Sunday, March 4, 2012

ueno park - where ninjas roam

So most of the tourist attractions in Iga are located in Ueno Park which is a couple minutes walk from the Uenoshi Station. Ueno Park is apparently a very famous park in Tokyo, kind of like the Central Park in New York, so don't get confused! First stop in Ueno Park is the Iga Ueno Castle. This castle is the only remaining castle in Mie Prefecture, all other cities just have former sites of castles.

Iga Ueno Castle is also known as the White Phoenix Castle because of its lovely white walls. The walls surrounding the castle are 30 meters high and are said to be the tallest in Japan.

The interior of the castle is now a gallery of ancient Japanese artifacts. The most interesting items were the armor and the helmets!

need some personal space? just swing your head!

All the descriptions were in Japanese so I just went through quickly taking pictures without really knowing what things were. I really hated all the disgusting fluorescent lighting that was used in the building, it made my pics blurry and couldn't avoid all the glare. Even if there was information in English we didn't have time to read it. We had bought the discounted ticket which allowed access to the Iga Ueno Castle, the Iga-ryū Ninja Museum, and the Danjiri Museum for 1450 yen, saving us 250 yen. Anyways at this point it was already 2pm and all the museums and historical monuments closed at 5pm. In Japan when they say a place is closed at 5pm, they really mean last entrance is at 4:30pm. Since all the touristy things had the same last entrance time it really cut into the time I could spend at each location and I had to plan my route beforehand to ensure maximum efficiency. Good thing the second floor was mostly filled with just painting and household items which weren't as interesting to me as the first floor. The third floor had nothing in it but did offer a great view of the city. The ceiling was nice in that it was decorated with picture cards by renowned artists. The steps are extremely steep and are also super tiny so be careful going up and down them. I loved how everything was made out of wood and it was all so smooth!

The next stop on our list was the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum.  The first part of the museum requires you to take off your shoes as you enter an authentic Ninja Residence. This house was moved from its original site in the Takayama area of Ueno City to its current location in 1964. The residence looks just like a normal farmer's house on the outside but the inside had revolving walls, secret hiding spots and passageways. A guide brings you around the house showing you all the secret features that can be found in each room. The only crappy thing is that we couldn't explore the house by ourselves and interact with all the cool features. Now I really want a house that has cool hiding spaces and secret passageways. How awesome would that be?!?

This ladder led up to a secret mezzanine level where a ninja could hide safely in the dark and observe intruders unobserved. So cool that the ninja could pull the ladder up behind him and make it look like an empty shelf! The guide only spoke in Japanese but there were signs in English describing all the different features. After exiting the Ninja Residence you move on to the House of the Ninja's Art. The section had ninja weapons and clothes on display. The information itself was pretty interesting and there were English descriptions for each case. However I didn't spend that much time reading the cases since we had to make it to the Ninja Demonstration Zone at 3pm. I just took pictures of all the information so I could peruse it at my leisure. An interesting fact that I learned about ninjas from the museum was that ninja clothes weren't black as it is commonly believed but rather a dark blue. That is because a black outline is rather apparent on nights that weren't completely dark. The Iga ninjas just wore navy blue working clothes of a farmer from the area. This costume was the most common and allowed them to blend in. Also because of this costume it allowed them to freely carry farming implements that could be turned into weapons.

After going through the museum we went over to the Ninja Demonstration Zone that required an additional fee of 300 yen. A lot of places states its only 200 yen, even the museum's website, but as of 2012 the price has risen. The show is all in Japanese but thankfully I had Vinnie there to explain what was going on. Most things didn't need a description since they were just demonstrating some ninja skills.

Seems like I missed a whole section of the museum - the House of Ninja Tradition! Bummer I didn't know about it until I did some research. Oh well we didn't have much time anyways since we had to hustle to the Danjiri Museum. Since the Danjiri Museum is located outside of Ueno Park we checked out the Haiseiden before heading over. The Haiseiden or the Poet's Memorial Hall was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the haiku poet Matsuo Basho's birth.

Matsuo Basho besides being a famed poet was also an extensive traveler. The memorial hall actually has a shape of a traveler. The roof represents that of a cap while the first floor has a roof that represents a traveler's cloak. Pretty nifty. Inside the memorial hall is a statue of Matsuo Basho but visitors are only allowed inside the hall on October 12th, the date of Basho's death and the Basho Festival.

As you exit Ueno Park just turn left and walk straight. The Danjiri Museum is across the street from Ueno Park.  So what is a danjiri that there is a whole museum dedicated to it? Danjiri are large wooden carts in the shape of a shrine or a temple. It is believed that spirits or gods reside in the danjiri. Every year from October 23-25 during the Tenjin Matsuri, the Festival of the Gods, the danjiri are pulled around town. Until the festival, three of the nine danjiri in Iga are stored in the Danjiri Museum for public viewing. The rest are stored in separate danjiri sheds located around the city.

Accompanying the nine danjiri carts is the Oni-gyorestsu, the Parade of the Demon-Spirits, which consists of over 100 people wearing traditional ogre costumes, making the Ueno Tenjin Matsuri a unique sight in Japan. Inside the museum was a display of the demon costumes that people would wear during the festival.

I thought this mask was the creepiest of them all...

So the demons would drunkenly stumble around in the streets and frightened the children until they cried. Vinnie attended the Ueno Tenjin Matsuri last year and she said that children were crying everywhere while the parents looked on and laughing. Apparently it's a good thing if the children are crying because the demons are scaring the evil spirits away from them. The museum is also a location for you to rent a ninja costume for 700 yen. One of the things people can do is dress up like a ninja and walk around the different tourist locations. Vinnie and I wanted to do it but couldn't find any of the rental locations until it was too late. The tourist map that I have linked to below shows the 7 different ninja costume rental locations in Iga. We had the same map but we didn't look at it too closely to notice it. I also really hated the type and position of the lighting they used in the museum, it caused a lot of glare and since everything was behind glass it ruined a lot of my shots... Everything in the museum is in Japanese although they do have an English explanation sheet for the movie that is shown on the three large screens inside the glass exhibition room.

The Details
Iga English Tourist Map - can also pick up a copy at the tourist office outside of the Uenoshi Station

Iga Ueno Castle
106 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga City, Mie
tel: 0595-21-3148
hours: 9:00-17:00 (last admission: 16:45)  closed: Dec 29-31
admission: 500 yen (discount ticket at 1450 yen includes admission to this location)
you will need to take your shoes off to enter the castle

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
117 Uenomarunouchi, Iga City, Mie Prefecture, Japan 518-0873
tel: (81) 0595 23 0311
hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (last admission 4:30 pm)  closed: Dec 29-Jan 1
admission: 700 yen (discount ticket at 1450 yen includes admission to this location)
Ninja Demonstration Zonehours: Dec-Feb 11:00-15:00 on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays; March-Nov. 11:00-15:00 every day
admission: 300 yen
shows are performed on the hour and last from 15-20 minutes

Danjiri Museum
122-4 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga City
tel: 0595-24-4400
hours: 9:00 to 17:00  closed: 3rd Sunday in April, Oct. 23-25 and Dec. 29-Jan 1
admission: 500 yen (discount ticket at 1450 yen includes admission to this location)

1 comment:

  1. Castle& ninja house is fucking awesome. Parade is just cruel!