships by making offerings of sharp objects like scissors and razors.

Legend has it that while Momoji Tamba, a ninja of the Civil War area, was serving the shogunate as a spy in this area, he had an affair with a lady of the court. His wife discovered this and murdered her. She then committed suicide by jumping in a well. Thus, it has been said that by making offerings of sharp objects at their burial site, one’s wish to end such relationships would be granted. Some people also believe that Momoji Tamba and Momoji Sandayu are the same person. Next, we walk to the Seiunji Temple, the site of a ninja cemetery where Momoji Sandayu's family grave is located. The oldest grave is 400 years old.

We return to Maruyama Station and head to Kuwamachi. A local here tells us about the house of Hattori Doho, who was the disciple of famous poet Matsuo Basho. Iga is in fact the birthplace of Basho, who had many disciples. The cottage where Doho stayed is called Minomushian and it was built in 1688. Among Basho’s “five hermitages” where he would stay when visiting his hometown, this is the only one which still exists.  

We then go to the popular Old New Cafe for lunch. It was previously an old storage building which was later revamped into a contemporary place, which explains its name. It is famous for its fried bread rolls. We ask one of its employees about where we could stay the night. He mentions a lodge called Ito Ryokan. But when we get there, we meet Mr Ito himself, who tells us it has been closed for three years and that it is now a cultural heritage site. Mr Ito recommends we try our luck at Kunrakuso, which is also registered as a cultural heritage site. Luckily for us, it is still in business and has rooms available.

The inn was built 120 years ago. Its roofing tiles are pantiles from the 19th century and it has prominent black walls. It is too late for the inn to prepare dinner for us so the staff suggests we eat at Yokocho. It opened 40 years ago and serves Iga’s famous Dengaku, which is made of homemade local soybean paste. Besides the grilled “tree sprout Dengaku”, we also order the salt-grilled cutlass fish, which is the restaurant's main attraction. The secret of its delectable flavour lies in the way the fish’s fatty skin is braided to lock in the flavour of the fish. After dinner, we head back to Kunrakuso and retire for the night.

1) Iga is the birthplace of Matsuo Basho and has several places linked to the famous poet
2) A must-try delicacy of Iga is Dengaku, which is made of local soybean paste