Kinosaki Inspirations

Take a portal back to Edo Japan – a day in Izushi castle town

By spending a day exploring Izushi castle town, you’ll be transported back to 1604, – whose townscape is reminiscent of the Edo era (1603 - 1868) thanks to efforts to preserve the town’s original architecture.

A new day begins – time to wake up and head out from your ryokan

  • Shinkorou (clock tower)
    Shinkorou (clock tower)
  • Getting to Izushi

    If you stayed at a Kinosaki Onsen ryokan the previous night, prepare for the day, check out if you need to, and head to Kinosaki Onsen station. Izushi castle town is located roughly 40 minutes away from Kinosaki Onsen by bus, so don’t worry if you aren’t renting a car for your Kinosaki trip. From the station, catch a bus to Izushi castle town.

Arrival in Izushi

You’ve made it! Time to start exploring.
Izushi can be a bit of a maze, so to help you out, here is an English guide map of the town

  • Try a tour

    You’ll be experiencing much of what Izushi has to offer on your day trip, but if you want an even deeper understanding of the day’s highlights and the history behind Izushi town, we strongly recommend a town tour from a local English-speaking guide.

Izushi castle ruins and Arikoyama Inari Shrine

Let the tour begin! There is much to see and do in Izushi, but first let’s go and see the castle ruins and the famous Arikoyama-inari shrine torii gates

Castles had been built in two previous locations before one was finally completed at the base of Mt. Ariko in 1604, at the beginning of the Tokugawa period. After the Tokugawa regime came to and end, in 1868 the castle building was demolished, but parts of it were reconstructed, including the sumi yagura (corner tower) in 1968 and the Tojo gate and bridge in 1994. The original stone walls and the moat surrounding the castle remain in place. Izushi Castle was built on a hill, and the castle site boasts wonderful views as well as a number of cherry trees, making it a beautiful spot to visit in the spring during sakura season.

  • Arikoyama Inari Shrine

    Within the castle grounds is a flight of stone steps lined with approximately 40 red torii gates leading up to Arikoyama Inari Shrine, a peaceful place surrounded by ancient trees and lush greenery. The shrine is also an excellent lookout point from which to enjoy expansive views of the centuries-old layout of Izushi castle town.

Eirakukan Kabuki Theater

The oldest Kabuki theater in the Kansai region

Built in 1901, the Izushi Eirakuan is the oldest Kabuki theater in the Kansai region and the oldest in Japan still standing in its original location. In its heyday, the theater had a capacity for audiences of approximately 700, who first enjoyed plays and, when the space was turned into a movie theater in 1920, films. The theater closed in 1964, but the owner kept the building in good condition.

  • Izushi Eirakukan has been wonderfully preserved over the years. When it was dismantled for renovation in 2008, each piece of the building was labeled with a number so it could be put back together easily, and 80 percent of the original materials remain in place. The theater interior displays the original hand-illustrated signboards lining the walls that were used to advertise local businesses.

  • Visitors can tour the historic building and see the backstage area, including the actors’ dressing rooms and the underground space used to move parts of the stage. Exhibits include old photos of the building as well as examples of the unique method that was used to build the theater without the use of nails. Today, the theater is mainly used for local community events and an annual Kabuki performance that is held at the end of the year in November.

  • Mechanism for the rotating stage
    Mechanism for the rotating stage

Lunch time

After squeezing lots of exploring and learning into your morning, you must be hungry! Now is a good time to try Izushi’s specialty dish! The famous, Izushi ‘sara soba’.

Sara Soba
Sara Soba

Izushi sara soba is a staple item in Izushi, the town that counts almost 50 restaurants that serve these delicious soba buckwheat noodles. What makes Izushi soba different? The difference is in how it is served, using many small plates (sara; generally five per order). This style is unique to this area and is a fun and photogenic way to eat the noodles. Before being served, Izushi soba is cooked, rinsed in cold water, and strained. Because the dish was traditionally considered more of a snack between meals rather than a full course meal, it was served on these small plates. People customarily ordered soba by saying how many plates they wanted to eat, then adding the condiments and dipping it into the sauce directly.

A bit of history on sara soba...

