Field Report: Kakegawa, Japan (04 February 2014)

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This morning’s trip to Inuyama brought us face-to-face with one of Japan’s oldest castles. Now, we’re off to a small city in Shizuoka to see one of the country’s newest.

Daylight’s running short so there’s not a moment to lose. From Inuyama Station, the Meitetsu train takes us back to Nagoya, where we transfer straightaway to the Kodama 652 (departing at 12:28).

I say, we seem to be having quite a bit of luck with Kodama trains – it’s another new N700, same as the one we rode to Atami yesterday. Far better than the older equipment that’s normally used on this, the slowest of JR Central’s 3 shinkansen services.

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With no time to stop for a proper meal in Nagoya, we’ll have to make do with an ekiben from the train station. This one’s a rather expensive steak lunch, featuring Ōmi beef.

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Not bad, not bad at all – but the meat was too rare for me, and I would have enjoyed the meal hot. If I were bringing this home for domestic consumption, rather than immediate onboard enjoyment, I’d wait until after giving it just a bit of extra searing on a pan before tucking in (though more for reheating than for additional cooking). Can’t fault it for tenderness though, as one would expect from a respected variant of wagyū. In fact, I imagine the rareness is intentional in order to allow diners to fully appreciate the quality of the beef.

Now for a quick look at our route.

This train’s heading for Tōkyō, but we’re getting off way before the terminus. Mind the clock: at 13:31, we need to step off the train when it reaches the city of Kakegawa in Shizuoka Prefecture.

A city that, I might add, is blessed with one of the best-looking stations I’ve seen in a long time.

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Nice wooden exterior – gives it a warm, rustic feel. (This is just the northern part, though – I’ve seen a picture of the southern facade and it’s all bland modernism on that side.)

The city itself has the peaceful, low-rise atmosphere of a typical midsize Japanese urban area. I was actually rather surprised at how quiet it seemed (especially on a normal workday), but no complaints here as it made for a relaxing downtown stroll.

The image stamped on the manhole cover above makes no secret of one of the city’s main attractions. It’s not that hard to find, either: just walk almost straight north from the station, cross the bridge over the river, and we’re there.

“There”, in this case, being Kakegawa Castle, for centuries the seat of the former domain of the same name.

After passing through the massive remnants of one of the castle’s inner gates . . .

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. . . we get our first close-up view of the tenshu, the main tower.

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There’s a wee bit of climbing to do from here to the top . . .

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. . . but it’s all worth it. At the upper gate, we are rewarded with great views of some of the other buildings in the compound, including the castle lord’s former palace, a museum, and a defensive turret.

We’ll have more time for the palace and museum later. Right now, let’s do an about-face and turn all our attention to the star attraction: the tenshu itself.

Substantial portions of the castle were heavily damaged or destroyed during a powerful earthquake in 1854. Although some structures (including the lord’s palace) were subsequently rebuilt, the tenshu was not. In the 1990s, the main tower was finally reconstructed, using wood rather than reinforced concrete (the cheap but inauthentic material of choice for many post-war castle reconstruction projects). Indeed, Kakegawa Castle was the first in the modern era to have its tenshu resurrected using traditional techniques and materials, which lends this small but beautiful fortress a very special character that not even the likes of Ōsaka Castle or Nagoya Castle currently possess.

Let’s head inside.

I love this castle. I really, really love it. I’ve seen original castles, I’ve seen concrete reconstructions, but I’ve never been to an authentic wooden reconstruction before. It’s quite a sight to behold, and probably provides a more authentic back-in-time experience than an original tenshu (like Himeji or Inuyama) since this allows us to see what a castle might have looked like to its builders in the Edo period: clean, new, recently plastered, and with freshly worked wood that practically glows with life (instead of looking nearly black with age).

I certainly wish more castles will be rebuilt in this manner, and perhaps some existing concrete ones torn down to be replaced with authentic reconstructions. The accurate wooden replicas of destroyed castle palaces that have recently been put up at places like Nagoya and Kumamoto are a good start; perhaps one day the towers of those castles will themselves be given the same treatment.

Now then, up to the top floor. Not much to look at inside . . .

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. . . but plenty to take one’s breath away outside.

