Iconic Iwakuni a great place to be stationed

Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Japan
Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Japan

Iconic Iwakuni a great place to be stationed

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Japan | .
published: December 31, 2017

Looking down at the river and mountains from the observation room atop Iwakuni Castle, I could easily imagine why a feudal-time lord built his castle here. The amazing vista and the mountain breeze on my face made me feel like I was on the top of the world.

Iwakuni castle is about 4.5 miles from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni. Constructed in the architectural style of the Momoyama Period (1573 to 1603), the four-story castle was originally built in 1608 by the first Lord of Iwakuni, Hiroie Kikkawa.

After the Tokugawa regime decreed  the Law of One Castle per Province in 1615, it was tore down that same year. The existing castle was rebuilt in 1962, and features as a museum displaying of historical items such as samurai sword, firearms and suits of armor.

Because the castle was built on a top of mountain named Shiroyama (Castle Mountain) you can spot it easily from Iwakuni City. There is a ropeway which takes you to the castle entrance from the base of the mountain in three minutes. The cost is 550 yen ($5.50) for a roundtrip ticket, and admission to the castles is 260 yen. It takes about 30 minutes to tour the entire castle.

After exploring the castle, I recommend strolling through nature in the surrounding area where more than 200 different kinds of trees have been preserved. I enjoyed this walk, taking in the dynamic castle in the backdrop amid the lush forest and singing birds.

In addition to the castle, Kikkawa built a wooden bridge over the Nishiki River in 1673, however it was soon washed away. He had it rebuilt with improvements the following year and it remained for more than 250 years until it was destroyed again in 1950. Although the city officials wanted rebuild the bridge with concrete, local demand persuaded them to rebuild current wooden structure in the same style as the original, using timberwork construction that employs metal belts and nails, according to Iwakuni City officials.

Whatever you do don’t miss the opportunity to visit Kintai Bridge if you are going to Iwakuni Castle from MCAS Iwakuni. This iconic bridge is a symbol of Iwakuni and one of Japan’s most famous bridges. The five-arch wooden bridge spans 233 feet across Nishiki River. Due to the height of its arches, however, it has a total surface length of 690 feet. It is 16.4 feet wide and its piers are nearly 22 feet tall.

“The scenery of Kintai Bridge changes with the seasons, attracting people to this historical bridge year round,” said Takeshi Yamaguchi, manager of the city’s Tourism Promotion Division. “The most popular season is spring and autumn when cherry blossoms bloom and the leaves change colors. It is just gorgeous. It is very close from MCAS Iwakuni and would make a pleasant cycling destination from the base.”

The entrance fee for the bridge is 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children.

On the other side of Kintai Bridge is Kikko Park, a perfect place for a family picnic. The park is full of trees, plants, flowers and a huge fountain for children to play in. The park is also home to Iwakuni Historical Museum and the Kikkawa Family Museum.

If you are in Iwakuni during summer, don’t miss the Nishiki River Water Festival held the first Saturday in August. It includes food vendors, attractions and a huge fireworks display over scenic Kintai Bridge that draw more than 100,000 visitors from all over Japan every year.

These are just a few reasons to make Iwakuni your next travel destination – or, if you’re already here, get outside the gate and enjoy all the area has to offer. It’s a great way to experience a laid-back country feeling in Japan. It is peaceful feeling.

For more information on Kintai Bridge, visit: kintaikyo.iwakuni-city.net/en

Albino snakes anyone?

At Kikko Park you can see an unusual national treasure – white snakes.

No. I’m not talking about the rock ’n’ roll band. I’m talking about nearly 6-foot-long, ½-foot-diameter snakes as pale as the driven snow. They are found exclusively in Iwakuni.

According to an old Iwakuni City chronicle, the first white snake was captured in Yokoyama, a castle town of the Iwakuni clan, in 1738. The number of living white snakes has decreased in recent times, and they have since been officially designated as national treasures.

It was once believed that these snakes were messengers of Benten, the Japanese goddess of wealth, and that they bring good luck to those who see them.

You can view the snakes Imazu White Snakes Museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but attendants tend to ensure that foreign visitors make the ¥100 ($1) donation for an English-language pamphlet.

Good eating in Iwakuni

Uhei ia a friendly Japanese-style restaurant is a 5-minute walk from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni’s main gate. Here, you can try a variety of authentic Japanese dishes such as fresh sashimi, yakitori and tempera. The place popularly known to people on MCAS Iwakuni as “Fish Tank,” because of the big fish tank in front of the restaurant. Try Asari butter, fried butter and manila clam.

