Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 2)

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Road Trip on Iga Railway (Part 2)

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Our two-day trip along the Iga Railway Line in Mie Prefecture continues. At the end of the first day, we spend the night Kunrakuso, a cultural heritage site. The following morning, from Kuwamachi Station, we take the pink “lady ninja” train to Hirokoji Station. We drop by a cobbler’s shop and the owner tells us there are seven temples in this area. One of them is Jogyoji Temple, where famous feudal lord Todo Takatora is buried.

We then go to a shop selling sweets and the proprietor suggests we try the original Iga beef cuisine at Kanaya. We decide to check it out after visiting Jogyoji Temple. At the temple, we meet the head priest’s son, who gives us a tour. We get to see a statue of Takatora and a memorial altar of generations of his family. Takatora’s memorial gravestone is engraved with his Buddhist name.

We also learn that Takatora built part of the Iga Ueno Castle, after which he went to serve under the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Along with Kato Kiyomasa and Kuroda Kanbei, Takatora was a warrior of the civil war era. He was also touted as the greatest castle builder of his time. As commanded by Ieyasu in 1608, Takatora was moved from Iyo to Ise and then to Iga.   

We next go to Kanaya, which has a history of over 100 years. The restaurant’s famous Iga beef is served in a variety of ways such as shabu-shabu or as a charcoal-grilled steak. However, sukiyaki is its most popular item. The Iga beef is plated in waves, resembling a rose. Igayaki wares and ceramics are used. Kanbi Fujiyama, who was known as the “king of comedy”, often ate at the restaurant a long time ago.

Next, we travel by train from Hirokoji to the neighbouring station, Uenoshi. A local here recommends we go to Nagao Coffee. It sells its own blend of freshly ground black coffee made from beans procured from countries such as Brazil and Guatemala. Customers can enjoy the coffee at the counter and even munch on coffee beans as a crunchy snack. After buying a few bags of the store’s speciality ground coffee, we head to Iga Ueno Castle.

The castle was constructed about 450 years ago and the three-tier castle tower was built by the fief lord Tsutsui Sadatsugu. Takatora annexed everything around it and built its famous stone wall which is about 30m high. Surrounded by the moat, it is said to be the tallest stone wall in Japan. The tower was renovated in the mid-20th century. Iga Ueno Castle is also called "White Phoenix Castle" because of its white tower.

We go to the castle tower, from where we can see the Otogi Pass. It is mentioned in Ryotaro Shiba's "Owl's Castle", which is about ninjas. The novel has even won the literary Naoki Prize. Just over the Otogi Pass is Shiga's prefectural border. It is also known as the "Iga Pass" as it was used by shogun Ieyasu when travelling.

We next take the train to the last station on the Iga Railway Line, Iga-Ueno. We end our two-day trip by going to Iga Dento-Denshokan, which makes traditional Iga braids for kimono sashes. It also sells other braided products of Iga, such as bracelets and key chains. Ancient Iga braids date back to the 14th century and they were used in the costumes of the Noh Theatre. It takes about 30 minutes to make a braid and we learn how to make one at a workshop conducted on the premises.   

Tips:
1) Coffee lovers should visit Nagao Coffee near Uenoshi Station to try its original blend of freshly ground coffee
2) Iga Ueno Castle is known for its stone wall, which is believed to be the highest in Japan


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