The windows are sealed (perhaps for protection from the elements) but the views are still good.

Right, let’s move on. Descending from the castle hill and walking in the direction of the lord’s palace, we run across a lovely teahouse and garden.

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A few hundred yen gains us admission to an elegant-looking room . . .

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. . . where kimono-clad staff serve us frothy matcha and a delicious sweet. (I like the little bamboo skewer.)

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I have very fond memories of this brief refreshment break, thanks to one of the staff and a fellow guest. As I was waiting for my tea, another visitor – a lad about my age or a little younger – walked in and casually seated himself a short distance away. Later, as a server brought out our tea and sweets, a friendly conversation began amongst the three of us. Neither of them spoke English, and I struggled with my inadequate Japanese, but we actually carried on for quite some time, with me describing my trip and how much I loved travelling to see castles (hence my reason for stopping at Kakegawa), and the other guest relating information about himself (from Mie Prefecture and works for a major chemical firm, currently out on holiday, etc.). The server eagerly participated in the conversation, but appeared more keen on learning about her guests than volunteering information about herself; might have been a generational thing (she seemed much older than either of us). We became pretty absorbed in the exchange, so much so that when another guest entered the room and sat down, she wondered why I and the other chap were sitting apart because she assumed we were friends (probably from the casual way we were speaking between ourselves and with the server).

It was a very pleasant chat, and the longest conversation I’ve ever had with locals in all the years I’ve journeyed across Japan. The experience makes me more determined than ever to progress with my language studies, which have stagnated somewhat due to work and the stress of daily life – if only to equip me with the skills I need for even more enriching interactions on my future visits to the country.

A short walk from the teahouse is a museum, which showcases a small but quite splendid collection of artefacts from the Edo period (including everything from sword fittings to household items). Photography isn’t permitted inside, so we’ll have to make do with a shot of the building.

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Finally, let’s visit the former palace of the castle lord, which was rebuilt following the 1854 earthquake. Whilst far less richly decorated than some of the larger castle palaces (like the recently reconstructed ones at Kumamoto or Nagoya), the fact that it’s an original Edo-period structure – albeit one dating from almost the very end of the era – makes it a rare survivor from the age when castles ruled the nation.

And so ends our day at Kakegawa. We bid farewell to the castle . . .

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. . . hop onto the Kodama 662 bound for Tōkyō (alas, an older 700-series train this time) . . .

. . . return to the hotel and dream sweet dreams involving snow, snow, snow.

Next, Diego spends some time relaxing in one of Tōkyō’s finest gardens before jetting off to Sapporo for Day 1 of the 2014 Yuki Matsuri.

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4 responses to “Field Report: Kakegawa, Japan (04 February 2014)

  1. I am enjoying looking at the pictures of your ekibens. This steak one, in particular, looks delicious. When I was in Japan I had hoped to come across one of the self-heating ekibens but I never did get one. While yours could probably have benefited from some warming up, the meat quality looks very, very good.

    The fact that you’re saying you really loved this castle makes me very excited to go there for myself someday! That “authentic back-in-time experience” is what I felt at Kochi Castle and, in fact, what makes it my favorite castle thus far. But I have to admit that your experience differs in mine in that Kochi Castle did not feel clean and new like Kakegawa Castle. It actually had a very lived-in quality to it like I was visiting someone’s home. There were cleaning supplies just lying around in a couple of the corners, a ladder haphazardly leaning against one of the walls for no apparent reason, and we had to take our shoes off being entering the premises. But it was wonderful, I hope you’ll enjoy it when you go there for yourself someday.

    • I say, self-heating ekibens – first time I’ve heard of those! I’ll keep an eye out for them on my next trip.

      I’m really looking forward to visiting Kōchi Castle, though it may be a while before I get there (no firm plans yet but next year’s trip will likely be based in the Tōhoku region; Shikoku will probably come the year after). Even as I type this, I’ve got your blog post about the castle open on another tab and I’m eager to learn more about the experience.

  2. Pingback: Field Report: Matsuyama (12 February 2014) – Part 2/3 | Within striking distance·

  3. Pingback: Field Report: Nagoya (13 February 2014) – Part 1/2 | Within striking distance·

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