Tel: 0827-24-2881

Takes from around town

   Q: What do you like about Iwakuni?  

Uhl: People are really friendly and it’s a great place. I come from more rural area, so I it like here.
Brown: It’s a safe environment to raise kids in, versus in the States.
Garland: I like that it’s very clean and people are very nice. The scenery is very beautiful. So far, I like everything about it.
Congdon: I’ve been here almost two years. We love the people and culture; it’s a very friendly and safe place to live. All the neighbors that live around my house are traditional farmers, and we get fresh vegetables and we made puree from fresh blueberries and it’s all organic. They love my dogs, too.
Ota: I like Iwakuni because it’s a cozy countryside. 
Perry: I like the weather because it reminds me of home. I am from North Carolina and it’s the same.

   Q: What is your favorite place around Iwakuni?  

Uhl: I went to this golf course, but I can’t remember the name of it. It was a really nice golf course. And I took my family to Hachigamine Park. It was also very nice park.
Brown: Fresta. It’s a new shopping mall.
Garland: Miyajima for sure because it’s so beautiful and it has lots of ancient Japanese culture and is nice place to hike.
Congdon: Kintai Bridge and Iwakuni Castle. It’s a historical castle and there is a great wall and hike up there. It’s a good place to get away. Of course, very touristy but it’s worth it to go to Miyajima and Hiroshima Peace Park Memorial. There is so much do and see around here. Hiroshima has a good ski field.
Ota: Nishiki River. It is very nice scenery.
Perry: Yuu Beach. It is a huge beach.

   Q: Wehre is your favorite restaurant?  

Uhl: We like Jyan Jyaka, which is Yakiniku restaurant and Coco Ichiban (curry restaurant).
Brown: To go to Kings steak house. (You can have) anything with steak and they have a salad bar buffet. The portions are small, but it’s fresher.
Garland: I have been here only a month and half so far. So I don’t have one yet but I really like “okonomiyaki.”
Congdon: I have to say “Fish Tank” (Uhei). I like “edamame” (soybeans) and plum wine. Anything you eat there is good.
Ota: The new Italian restaurant, Trattoria Chinque Ponte. The carpaccio (raw meat and fish dish) they make with the fresh seafood is very good. You must try their homemade pistachio ice cream.

   Q: What is your most embarrassing moment in Japan?  

Uhl: My wife said watch out for traffic. She rides bike out in town a lot. And she got bumped into one time. … So I’m a little embarrassed by that.
Brown: Starting off beginning to drive.
Garland: Yesterday, when I was at my apartment in Hiroshima, somebody buzzed to come in. I (accidently) pushed the fire alarm to let him in. … The fire department had to come because I couldn’t figure out I had the wrong button. I was really embarrassed.
Congdon: When I practice my Japanese. It’s like, saying “kowai (scary) instead of Kawaii (pretty).
Perry: We went to AEON mall, and I was thinking you are driving the left side of the road, so the parking garage is going to be the left side. It wasn’t. (She drove in through the exit.) So I’m looking head-on at another car, and so I was like “crap!” … I was so frustrated. I am like, “I am an American and this is the first time driving onto a parking deck.”

   Q: Is there anything you want to achieve while you are in Japan?  

Uhl: Climbing Mt. Fuji will be awesome. I haven’t got to go do a lot of hikes. I went to Mt. Misen and Miyajima. That was good hiking. I heard about three peaks I didn’t get to go to. But I hear lot people say it’s a really good hike.
Brown: Climbing Mt. Fuji.
Garland: I want to learn how to speak Japanese.
Congdon: I have a whole bucket list of places I want to go. My next one will be Fuji in May, to the Blue Sky Heaven, which is a Harley owners group’s national rally. We are riding with Japanese people from Hiroshima to Mt. Fuji. My husband has a motorcycle, and six of us from base are going with a big Japanese group. 
Perry: I want to go to Tokyo Disney Land.

   Q: Where is your favorite place in Japan so far?   

Uhl: One of my favorite place is, and it goes back to the restaurant question again, we call it “Chicken Shack” (Sanzoku restaurant). They have good chicken and rice balls.
Brown: I liked Fukuoka. It’s busy but it’s little bit bigger city than Iwakuni. Food and shopping wise, they have H&M and Forever 21. When we go to Fukuoka, we rent a van and drive down there, which takes three to four hours.
Garland: I have to say Hokkaido. I loved the food there and just a beautiful place.
Perry: It’s probably the beach. Because it’s clear water and it’s really pretty.


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