Our destination for the first day sleeping in Nara was Iga Ueno. This city in Mie prefecture is famous for being an ancient center of ninjutsu during the Sengoku period.
The Iga ninja clan was once such serious a threat that ended up being slaughtered in an attack by Oda Nobunaga in 1581. Nobunaga who is famous for being the first Daimyō who came close to unifying Japan, much thanks to his brutal handling of the opposition.
Train trip to Iga Ueno
Our morning was a success, being the non-researching people that we were, we got out in the wrong station and lost the connecting train.
Incredibly lucky for us a Japanese mom decided to pick us up and take us closer to the Uenoshi station by car. It was that moment, when we entered the car of a stranger, that we started to ponder our choices in life.
Fleeting gueixa ladies
We’re both still alive – and so is the lady who helped us by the way – and were ready to visit the Iga Ueno castle. Standing proudly on top of the tallest castle wall in japan, this castle was originally built in the late 16th century and its latest reconstruction was in 1935.
Iga Ueno Castle, moats, entrance and view
We finished our tour of the castle and decided to look for a place to have lunch. After walking for a while we found a shop that seemed to be the only open restaurant
Inside we found a small, traditional and wooden decorated restaurant whose lady owner, despite being really troubled by not speaking any English, made sure we felt welcomed.
On one of the tables, was a Japanese family that when the owner asked for someone to help us, volunteered the grandma who supposedly was the only one who spoke English. She explained the menu to us and we asked her to order her favorite for us. It was simple cold soba noodles. Delicious and perfect for a hot day.
The remains of our cold soba
After lunch the owner asked us if we wanted to see the toilet, turns out the toilet had a rotating ninja door. It’s difficult to explain but it was a kind of a rotation door that allowed someone inside to escape when another person tried to get in. I will never forget the look of happiness in the lady’s face explaining it to us and seeing our surprised looks.
For the rest of the afternoon we went back to the Iga Ueno park, venturing very close to the Ninja museum. In the end we decided not to visit the Ninja museum due to our budget but found a festival happening. Here we sat down and enjoyed some live music performed by local high school girls.
Iga Ueno park festival near the Ninja museum
Some traditional old houses while walking towards the station
I remember us being on a tight schedule, I am not sure why, but probably because of the train times. Also we didn’t want to get back too late in the evening as we were planning for a girls’ drinks night out in Nara.
This time we made sure to catch the correct connections and took the ninja train back.
The best way to get to this off the beaten path Ninja village is through the Nara and the JR Kansai Line to Iga-Ueno station and then change train to the Uenoshi station through the Iga Railway.
Trips from Kyoto or Osaka will make you work hard as they will require you to change trains at least 3 times, through the Kintetsu Osaka Line Express. Don’t forget that if you have a JR pass, you will not be able to use it in Kintetsu lines because it’s a different train company.
Iga Ueno is a great one day trip from Nara, and only worth it if you are into Ninja history and culture or Japanese castles.
You might find it difficult to manage in the countryside without some basic Japanese language knowledge.
What would I do differently
Looking back on our journey to Iga Ueno, I think we should have researched a bit more about our trip in order not to miss the connecting train and had we not been on a budget, I think the ninja museum should have made for an interesting couple of hours.
For the next post we will explore the ancient former Japanese capital Nara.