Aichi Prefecture is dotted with many historic castles like Inuyama, Okazaki, and Nagoya – all of which hint at the prefecture’s feudal history. In fact, many famous warlords of Japanese history originated in this area, namely the three unifiers of Japan: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Since the area was a stronghold of warlords, it’s no surprise that it was also rife with samurais and ninjas. The most famous of the ninjas is undoubtedly Hattori Hanzo of the Iga clan, who became famous for saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1582, who then went on to become the ruler of united Japan. Thanks to his fearless tactics – and legendary skills – displayed during his operations, he was nicknamed Oni no Hanzō (Demon Hanzō).
According to legend, Lord Ieyasu was so impressed with Hanzo’s success and strategies that he created a clan of ninjas in Owari county – present-day Nagoya City. If you’re in the city, head to Nagoya Castle where you can learn about Hattori Hanzo and witness the ninjas’ trademark acrobatics and guerilla warfare during a ninja show that’s staged regularly on the castle grounds.
Every year in spring, a new team member is officially introduced to the public. The latest addition was a ku-no-ichi (female ninja) called Kocho, who is a former professional boxer. Currently there are six ninja members in the team – including Hattori Hanzo – who take turns performing in different groups throughout the week. In addition to watching the Hattori Hanzo and the Ninjas performance, which includes a trademark acrobatics show, visitors can also meet the performers, and experience a day as a ninja at the ninja school (for children only).
While the castle’s main keep is currently under construction (scheduled to reopen in 2022), the rest of the castle grounds is open to the public, including the recently rebuilt Honmaru Goten palace with its beautiful reception rooms and sliding doors.
When in Nagoya, one has to try its namesake “Nagoya-meshi”, a local cuisine that is fondly nicknamed ‘Samurai cuisine’, characterised by rich and strong flavours that come from a favourite Aichi ingredient: red miso.
It is said that the secret weapon of the Aichi samurai was miso – it was a long lasting, highly nutritious, and easy to transport. It was eaten as flattened patties of roasted miso, or grilled as rice balls.
Today, Nagoya-meshi encompasses a number of miso-based dishes, ranging from traditional misonikomi (thick udon noodles cooked in rich miso-based soup served in earthenware pot) and miso oden (stewed tofu and vegetables in dark miso broth) to more modern fare like miso katsu (breaded pork cutlet served with thick miso sauce). The more adventurous can try dote-ni, which is pork or beef entrails boiled in miso.
Nagoya-meshi also includes unique dishes that don’t use miso; a perennial Nagoya favourite is the hitsumabushi, a rice dish topped with grilled eel, as well as oni manju (“devil cakes”), which is a sticky, sweet snack made of glutinous rice and sweet potato. Both have been around since the Edo period. For a modern fare, Nagoya is the birthplace of ‘Taiwan Noodles’ which despite the name, does not exist in Taiwan; it’s a soupy noodle topped with spicy minced pork. Another must-try is curry udon – thick udon noodles served in thick, spicy sauce.
Thanks to the region’s love of tea ceremonies and its high concentration of confectioners, traditional sweets like uiro (a local cake-like confectionary) and ogura toast (made with sweet ogura bean paste) are also local favourites.
Nagoya Castle is a short walk from Shiyakusho Station, accessible via the Meijo Subway Line and Sakuradori Subway Line from Nagoya Station. The total one-way journey takes about 10 minutes.
Alternatively, the Meguru tourist loop bus (210 yen) takes you from Nagoya Station to the castle’s main gate in about 25 minutes.
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