For most of the world, castles seem to be a thing of the past, but in Japan, it’s easy to be transported back in time to when castles were the norm. All you have to do is make your way to Iwakuni.
Iwakuni is a small but charming city nestled in Yamaguchi Prefecture that looks as though it was taken out of a storybook.
Given that it was once a castle town and a center for feudal lords and samurai, it’s no surprise that entering Iwakuni is like entering a fairytale.
The History Of Iwakuni
Before Iwakuni became what it is today, it was one of the epicenters of the feudal system in Japan back in the Edo Period.
The city also has a mountainous area where a castle was built to help the feudal lords keep tabs on the area while also keeping themselves away from enemies.
The castle was destroyed and rebuilt and can be seen in its new glory today.
This breathtaking bridge is an architectural masterpiece and is one of the biggest attractions that draw people into the city. The bridge consists of five arches that cascade over the Nishiki River.
In April, cherry blossom trees bloom close to the bridge, creating a romantic atmosphere along the river.
However, the bridge that sits here today wasn’t the original structure. The first bridge was much simpler and was built in 1673. It lasted for centuries until a typhoon, unfortunately, brought the structure down.
The current structure was recently refinished with new wood and has a baroque aesthetic reminiscent of old-world Japan.
You can easily walk from one end of the bridge to the other, though there is a very small toll fee charged.
The Castle Hike
Iwakuni also offers the opportunity to explore many areas of nature. Once you make your way over the bridge, you’ll find a monument, known as the Literary Monument of Ohan.
This will take you to the path towards a fantastic overlook of the city. After you’ve soaked up the view, the Iwakuni Castle isn’t that much farther.
If you’re not up for a hike, there is also a ropeway cable car that can take you up to the castle. This offers a spectacular view, just as the hike does, though from a different vantage point.
The Iwakuni Castle is a reconstruction of one of the iconic castles of Iwakuni’s past. Despite being newer, it was built with the original castle in mind.
The original castle was destroyed, but you are able to see some of the remaining ruins of the original structure close to where the new one has been built.
The castle is quite stunning, with a touch of romantic design mixed perfectly with traditional Japanese architecture.
Inside the castle, you can learn more about the history of the city and see samurai memorabilia. The castle also offers a view of the city below as well as the Nishiki River.
Iwakuni Art Museum
If you’re interested in learning more about samurai, you would enjoy the Iwakuni Art Museum. Here, you can learn through a unique, immersive experience that goes over the life of a samurai, as well as take a look at some of the armor that samurai used to wear.
The Shirohebi, Or White Snake
The shirohebi is a white snake that has a propensity for albinism, leading to its stark white color. This is a snake that is quite rare but made its appearance in Iwakuni.
These snakes are not poisonous and are only found in Iwakuni.
This led to the belief that these snakes were truly special, and finding one in your home, while potentially scary at first, would symbolize that good fortune would be bestowed upon the inhabitants.
Iwakuni Shirohebi Shrine
The Shirohebi Shrine is dedicated to the revered white snake, and there are even snakes living within the shrine. They are kept in an enclosed area with plenty of room to roam around, but you don’t have to worry about one getting too close to you.
The shrine is small but helps to raise awareness about these snakes and keep them safe. If you want to learn more about the shirohebi, there’s also a museum in town dedicated to these snakes.
The shrine is also set up according to Shinto faith rituals where visitors are able to pray before going in and learning more about the white snake.
Kikko Park is also home to thousands of cherry blossom trees, making it a key destination if you’re in Japan during the spring.
This park was also where one of the feudal lords of Iwakuni, Kikkawa Hiroyoshi, used to reside. A statue of him sits at the entrance to the park.
While you can’t go inside any of the old samurai residences located in the park, viewing them from the outside gives you an adequate glimpse into the old way of life of Japan’s feudal era.
The park is also ideal for walking around and admiring the surrounding greenery and fountain.
There are also a few attractions in and around the park, such as four different museums, and the Kikko Shrine dedicated to the Kikkawa family.
Each museum offers a different perspective from the past, with plenty of artifacts that give more insight into the way life used to be centuries ago in Japan.
Uno Chiyo’s Birthplace
Uno Chiyo was a famous author and kimono designer who was born in Iwakuni. Her contributions to Japan’s literary and fashion world have made her home a tourist destination.
The house is open to the public, where you can see remnants of her workspace and home life.
The grounds are also well-maintained, with a beautiful garden of plants and flowers that are always well manicured. There are also large stone Buddha statues around the outside of the home.
Cherry Blossom Season In Iwakuni
Cherry blossoms are one of the many symbols synonymous with Japan, and April is the best month to see these trees in full, glorious bloom.
Iwakuni has cherry blossom trees found throughout the town, adding to its fairytale appearance.
Restaurants In Iwakuni
As with most areas of Japan, Iwakuni has its own special delicacy worth a try, especially if you love sushi. Iwakunizushi is squared, pressed sushi that may be filled with items such as lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, egg, and cut fish.
Seafish is also especially fresh in Iwakuni since it’s so close to water. Seajack Minimai Sushi is highly recommended to taste both delicious, fresh fish dishes and sushi. If you’re looking for ramen, Umaka Ramen is the place to go.
You can also go to a more casual spot for drinks and small plates at Uhee Kawashimo.
For dessert, you can find many deliciously unique ice cream flavors, including sakura, while also finding flavors that change each season or classics like green tea.
How To Get There
Iwakuni is accessible by train or bullet train, also known as Shinkansen in Japanese. The Sanyo Shinkansen takes you to Iwakuni, where you can depart at the Shin-Iwakuni Station.
Alternatively, the regular train on the Sanyo Main Line can take you there, where you can get off at the Iwakuni Station.