A journey around the heart of Iga
As I live in the area, some of the nuances that tourists seem to love are a bit lost on me. Nevertheless, I was a tourist but 5 years ago when I visited the city as a foreign exchange student. But, new age I hope comes experience and today, we’ll look at my journey through Iga city.
Firstly, here’s a bit of cute- which was advertisement for the ninja costumes you can rent while touring the ninja city (mostly popular with young children and families).
Upon exit from the Ninja train station I was greeted with this cute sight- which doesn’t happen when commuting to work. These 3 are adorable and even the taxi driver (there is a taxi rank located behind me) got out and took a picture.
But onward I went, until I came to the main reason for my visit: the NINJA experience. Firstly, the downside: when I last came I only took part in the Ninja experience and museum and this is exactly the same: from the actions taken to the displays. However, this does not mean that it is not worth doing.
Firstly price: to visit Iga castle, take part in the Ninja experience and visit the lantern hall (called the だんじり会館) it is 1750 JPY- which is the combined ticket price. Buying this is easier and it does save a bit of money. But, If you only want to visit 1 or 2 of the sites, pay for a single entry- it is cheaper. Firstly, we’ll look at Iga castle.
伊賀上野城 or Iga castle has been present on the site in some form since it was built. The castle dates back to 1585 or 天正15年 when the ruling family started to build it. The site once held smaller building surrounding the castle and it was once a hive of activity.
Just north-west of the castle is the ruins of the castle hall- which served as the living spaces for the castle helpers, the attendants and everything else which the main castle would have needed including housing the kitchen area, the tax office, and other offices a head of state needs to have.
The site of the castle office, now seems to be ignored by locals and tourists alike as just a part space. The boarders you can see marked out show where each room once stood and markers name the rooms both in English and Japanese. but still people walk on past.
In 1611 or 慶長16年 building work gor underway around the castle and 30 m 本丸 or walls were erected- which was and still is the tallest of any castle in Japan, making Iga castle one of the “100 most famous castles in Japan”, one of the reasons for a high volume of Japanese visitors.
The castle was once a central part of nationwide defense as there was a high risk of rebellions due to the climate at the time and after the erection of the increased defenses in 1611, on the 2nd of September 1612, the Tenshu (天守 or castle tower was destroyed in high winds. The decision to not rebuild the castle was made in 1615 at the start of Genwa 天和元年.
Fast forward to 1935, 320 years later, Katsu Kawasaki (川崎克) started restoration/ rebuilding the castle out the tensho was created out of wood- which is what can be seen today.
The castle is a fantastic thing to explore but it is NOT accessibility friendly. There are no lifts at all and all stair cases are extremely steep, but it is worth it. The castle has almost become a community center, showing the history and culture of Iga and of the Iga district. In addition to this, the castle hosts many artifacts from the castle era, showcasing the strange articles of war, war time documents and art and poetry created by the castles inhabitants.
There are many things I could point I which I liove when I visit but I will do but 2. Firstly, on the top floor, there are 46 individually created from many different people. Secondly, the view of Iga- take a look for yourself:
The next stop was the ninja experience, and I got to say it was a bit of fun. Admittidaly I did end up speaking to a Japanese professor and we did have a bit of a laugh, mostly at my height and being in a tradational Japanese house. Nevertheless the tour. There are 2 types of tour on offer: with or without the ninja weapons exbition- I went for without (but I went with previously).
The attendant who guided the group around, explained that the roof was so steep by design- it made it harder for enemy ninjas to enter the property. Which bring us nicely to the first point- the fist part of this is a group guided experience and it is wheelchair friendly.
Upon entry, you must take off your shoes (it is Japan), you are guided into the living room where some ninja tricks are performed- along with the explanation of how and why. There are tours in English, but there are a lot more in Japanese.
The guildes explain quite a bit about the way of the ninja and what precaustions they took to ensure everything remained safe while ensuring that everything was done to amaze and amuse.
Following this, the tour leads onto the museum where exhibits are presented in English and Japanese which show ninja artifacts and tell you how many things were done. As this tour is designed for children and adults in 2 different languages, the explanations given are more of an overview but helpful never the less.
There is just one artifact that I will talk about in more detail: the 4 sided shrunken. What I will say is that there is no problem with the Japanese side- there is a problem with western cultural knowledge. This shuriken is known as a Manji-shriken and is written with the kanji: 卍手裏剣, see the problem. To make matters worse, the translation of 卍 or まんじ is swastika which really does evoke any positive feelings to a European’s ear.
Finally, there was but more more building which housed further information and a gift shop with some brilliant books about the history of ninja and plenty of general ninja merch including T-shirts, rubber kunai, pens, etc.
The last stop was the lantern hall- argubuly the least impressive of the 3, especially for any non-Japanese speaker. However it is from here were ninja costumes may be rented for your grand tour of Iga.
This hall houses the large lantern floats used in various festivals happening in Iga (all of which I have missed or am unable to attend….). Each display has been painstakingly created to best highlight it’s beauty and artistic style. All explanations are given in Japanese and while it can be enjoyed without, it does make the experience longer.
Upon entry, you are told that there is a 12 minute starting at the start of the hour on the second floor and to be honest, even with this, you are only going to be here for about 30 minutes to an hour.
At the end, there is a large gift shop with ninja anything and everything: sake, rice, chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, t-shirts etc. If you love ninja, this is not to be missed.
All in all, it was a brilliant way to spend a day. There is a lot more in Iga to explore (the main city for example) but spending a day looking more into Iga’s history was well worth itだってばよ！( BTW that was painful to write but if you don’t get that reference, do you even ninja?)
Thank you for reading and happy exploring.