September 23, 2017
Inuyama was an easy first stop in Japan. Yes, it was a bit of a beating getting here after a long flight from the States, but once settled we had a relaxing day. Staying at the Meitetsu Hotel, a large spa type hotel on the river, made it easy to book the cormorant fishing excursion (see below), our main reason for choosing Inuyama. At 9:30 the front desk called and had us booked on that evening’s excursion which conveniently leaves from the boat dock right outside their gate.
The Inuyama castle, the oldest one standing in Japan, is a short walk from the hotel.
On the way to the castle we passed the Sankoinari shrine. We stopped to wash our hands at the dragon fountain as Yumi had taught me – first the left, then the right, rinse out your mouth and pour the remaining water down the handle to clean it for the next person.
After a few photos at the scenic little shrine we walked the short distance uphill to the castle. A friendly caretaker at the entrance offered to take our photo.
It’s a picturesque setting with the castle surrounded by flowering trees in the spring and autumn color in the fall.
The castle itself is on several levels with steep stairs connecting them. Beautiful wood floors, a few artifacts – armory and swords – and a commanding view of the surrounding city, river and distant mountains from the top. I wouldn’t come to Inuyama just for this castle, oldest or not, but it’s a worthwhile stop if you are here.
From here we walked back through the shrine to Inuyama Old Town.
The streets are lined with souvenir and snack shops with plenty of ice cream opportunities but light on real lunch options. After walking to the train station to finish some other errands we stopped back through for lunch at a café. They had only two lunch choices and no English menu.
We didn’t really know what we were getting but it was quite tasty. Pan friend noodles with pork slices and a fried egg. Staff is very friendly and speaks limited English.
In the afternoon we toured the garden and tea house on the grounds of the Hotel Meitetsu. No tea was being served so we just walked the pretty grounds.
It’s a small garden that can be covered in 10 minutes or you can linger and enjoy the shaded walk.
Next we tried the Hotel Meitetsu onsen. As in most Japanese public bathing facilities the men’s and women’s baths are separated. The hotel has a large complex with both indoor and outdoor baths and a sizable washing room. You wash yourself at a shower station before entering the communal baths. In the afternoon the pools were pretty quiet. It was just me and one other lady in the outdoor pool. A sauna is also available.
Cormorant fishing, an ancient method where the locals use birds to catch fish.
At 6:20 we went downstairs to the meeting point for the cormorant fishing excursion. The hotel had pretty much only Japanese guests so we were the only Westerners in the waiting area. At 6:30 they walked us down to the dock, less than 5 minutes from the hotel gate. Our group from the hotel, about 20 guests, filled one flat bottomed boat.
You take off your shoes and sit on the floor of the boat. The boatman first takes a long slow cruise down the river and back to look at the city lights and particularly the view of the lit castle.
At about 7:15 we finally meet up with the cormorant fishing boats. The explanation given is entirely in Japanese so if you don’t speak Japanese it’s important to read the pamphlet if you want to know what is going on. The fishermen start close to shore preparing the fires they dangle in front of the boats to attract the fish.
Once the boats are in the water the cormorants surge ahead ahead, about 10 birds per boat on leashes, enthusiastically swimming along and diving to gulp up fish as they go.
Every so often the fishermen pull up one of the birds by the leash around its neck and fling it into the boat where they cause the bird to regurgitate the whole fish he has caught. The rope around the base of the bird’s neck prevents it from swallowing the fish. It’s quite the spectacle, but in the dim fire light it’s very difficult to photograph.
We follow along with the boat for about 20 minutes or so. There are other tour boats, one on each side of each fishing vessel. One side probably has a better view than the other but it’s matter of luck which side of the fishing vessel you will get. I would say we were on the wrong side, but the other side might also have had the fire basket in the way of a clear view.
In any case you get enough of a up-close view to see the birds and the fishermen. After we get back close to the hotel they stop and do a demonstration of what the birds are capable of and show off how well they are trained. They first feed the birds a bunch of fish and then have them regurgitate them. It’s done so quickly that it’s not really disturbing, although I imagine animal rights advocates would have a problem with this.
We were back at the hotel at 8PM.