Touring Iwamura-cho, Gifu Prefecture: Town that Still Lives the Japanese Tradition
Located in Ena City, Gifu Prefecture, Iwamura-cho is an old castle town designated as a historically important preservation district by the national government. Here I would like to introduce to you this beautiful town where the old tradition is still alive and well.
How to Get to the Castle Town of Iwamura-cho
In this trip to the castle town of Iwamura-cho, I took a train bound for Nakatsugawa from Nagoya Station and got off at Ena Station. There I switched to Akechi Railway to go to Iwamura Station. It took only about one and a half hour.
Right after coming out of Iwamura Station, you take a right. As you go straight, you will find this small signboard for Iwamura Castle Town. Follow the arrow on the signboard and proceed to right, then on your left you will come across a street colored differently from those you’ve taken so far.
The first landmark you will find in the castle town is the store signboard for Goheimochi rice cake from Kato Liquor Shop, which you can see in the photo above. This store makes the entry point to the castle town.
Goheimochi rice cake is a local specialty from the Gifu area. Half smashed rice is kneaded onto a stick, then seasoned with miso, soy sauce or walnut sauce and grilled. It is very tasty with a crisp surface and chewy texture on the inside.
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Highlights of Iwamura Castle Town
1. Iwamura-cho Tourist Information Office
The tourist information office in the photo is located at the very center of the castle town. This is a great place to gather all kinds of information about the castle town. Originally, this old building was occupied by a bank and its very historic atmosphere is definitely worth a checkout.
2. Traditional Sweets Shop, Kameya
This shop called Kameya, located closer to the station than the tourist information office, offers Japanese traditional sweets. Their specialty is “castella,” which is a Japanese traditional sponge cake originally introduced from Portugal around as far back as the 15th century.
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You can see a sponge cake on the left hand side in the photo. That’s castella. I tried three different flavors of castella here. Many people from outside Japan may not be familiar with “yuzu”. But it is a kind of citrus fruit often used as a flavoring ingredient in Japan.
What you see below the castella is “konpeito.” They told me that they wanted to offer this sweet along with castella because it was also a sugar sweet introduced from Portugal around the same time as castella.
3. Oyonesan No Mise
A short walk back from the tourist information office toward the station will take you to this souvenir shop called “Oyonesan No Mise,”(Shop of Oyonesan) which is located across from a post office. They mainly offer pickled vegetables and other souvenir items.
This is “Oyonesan,” a bag of pickles I bought at the shop. They are packets of kikuimo (root of Jerusalem artichoke), a specialty vegetable from Gifu Prefecture. One is pickled in miso and the other in sake kasu (sake lees). The pickles have salty-sweet taste and crisp texture.
4. The Kimura’s Residence and other Old Mansions
The photo shows the entrance of a residence which used to belong to the Kimura family, who was running a large store in the castle town. Today, you can get inside and take a close look at the interior and the building structure.
This photo shows the room in the back across the entrance hall. This room has a relatively low hanging roof because the family was often visited by the local lord and didn’t want the lord to brandish out his sword and swing it around in a fear that anything unexpected might happen. As interestingly historic as it may sound, the episode well illustrates how stiff and cautious they had to be with a visit by the noblest man in the area.
In this area, you can also find another old mansion which belonged to a merchant family called Katsukawa and is open for viewing. If you ever have a chance to visit here, make sure to stop by one of these old mansions or two and immerse yourself in the rich historic atmosphere.
5. Matsuuraken Honten
This is “Matsuuraken Honten,”(Main Branch of Matsuuraken) the Japanese sweets, which has long been in business in the castle town. The specialty here is also castella. But a notable difference from the more modern variation offered by Kameya mentioned above is that the castella here is produced strictly according to the traditional method.
Castella of Matsuuraken features a particularly fluffy texture and its nice and airy feel comes very pleasant on the palate. Here you can sit back around the irori style open hearth and enjoy their sweets. Make sure to check it out.
6. Onna Joshu Kuramoto
This is a brewery producing local sake branded “Onna Joshu,” which literally means “female lord (of a castle).” Here you can take a look at the process of bottling sake and learn about the history of their specialty sake making.
After a short tour around the brewery, you can enjoy tasting sake. Their specialty sake, Onna Joshu, is themed on the actual history where the castle town was once ruled by a female regency. The sake is made purely out of rice but has a richly fruity aroma.
Yuzu juice in this photo is perfect for those not really up for sake or any other alcoholic drinks. It tastes a little bit sour but has a nice and refreshing aftertaste.
Here you can also try non-alcoholic drink called amazake, which is also made from rice. Amazake was very popular as a kind of energy drink in the old days and its sweet taste will surely give you some energy uplift. Don’t forget to give it a try!
Let’s Head Out onto the Ruins of Iwamura Castle!
1. Route to the Castle
As you are now in a “castle town,” of course you look for the trace of a castle. But the castle here was actually built up in the mountain and getting to the site of the castle is never very easy. As you can see in the photo above, the route to the castle is made with stones on a fairly steep hillside. If you want to visit the castle ruins, it’s strongly advised to plan adequately.
2. Iwamura Historical Museum
This is Iwamura Historical Museum, located near the foot of the mountain. The historical materials related to the castle, the castle town and notable figures produced from the area are preserved here. Besides the sword owned by the local feudal lord, a time announcing drum and other historical articles are also preserved here. If you may well give up climbing as far as to the castle site, you should be able to travel at least up to this place and get to check out what the museum has to offer. The admission fee is 300 Yen.
3. Ruins of Iwamura Castle
At the end of the steep mountain path, you will first see the stone wall of Iwamura Castle. The castle building itself has been lost and the large stone wall and an old well associated with an interesting legend are among what remain on the ruins site, but and they are of such a great historical value even just by themselves. Another great thing you can fully enjoy here is the greatly rich natural surroundings.
Honmaru is the main castle keep where the lord would usually stay. Unfortunately, it was cloudy on the day I visited here, but you would be able to enjoy the panoramic view of Ena City from here on sunny days.
In Iwamura-cho, Gifu Prefecture, I found the old castle town still living with the old traditions. The atmosphere and the foods were superb. For a town with such great historical value, it is relatively easy to access and can be highly recommended as a nice tourist destination.
Come visit Iwamura-cho, the town coexisting with the old tradition; enjoy the local sake Onna Joshu and different types of castella, and relish the great historic atmosphere.