The 'Machu Picchu of Japan'? Apparently so!

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March 26th 2014
Published: April 2nd 2014
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Asago??? Takeda Castle??? Neither were mentioned in our guidebook. Not that we treat the guidebook as the holy grail of info, but if this castle was meant to be one of the must visit places, how come lonely planet haven't written about it yet?

So how come we found out about Asago and its castle? We did a search through the Family Welcome group in Couch Surfing to see who was in Japan and where they were. We were finding it really hard to get a couch in any of the places we planned to visit – not only was it a busy season (cherry blossom) and we were looking in some popular places, but as a family of four with two young children, it seemed that people either didn't have the space to host us or were put off by the two young children part.

One of the families that popped up in our search lived in a place called Asago. We looked it up on the map (at least it was on there!) then with the help of google, read more about Takeda Castle. Our interest was piqued, so we sent off a couch request and got lucky. Tomoko and her family would be happy to host us. We opted to go there instead of Himeji (which at least was in the guidebook) as it was only a shortish train ride away. And just how lucky we were!! They were an awesome family to meet and stay with, they showed us a lot about family life in Japan, and the castle was pretty neat too. Oh, and perhaps I should mention that after opting not to go to Himeji, we find out that its castle was closed for renovations. And passing it on the train, we saw that not only was it closed, it was also wrapped and covered so we wouldn't have seen a lot of the outside either.

To get to Asago, we took the train from Hiroshima to Himeji then changed to a local line up to Asago, or Wadayama as the suburb was. We were met off the train by Tomoko, our host, who conveniently has children whose car seats our children fit in, and whom we met back at her house.

After chance to freshen up we were taken out for a walk that went via a local temple to her mothers house. Here we met her mother and her grandmother, and found out that we were having dinner there.

Dinner was really nice. I am sure someone out there can tell us the 'proper' name for what we had, but it was described to us as unrolled sushi. It was basically rice with bits of veggies and fish mixed inside and dried seaweed sprinkled on top. There was also ginger for those who wanted it, and a meaty pasta dish. The girls surprised us again (perhaps we should stop being surprised by them!) and devoured a big bowl of rice each and Katrina also had some pasta. They both came up to the 'adults' table and had some steamed broccoli too. All the kids sat together round a heated hole in the floor table. I don't know the right name for these, but they are great! Colin wants to build one in our lounge now. They are a fixed large coffee table type table (we've seen smaller ones and much bigger ones) with a thick cloth under the top of the table and you stick your legs under and down into the hole in the floor where there is a heater. The one at Tomoko's house had a heater under the table top and underfloor heating.

After dinner, Tomoko's mum wanted Samara to try on the family kimono. This is worn by all the children (I am assuming the girls only) when they are about 3 or 4 years old. She put it on Tomoko's youngest daughter first but Samara wasn't keen to try it. So Tomoko's mum grabbed (nicely) Katrina and put it on her. She amazed us by standing still and totally co-operating! She let them put on the kimono and all the trimmings and only fussed when they tried putting a flower clip in her hair. And she looked so good too. So then Samara decided that she wanted to get dressed up too, which pleased Tomoko and her mum. However, she was too tall and the ends of her trousers stuck out the bottom! She still looked great, and despite her initial apprehension, loved getting dressed up. We all had to have our pictures taken in front of a stand of dolls. We couldn’t quite work out what they were for, but they are brought out every march and put on display for

Sitting around one of those heated tables
a month.

The next day it rained. We only had the one day in Asago really to go up to the castle as the following day we were booked into a hostel in Nara. Tomoko had said the night before that they would all come up with us for the walk. Her husband, a fire-fighter / paramedic, would be home and so they'd have two cars to fit us all in. But the rain changed everything and only her oldest daughter wanted to come. We hung around a while just in case it eased, but no. So we got dressed up in our waterproofs and headed out anyway. We were really appreciative of Tomoko driving us there as otherwise we'd have had to take the train one stop back then either walked or taken a bus up to the castle car park. As it was, we had to take a bus from the car park then walk 20 minutes or so to get to the ruins. Oh, did I mention the castle was only a pile of rocks on top of a hill?

Takeda Castle was constructed in 1441 and abandoned in the late 1500's. It is now just a set of ruins on a hill top. Because it is stone ruins on a hill and is often shrouded in cloud, it has been given the nickname of the “Machu Pichu of Japan”. Having been to the real Machu Picchu, I can tell you that its not really all that similar. Sure its stone, sure its in ruins, and it was certainly shrouded in clouds when we were there, but there any similarity ends. The ruins are only about 400m by 100m, and the hill is only 357m (or so).

There is a lot of work going on at the ruins at the moment, it looked like they were fixing up winter weather damage, there were roped everywhere so you could only walk on certain parts, and the paths were all covered with sandbags and thick protective coverings. In the drizzle, it didn't take long to walk from one end to the other. It was neat though, and every so often we'd get a good view up the valley through the clouds.

That evening we were treated to dinner again, this time Tomoko cooked for us all. She made rice and steamed dumplings. Well, Colin and Tomoko's son made the steamed dumplings under her supervision. Another nice meal, though the girls didn't seem too keen on the dumplings. I must admit to preferring mine baked or fried to steamed, same with spring rolls.

The following morning we went back to the station for our train to Nara. We thought we'd have to go back down to Himeji and then to Kyoto or Osaka before changing to the Nara line, but there was a limited express to Kyoto from Wadayama.

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