Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Power Sightseeing Part I: Finding Old Japan in Iwakuni

Last week we had a day off from baseball in Hiroshima, so our JapanBall tour did some power sightseeing. The first stop was Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.

Once our group emerged from several cabs in Iwakuni, tour mate Don, who lived in Japan while in the service and as a member of a Japanese PR firm, took a deep breath and looked around. I followed his gaze across the Kintai Bridge and around the narrow streets lined with old tile-roofed houses. "When I think of Japan, this is what I see," he said. "Makes me wonder why I ever left."

I love the neon and craziness of Tokyo and other big cities, but I also enjoy getting away to find the quiet charm of a small town like Iwakuni.

The Kintai Bridge was built in 1673. After a typhoon destroyed it in 1950, it was reconstructed in 1953. Its five arches span 200 meters (656-ish feet), and the bridge is five meters (16 feet) wide.

The bridge is made completely of wood, and I read that no nails were used in its construction. Hmm, I could swear I saw nails holding the slats in place. The slats are actually hard to walk up; I found myself taking two "steps" at a time.

The Kintai Bridge spans the Nishiki River, where we saw a few people fishing. During the summer, fishermen in traditional clothing participate in cormorant fishing, or ukai. The cormorants dive into the water and catch fish, and the fishermen squeeze the fish out of their throats. Yuck.

Once across the bridge, we came upon shops selling trinkets.

Near the shops in a courtyard is a statue of Hiroyoshi Kikkawa, a feudal lord and head of the Kikkawa clan. His statue sits in Kikko Park, where the Kikkawa family once lived.

After walking through the park, we piled onto a cable car - which the Japanese call ropeway - and took it to the top of Mount Shiroyama. Well, it wasn't the top; we still had to walk up a steep slope to get to the top to see Iwakuni Castle.

Iwakuni Castle was built in the 17th century, but demolished by order of the Tokugawa Shogunate seven years after it was finished. It was rebuilt in 1960. There is a museum inside containing swords, remnants of castle architecture, and pictures of other castles in Japan.

There are good views of Iwakuni from the observation deck on the top floor of the castle. Here's the Kintai Bridge. It looks so far away.

We did all of this in about an hour and a half before we were off to our next spot, Miyajima. I could've spent all day there, but I told you this was Japanese power sightseeing.

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