This ancient town in Aichi is home to Japan’s oldest surviving castle and ancient fishing methods.
This ancient castle town in Aichi is home to Japan’s oldest surviving castle and a fishing tradition which goes back over a thousand years. Inuyama lies half an hour north of Nagoya, making it an ideal getaway. But this small city of just 74,000 people has a lot to offer even to visitors traveling from afar, including:
- Inuyama Castle
- Jokomachi District
- Cormorant Fishing on Kiso River
- Jo-an Tea Ceremony House
The street of Jokomachi comprises of preserved old buildings and charming shops selling local goods on either side. Food unique to Inuyama includes tofu dengaku, which is grilled tofu covered in red miso paste served on a stick. Daring ice cream fans won’t hesitate to try ‘soft de moriguchi’, a pickled radish ice cream, from a pickle shop. Both of these are available on Jokomachi, which leads up to the doorstep of the city’s castle.
Built in 1537, Inuyama castle is considered to be the oldest surviving castle in Japan. Designated as a national treasure, it offers visitors impressive views of the Kiso River, where cormorant fishing has been practiced for around 1300 years.
Cormorant fishing, or ukai, is a fishing method that involves the help of trained sea cormorants to catch fish. In Inuyama, this happens between June and mid-October each year.
Watching cormorant fishing at night leaves you with a feeling of being back in time. Wooden boats for transport, lanterns for light, birds for catching fish. All this, with an ancient castle as a backdrop.This method of fishing has been designated as “Inuyama’s Intangible Cultural Asset.”
The fishing master, or the usho, is instantly recognisable in his indigo hat and his waterproof straw skirt. After a cruise past the lit-up castle, the boats steer away from the city lights. As the boat pushes through the water, the cormorants swim ahead, held back by the hemp leashes tied around their necks. It’s not long before a cormorant dives underwater to catch a fish and is back in his master’s grip. The usho quickly retrieves the fish from the bird’s throat.
Jo-an Tea Ceremony House
Visitors looking for tranquility will find it at the tea ceremony house called Jo-an. A designated national treasure, Jo-an is considered to be one of the finest tea houses in Japan. The tea house is located in the Urakuen gardens, which is an incredible place to visit for the colourful autumn leaves.
Before you go
Visitors looking to experience cormorant fishing might find it useful to buy a package offered by local train companies. They offer a discount for cormorant fishing and transport, along with additional discount coupons for the castle and local restaurants.
The ticket for Inuyama Castle allows visitors free entrance into the Inuyama Artifacts Museum and the Karakuri Exhibition, which provide a great insight into the town and castle.