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January 29, 2019 / 1:24 AM / 5 days ago

Okazaki: A Castle, Miso and a Find

While the city of Okazaki ranks 39th in the size of population among Japanese cities, it boasts Okazaki Castle which was the 4th largest castle in Japan.

The reason for disparity - this castle is the birthplace of Iyeyasu Tokugawa, who founded Tokugawa shogunate, the regime which ruled Japan from early 16th century to mid-19th century.

Trees showed beautiful autumn tint in the park.

Okazaki castle’s footprint was approximately 86 hectares or 212 acres, which is an equivalent of 85 average MLB ballparks, or one hundred and forty football pitches. Although the original castle was demolished after the Meiji Restoration, the city reconstructed Tenshukaku, the main keep of castle complex, in 1959 using an archive picture as a blueprint.

The keep now sits in the center of a beautiful park.  Approaching it, you will soon notice a wide and deep dry moat, the side of which is walled with neatly piled stones. The moat is approximately nine meters or thirty feet deep and its massive size is an assertion of strong will to protect the birthplace of the founder of Tokugawa shogunate. Inside rebuilt Tenshukaku is an array of exhibit including Samurai armor and weapons like a long pike.

The park also has the Iyeyasu and Mikawa Bushi Museum as well as a Japanese style tearoom.  Inside the Iyeyasu Museum, there is another exhibition of armors and artifacts from Edo era, but the best part is that you can try on a mock Japanese armor for free and take a selfie. They also offer English audio guide.

Main hall of Sugo shrine.

If you have spare time of half an hour or so, you can also visit Sugo shrine nearby. It is only a few minutes walk from the park. There, you can see a small but authentic shrine dated 1645. Be careful not to miss it, because now they have newer and bigger main shrine and the older but smaller shrine was literally sidelined.

Another attraction of Okazaki is Hatcho miso brewery. There still operate two traditional brewers - Maruya and Kakukyu.  Both offer guided tour to visitors and some of the guides can speak English.

Lines of huge wooden tubs for miso aging at Kakukyu.

They have a long tradition of miso making which dates back at least to 17th century. In the brewery, they still follow the traditional process in which miso is aged more than two years in a huge wooden tub, sealed under three tons of hand-piled rocks. The maturing takes four times the period required for ordinary miso.  Also, they use only soy bean, salt, water and Koji, aspergillus oryzae, a type of fungus, and no additives.

The result is a miso with distinctive flavor. It is very stout and rich with slight bitterness and acidity.  Since it is full-bodied, it goes especially well with oil or dairy when it is used as condiment.

Although the manufacturer takes pride in their traditional method to produce miso, they cannot ignore modern times.  Kakukyu offers freeze dried Hatcho miso which can be used to add flavor to anything you like. Sprinkle some on vanilla ice cream and you get ice cream that tastes like salt caramel. It can also give a kick to butter rich baked cake like madeleine or Victoria sponge cake.

A find was Takisanji temple. It not only has a classic Kamakura era nave but also houses a set of authentic Buddhist statues created by a great master, Unkei from the same period.  You usually see this level of authenticity only in Kyoto, Nara or Kamakura.

Classic Kamakura era nave of Takisanji temple.

It is a Buddhist temple built in early 13th century and the nave has a graciously curved Hiwadabuki, a cypress bark thatched roof.  It also boasts a great Sanmon, a temple gate within a walking distance, as well as a Toshogu, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa shogunate founder Iyeyasu Tokugawa. When we visited the temple, the trees were adorned with autumn tints. Bright red and yellow leaves of Japanese maple added accent to already beautiful scenery.

The three wooden statues are Kannon, a goddess of mercy, Taishakuten and Bonten.  Unkei is arguably the most famous Kamakura era Busshi, a sculptor who specialized in creating Buddhist statue.  Since all three of them are exhibited in a small annex to the temple, you can see every one of them up close, which is a rare occasion. There are only thirty existing statues by Unkei and surprisingly this relatively unknown temple has one tenth of them. Also noticeable was the design of those statues. Unkei is famous for his masculine sculptures at Todaiji temple in Nara, but these three have very delicate representation and should be a very good example of his less known side.

One last addition to this travel log is Okudono Jinya.  It sits at the foot of a mountain in the outskirt of Okazaki and about fifty minutes by bus from Okazaki JR railroad station. I thought this place was worth mentioning because it offers a combination of beautiful Japanese garden and good Japanese style lunch. The price for a seasonal prix fixe lunch is JPY 1,000. They also offer authentic Japanese green tea from JPY 350 in the Shoin annex.

Okudono Jinya and its Japanese garden.

 For more information visit Aichi Now

More from this series

Samurai Days On Tokaido RoadRe-experience ancient highways in Aichi prefecture.
Honzaka Pass: Treading the Old Mountain Way“That’s a varied chickadee. A red-flanked bluetail may be there, too.”
Goyu and Akasaka: Afterglow of Tokaido RoadLocated about halfway between Edo and Kyoto, Goyu/Akasaka, was a twin post-town on Tokaido Road.
Arimatsu: A Living Post-TownArimatsu is one of the few post-towns on Tokaido Road, where you can still see neat lines of merchant houses from Edo period.
Art of Shibori Tie-DyeThe possibility of Shibori, Japanese name for tie-dye, is infinite. The principle is so simple that you can try it at home with yarn, fabric and some dyeing agent.

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