  • The origin of Izushi sara soba dates back to the Edo period (1603–1867) when the lords from both the Matsudaira clan of Izushi domain and the Sengoku clan of the Ueda domain in Shinshu (present-day Nagano Prefecture) switched territories in 1706. A soba maker moved along with the Sengoku clan and settled in Izushi, where the Shinshu technique of making soba was incorporated into Izushi’s soba-eating style, resulting in what is known today as Izushi sara soba. Around the end of the Edo period, the teshio-zara (salt plate) style began, where soba noodles were sold by street stalls on small individual plates. When Izushi porcelain ware was later developed, soba began to be served on these small white plates. The current style of Izushi sara soba was established in the 1940s, and the number of restaurants specializing in this dish has continued to increase to this day.

Today, the typical condiments served with these noodles are negi (Welsh onion), wasabi, tororo (grated mountain yam), and a raw egg. Although five plates is the typical order for Izushi sara soba, diners can always opt to order more plates if they are still hungry. The meal is usually concluded with soba yu. A container of the still-warm water used to boil the soba noodles is served. This soba yu, mixed with the remains of the dipping broth in the dipping cup, makes for the perfect end to the meal. An adult, goes the local saying, can finish enough servings of sara soba to stack as high as the length of one’s chopsticks.

Well? How many plates could you eat? Next it’s time for you to waddle over to...

Izushi ware (Izushi-yaki)

Izushi ware (Izushi-yaki), the distinctive type of porcelain rooted in the Izushi area, is characterized by its pure and bright white color. It is made from kakitani pottery stone, a kaolin clay revered for porcelain’s signature, pristine white and for the smooth, silky finish that allows potters to add their own special touches before their work is fired.

Izushi-yaki started in 1784 when potter Izuya Yazaemon began producing stoneware, but it wasn’t until 1793 that he shifted his focus to the white porcelain we know today. The techniques for this durable, white porcelain were brought from Saga Prefecture, which is known for its flourishing Arita ware porcelain. Visitors can find Izushi ware crafted by local artisans at retail and gift shops around the castle town of Izushi. Items range from plates used for Izushi sara soba, bowls and cups to more ornamental pieces like vases and furin (wind chimes).

Sukyoji Temple

The Japanese garden of Sukyoji Temple
The Japanese garden of Sukyoji Temple

Built in 1392, this temple was used as a place of worship by many generations and was re-established by the Buddhist priest Takuan Soho in 1616. Takuan is also known as the inventor of takuan – a type of pickle made by marinating dried daikon radish in rice bran, and because of this, many locals call Sukyoji the “Takuan Temple.”

  • Around the back of the main hall (hondo) is the temple’s attractive garden, a peaceful place filled with lush greenery, a small pond, and memorials to a local daimyo of the late Edo period (1603–1868) and Takuan Soho. The gardens are also a popular spot for enjoying the autumn foliage.

  • Other highlights of Sukyoji Temple include the zazen meditation experience and Buddhist cuisine (shoin ryori) available to visitors. Zazen meditation involves meditating while in a sitting posture and is usually done for about 20 minutes in a special meditation hall on the temple grounds. This particular hall was built on the initiative of Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the Japanese electronics corporation Panasonic. For those interested in the temple’s culinary traditions, a taste of shojin ryori, the typical vegetarian Buddhist cuisine, is a must.

After visiting the temple, next on the tour is...

Samurai Residence

Karo Yashiki

Izushi Karo Yashiki is an old samurai residence built near the grounds of Izushi Castle that was home to high-ranking samurai during the late Edo period (1603–1868). This house still sits in its original location and has been fully repaired. Inside the residence, visitors will find weapons and equipment used during daimyo processions as well as other historical artifacts handled by the samurai. A unique feature of this house is the hidden staircase leading up to the rare second floor, which was uncommon in samurai homes of the time. The second floor features an unusually low ceiling because it was presumed that it made such a feature more difficult to use a sword in this confined space.

A statue of the karo who lived in the house will be found sitting within view of Izushi Castle, where he must have presented himself for duty. Displays in the house also introduce the Oshiro Matsuri, or “castle festival” that takes place in Izushi every November. This festival reenacts the procession of the local daimyo traveling to and from the capital in Edo, and various items used in the festival are also displayed at the Karo Yashiki.

  • With that, your tour of Izushi is complete!

    There was no big fancy castle, but we think the wealth of traditional Japanese experiences, sights and tastes will truly have made for a memorable and enriching day.

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