Japan 日本 or Bust - Day 2 - Iwakuni, Kintai Bridge, Iwakuni Castle


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Asia » Japan » Yamaguchi » Iwakuni
April 21st 2017
Published: April 23rd 2017
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Ohayou Gozaimasu!



Yesterday was my first full day in Japan. And it was a fantastic day! Due to some work constraints my brother is unable to travel really past the Yamaguchi prefecture. So I will not be hitting up the main tourist spots around Tokyo, Okinawa, etc etc. Am I disappointed? Hell no! There is so much to do here! And so much to absorb. I love wandering into obscure, less traveled areas. You can really get a feel for true culture – not watered down for tourists.

That is not to say I do not enjoy some of the American comforts of staying on an American military base. It is quite nice actually. Feels like a little slice of home, even though I am so far away.

Vacation is not an excuse to turn into a big blob. So Chris and I started our day with a brisk 3-mile run and a HIIT workout at the MCAS HIIT facility in the gym. Great accommodations for the Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and contractors who live on the base. And I felt less guilty about indulging in the amazing food and snacks later on in the day!

Around lunch we set off on our day. My broski, familiar with the Iwakuni area, wanted to on a long walk through the city, ending with a visit to the Kintai bridge and a hike up the mountain to the Iwakuni castle.

Iwakuni, Japan is a fantastic farming community. Houses are small, with varying architecture (from the modern to the traditional). Each has an individual garden. And some have larger plots of land for more formal gardening and arming. I saw cabbages, carrots, leeks, onions, oranges, tons of varying flowers, and probably more that I cannot even recall. To see the plots of growing food next to the river and at the foot of rolling hills and mountains was a beautiful site to see. Tons of bikes everywhere. People of all ages are riding or walking briskly from place to place. Little old ladies with hiking poles walking faster than me! And everyone is so polite. I waved at several farmers and people from a distance. I always got a wave back and a Ohayou gozaimasu! The younger people are not quite as polite. But such is society right? Young whippersnappers!

The infamous Japanese vending machines are everywhere. Literally every corner sells soft drinks, cigarettes, and ALCOHOL! The last part is such a trip for me, and such a foreign concept to us Americans. Beer, liquor, boxed wine, you name it! For less than 10 bucks I can have a box of wine, and walk down the street with it?! No wonder the Marines get in such trouble out here. I find it fascinating that the only real deterrent to underage folks not using it were these interesting signs of a schoolboy uniform coat with a face holding alcohol and vomiting. I would love to find out how effective it is!

The streets are narrow, and some spots the sidewalks disappear. But as long as you hug the side of the road you are fine. No real issue with the drivers in the city. With all the bikers and pedestrians, I assume they are used to it. Downtown Iwakuni felt so quaint. Small traditional buildings (some awnings I could not even clear and I am 5'5), with the general hustle and bustle of morning life. Although such a different culture, I had a flashback to walking down the streets of Zermatt, Switzerland. Something about quiet, rural communities that calls for a calming personality.

I was so entertained to hear the sounds of children at the local elementary school. I looked up at the second floor, and saw that there were stairs that led to it. But that is not the interesting part. What was interesting was the fact there was a slide for the children to go down if they wanted to down to the ground floor! A slide! That is SO cool! Why do our schools not have that?!

The school was adjacent to a very old building. Very traditional style. I took a picture of it. I am still tryng to get information on it however, so standby for it!

The walk was a little less than 6 km. Took some time to get to our next destination, because I kept stopping to take pictures of architecture and signs. It was a beautiful spring day in Japan, with the sun peeking out over clouds. The cherry blossoms were for the most part fizzled out. I was sad, but I had my expectations managed before I got here. However, overlooking the entrance to a walking path, there was one tree that still had blooms on it! I was SO happy to see Japanese cherry blossoms in person! They definitely were at their end, but they were still a vibrant pink.

The quiet rural part of town opened back up into a busier street. Lots of shops and restaurants, and the shack to buy your tickets for the Kintai bridge. There was a school field trip to the Nishiki river. The kids were all lined up on the shore skipping rocks. To cross the bridge is about 300 yen (3 US dollars-ish). Or you can get the package that includes the Iwakuni castle and the varying museums. We ate our lunch on a bench overlooking the bridge. Just some 7-11 egg salad sandwiches. Which are super delicious considering it's convenience store food! Washed it down with green tea kit kats (also delicious), and then we purchased our combo tickets and walked the bridge.

The bridge is a series of 5 wooden arches, and has been in existance since 1673 (holy moley!). It has a long history for sure, and it is designated a national treasure. The wooden walkways are not smooth. In fact it is a series of very small steps. So small, you forget sometimes that there are steps. You can see many people trip as they descend down the arches. Myself included!

Crossing over the bridge you get to a few ice cream shops and the Samurai museum. The oldest house in Iwakuni is there as well. You will see a statue in the center, of Hiroyoshi Kikkawa. He was the 3rd lord of the Kikkawa clan, and built the Kintai bridge.

We were now standing at the foot of Mt. Yokoyama, which has a series of footpaths and a rope bridge to get to Iwakuni castle at the top. We opted to hike up the trail. Wonderful hike with an improved path and a steady incline. You are surrounded by Japanese pines and maples; as well as tiny waterfalls with water wheels. There is a stone wall to that winds the path with you. You will see varying shrines and objects along the way. We even saw a fountain with canteen cups to get water (although I would never use public canteen cups unless I was dying lol). It is extremely quiet. With the thick forest, you can feel a slight eeriness along the way. The history of the area hangs in the air. It was about a 45 minute hike up the mountain.

Once you get to the top, it opens up with a series of formal stairs leading to the rope bridge and culture park. You start to see more landscaping. And of course there are vending machines! Keep on going, and you get to Iwakuni castle.

Iwakuni castle was deemed one of Japan's great castles in 2006. Here is a quick background of it, courtesy of Wikipedia:

This castle was constructed by Kikkawa Hiroie from 1601 to 1608 as his own castle. Kikkawa was a retainer of a vassal of the Shogun under the Mōri clan. However, this castle was dismantled as per the Ikkoku-ichijo (一国一城, literally, "One Castle Per Province") order established by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1615. The famous Kintai Bridge was originally a bridge to the main gate of the castle. After the destruction of the castle, Kikkawa used a part of the old castle as his residential office. The Kikkawa clan held this castle and Iwakuni Han, which was assessed at 30,000 (later 60,000) koku.

If you have the combo ticket you just rip off the castle portion and give it at the entrance. Or you pay 1000 yen there. You first walk in, and it is full of historical artifacts. You will find Samurai weapons, fossils, rocks, pieces of buildings, and many other artifacts. They provide a description of the item and give an approximate age. The museum is 2 floors, joined by a set of narrow staircases. You will find pictures of the Kikkawa clan and other samurai. The third floor is the top, and it is an observation deck. You can look through binoculars at the view of Iwakuni city on one side. And of the rolling hills, mountains, and forests on the other side. It was very chilly and windy up there. Makes sense. You are at the top of a mountain! The views were amazing. It was well worth the long hike. This is a national treasure and deserves a visit!

We took the rope bridge (like a hanging rail car) back down the mountain. It was very quick, but also very stable. It was neat to move just above the canopies of trees. Once we made it the bottom we decided walking back another 6 km was just a little too much after all the walking and hiking! So we took a taxi to an amazing ramen house for dinner! I ate extremely well! And then we went back to the hotel to call it a day! And what a day it was!

This was an incredible start to the trip. It was full of nature, good food, and local culture. I am very grateful to be doing it! Hope you enjoyed the blog, and see you next time!



Mata Aimashou!



Kayko


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