Sunday 23rd April 2017 – Yudanaka
The next day we visited the castle properly with our guide Kenji, who took us on a walking tour up though the 6 floors. It’s definitely not the same style as the European castles we are used to, and actually from what Kenji was saying not a place that anyone actually lived, but was used for meetings and ceremonies and during a war, a final point to retreat to and defend if you were on the losing side.
It’s a really beautiful wooden building with what appears to be 5 floors from the outside but actually has a secret 6th floor. They didn’t like to spoil the order of creating buildings with what appeared to be a prime number of floors so often had a floor that wasn’t represented on the outside.
It’s black woodwork gave it the nickname Karasu-jo or Crow Castle, and with the wind coming through every gap and our bare feet on wood, it was freezing but we climbed the steep staircases up to the 6th floor then back down into some of the side buildings including the recently renovated Moon Observatory.
It’s all very photogenic so here are a few shots of the very pretty moat, cherry blossom and random people dressed up as samurai or ninjas (the fan of death was a particular favourite) are below.
We were due out on a train at lunch time so took a wander around the lanes of Nawate Street, which is lined with little stalls and restaurants and seemed to have a frog theme…
Our next stop was the mountain resort of Yudanaka, but on the way we stopped off at the cute town of Obuse to visit the Hokusai Museum, dedicated to the works of Katsushika Hokusaim famous for wood block art. You’d know the most famous piece which is a print of a big wave and comes from a series featuring Mount Fuji. His most famous pieces from his time in Obuse, are currently on loan to the British Museum.. I don’t know, you come all the way to Japan…
After Obuse, we travelled by train to the mountain town of Yudanaka, it’s high and close to several ski resorts, so the temperature was definitely a bit lower than we were used to. We were met by the owner of the Yorozuya Yurakuan Annex – an immense 70s style concrete hotel, complete with underground tunnels and complicated lift systems – very Bond, You Only Live Twice, but the rooms are traditional ryokan and the hotel centers round a Onsen hot pool which is supposedly one of the top 10 in the country.
The onsen has two pools, that alternate between hosting male and female bathers through the day. As the ladies had been assigned the more scenic of the 2 pools, we put on our yukata and headed down in the lifts to the underground tunnel that takes you up into the old wooden bath house. Here, like in the last place, you strip, wash and then can choose between 2 hot pools, one indoors, the other outside (and slightly overlooked, no kidding) both fed by piping hot water from a volcanic spring. The second pool is set in a natural rock pool, with a pebbled floor and surrounded by trees and blossom. It’s a beautiful if slightly odd experience.
That evening it was back on with the yukata and we were taken through the hotel (tunnels and all..) to a large private dining in room just off an amazing bar in a huge hall, and served another traditional ryokan dinner. This one had sashimi, Shabu Shabu, soba noodles, rice, bamboo shoots and all sorts of tiny delicate bites to eat. The effort that goes into producing such beautiful food is mind-blowing, though I just needed a martini, shaken not stirred to complete the 70s Bond movie effect!