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Inuyama 犬山

Inuyama Castle hanging over the Kiso River (© hayakato - Fotolia.com)
Inuyama Castle hanging over the Kiso River

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Inuyama (pop. 70,000) is a picturesque little town on the Kiso river, just 25 km north (15 miles) of central Nagoya. It is famed for is castle, cormorant fishing (鵜飼い "ukai"), and its historic open-air museum, one of the best tourist attraction in Japan.

Inuyama Castle 犬山城

Inuyama prides itself on having the oldest original castle in Japan, erected in 1440 by Oda Hirochika, none else than the future shōgun Oda Nobunaga's uncle. It is one of Japan's only 12 surviving original castles. Although the oldest of the 12, it isn't that ancient. The reason is that many older castles were destroyed. In comparison Windsor Castle in England is four centuries older, and Japan's oldest temples beat it by a full 800 years. It is not tremendously large either, but has the distinction of being the only medieval castle privately owned in the country to this day. At the beginning of the Tokugawa shōgunate, the castle passed to the Narusune family, retainers of the Matsudaira clan. They have been their happy proprietors since 1618.

Note the Jō-an teahouse (如庵) in the Uraku-en Garden (有楽園) on the way from the station to the castle. The teahouse was founded by Oda Nobunaga's brother, Oda Urakusai, in 1618 and is considered one of the finest in Japan.

Meiji-mura Open Air Museum 博物館明治村

Meiji Mura Open Air Museum, near Inuyama
Historical house in central Inuyama
Meiji Mura Open Air Museum, near Inuyama

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The main reason to visit Inuyama is the Museum Meiji-Mura. In the same line as the Nihon Minka-en near Tokyo, this reconstructed village features 65 buildings from the Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa periods brought over from various parts of Japan. Each one of them was dismantled and painstakingly rebuilt faithfully to the original. The village is superbly set on a hillside overlooking Lake Iruka (which incidentally is the second largest reservoir in Japan).

The Meiji period (1868-1912) was a turning point in the history of Japan. Forced to open its ports to Western ships, Japan quickly realised the importance of adopting Western ways and technologies. Western-style education, clothing and architecture became in vogue. Traditional wooden houses were replaced by grand stone or brickwork edifices, many with Victorian influences. Japanese cities, and Tokyo in particular, looked very different in the early 20th century than they do today. Central Tokyo was full of Western-style buildings. Only a handful of them have survived the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 and the American carpet bombings of 1942-45. Among those still standing are Tokyo Station, the Wako department store in Ginza, or the Bank of Japan in Nihombashi. The main purpose of the Meiji-Mura is to preserve the construction of this unique period of Japanese history. The founders of the park, Dr. Yoshiro Taniguchi and Mr. Moto-o Tsuchikawa, selected valuable buildings that were going to be destroyed, going as far as to include the furniture for the sake of authenticity.

One of the highlights is the main entrance and lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark Imperial Hotel. Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, still one of the most expensive in Japan, was was demolished in order to be expanded in 1967, two years after the creation of Meiji Mura. The authorities saved a part of the American architect's work by moving it to the Open-Air museum. The lobby that you can see in Inuyama today originally stood in Tokyo from 1923 to 1967.

How to get there

The Meitetsu Nagoya Railway's Inuyama-line Express from Shin-Nagoya station takes less than 30 minutes to reach Inuyama (¥540).

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