An old Samurai castle town, with many well-preserved historical buildings
Izushi is another old Samurai castle town, with many well-preserved historical buildings. It's much smaller than Hagi and, although only three hours from Osaka, it is not very well known, certainly among foreign tourists. In my humble opinion, Izushi is a very charming and picturesque little place to visit, with the old castle walls overlooking the town, many historical old buildings, pleasant gardens, bamboo groves and temples. It's easy to walk around and see everything, or you can hire a bike.
Izushi is mentioned in the Nihongi and the Kojiki as being the repository of the "Eight Deities of Idzushi" -- eight treasures (gems, mirror, scarves, pearls, swords) brought by a prince of Silla (Korea) named Ama no Hi-hoko, in the year 27 BC (by the early countings).
The walls, with several towers, are all that have been restored of the old castle on the hill, but it's worth the short walk. There is a nice old shrine there, and it is all in a pleasant grove of ancient trees. The castle is illuminated at night and can be seen from most of the town. It's quite pleasant and very quiet to stroll around town at night. Get a walking map at your inn or at the tourist office.
There is a unique old wooden clock tower
in town (辰鼓楼, picture from www.izushi.co.jp
), below the castle and standing on the wall of the original outer moat of the castle town. The Tourist Office is nearby. There are several working kilns beside the Taniyama River that flows nearby. Other interesting historical buildings include the Sakakura, a still functioning sake warehouse, and the Meiji-kan museum. Several other buildings have historical displays. There is also a huge old wooden lantern on the other side of the highway (the only street with traffic lights).
Sukyo-ji (宗鏡寺) - Takuan-ji (沢庵寺)
Address : 兵庫県豊岡市出石町東條33
Open daily from 8:00 to 16:30 (200 yen)
Check this link
for more pictures
There are numerous shrines and temples all around the town, many with very nice gardens. At the far south end of town is Sukyo-ji temple (picture from www.city.toyooka.lg.jp
), of the Jodo Buddhist sect; it is also called Takuan-ji, because the famous monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645) not only attended the temple as a young man growing up in Izushi, but is reputed (in Izushi, anyway) to have here invented the famous yellow pickles which bear his name. Hardly a meal is eaten in Japan without 'takuan', also called shinko. (Takuan later moved to Kyoto, became a famous Zen priest, wrote on Zen and swordsmanship, and instructed the famous swordsman Musashi Miyamoto.) Upstream from the castle is Kyo-o-ji temple with another nice garden backed by a big forest of timber bamboo.
A little farther out of town on the east side are the Izushi Jinja shrine and Soji-ji temple, behind which is a walking trail up the hill, lined with little stone Jizo shrines.
We found a gorgeous private garden off one of the quiet side streets somewhere between Takuan-ji and the Meiji-kan. We saw a covered gate in a stone wall and a small wooden sign offering ceremonial tea for 500 yen. Through the open gate, we could see a lovely landscape garden, so we wandered in. The old gentleman who owns the place tends the gardens himself and lives in a small house on one side. For the advertised price he himself performed the tea ceremony for us in the garden's tea house, and we spent a couple of hours talking with him. So far, the city has not agreed to mention his garden in their tourist information, but it is an exceptional traditional garden, tended with loving care for generations.
Izushi (sometimes "Idzushi") is nestled in low mountains inland from Kinosaki On-sen on the Japan Sea coast, near the Tango Peninsula. It is not on a train line, but is only 30 minutes by bus from Toyo-oka city on the San-In Main line (just south of Kinosaki). It is also easily reached from Kobe or Osaka in about 3 hours by taking the Fukuchiyama Line north to the San-In line at Fukuchiyama, changing to the bus at Toyo-oka.
From Toyooka station buses leave every 20 to 40 minutes with Izushi as their final destination. They run until 7:30pm and take under 30 minutes. The first bus leaving Izushi is at 6:30am. The Izushi bus terminal is on the west end of Izushi town, but it's more convenient to get off at the Takuan-ji bus stop right in town. You can easily walk down to the bus terminal when you're ready to leave.
We just got off the bus in town and asked at the first inn we came to. We stayed at the Shichi-mi-ya ryokan, just south of the highway from the "Takuan-ji" bus stop, across from the big wooden lantern. It was a very pleasant if simple old place, and the people were very nice. Naturally there are several places to stay; if one is full, ask them to call around for you, or you can ask at the Tourist Office across from the clock tower.
The specialty food of Izushi is 'Izushi zaru soba' noodles. Soba is a common brown buckwheat noodle; but here, besides always being freshly hand-made, the noodles are served alone (zaru soba) and come in five small dishes (much like the wanko soba of the Tohoku region), with an accompanying dipping sauce. The tradition is to dip an entire little dish-full into the sauce and eat it at once. There are records kept of the champion soba eaters (most dishes consumed). Best of all, most of the many Izushi soba shops have been doing business for hundreds of years, and are themselves real historical experiences! A great lunch idea.
An interactive map
in Japanese is available there
This text was published on Randy Johnson's Favorite Getaways In Rural Japan, which is probably the most comprehensive guide for serious travelers in Japan. Reproduced with the permission of the author.
Pictures are from www.izushi.co.jp and www.city.toyooka.lg.jp web sites.