Quite significant among Japanese history although definitely not a touristic spot, Inuyama castle is thus not often visited by international travelers. Yet it is one of the twelve authentic castles of the country along with Matsumoto and Himeji! The tiny castle standing uphill in the sky is worth a visit, with stunning views over the Kiso river. And the building, open to the public only since 2004 – as it was inhabited by the Naruse clan until then – offers a traditional wooden architecture not so often to see in today’s renovated Japanese castles. Of course, Inuyama is also one of the 100 landscapes of Heisei.
One hour away from Nagoya (Aichi), Inuyama castle is strategically built on a hill overlooking the wild Kiso river. Which had its importance back in the Warring states period. Built in the late 16th century, it was long considered as Japan’s oldest as its architecture looks even older. But it was finally admitted that the record truly belongs to another tiny castle, Maruoka.
As the safety fences around the balcony is quite low, slightly frightened “kowaii!” are to be heard at the top of the keep. The whole building is registered as a National Treasure since 1935. And the castle shape from the Kiso river is a representative sight of Japan, according to the list Nippon100 is following.
Inuyama was inhabited until 2004
The history of Inuyama has been long and disputed, with several different rulers. The first building on the “dog mountain” (Inuyama) dated back from 1440. And the actual shape was first achieved in 1537 by Oda Yojirou Nobuyasu, uncle of Japan’s first unifier, Oda Nobunaga.
Finally in the hands of the Tokugawa clan, the castle was given to one of its follower, Naruse Masanari, in 1617. And then stayed in the family until 2004, with 12 successive Naruse lords! The keep has thus only been open to visitors for 13 years.
In the Past, during Edo Period, the castle’s precinct was wider, with its Ote-mon, the main gate, reaching the current main shopping street. The building also suffered during the Mino-Owari earthquake in 1891.
Classified tea house
Another National Treasure is located only ten minutes away walking from the castle, the Jo-An tea house. Among the three classified teahouses of Japan, the one in Inuyama is the only accessible to the public. One more reason to reach the quiet city.
Once again, the tea house is linked to Oda clan. The small lodge was built in 1618 by Oda Uraku, a younger brother of Oda Nobunaga (read above!) and nephew of the castle builder. But that specific Oda fellow was more famous as a tea ceremony master than as a warrior. The tea house was originally built in Kyoto, as part of Kennin temple, but was moved to Inuyama in 1972.
It stands in the middle of a Japanese garden (1000 yens – or 1300 yens for a castle-combined ticket). It’s actually forbidden to enter the lodge (which was only possible through a small hatch as a way to remind everyone to be humble). But the 400-years-old inner part might be discover through its windows. Besidest tea ceremony can be experienced in another tea house of the delightful garden for 500 yens.
How to get there?
The easiest to reach Inuyama is from Nagoya. By train, the Meitetsu line connects Nagoya station to Inuyama-Yuen one (960 yens, about 45 minutes). From there, a 12-minutes walk leads to the castle and Kiso river.