Iwakuni

Iwakuni (岩国) is a castle town shaped by two eras of military presence the samurai who walked the mighty Kintai-kyo bridge, and the U.S. Marine Corps base in the city today.

Understand

Kintai-kyo

As with much of the Chugoku region, the history of Iwakuni begins with the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The Iwakuni han chose the wrong side, and were banished to the wilds of western Japan as punishment. One family, the Kikkawa, built a castle to mark their new seat of power, but it was torn down by imperial edict only seven years later. Nevertheless, the feudal lords of Iwakuni continued to enjoy power and prosperity for nearly three centuries, surrounded by loyal samurai retainers.

The Japanese Navy built a military air station in Iwakuni in 1940, which also marked its official incorporation as a city. After World War II, the air station was occupied by the Royal Australian Air Force; American forces began using it during the Korean War, and it became an official U.S. military base in 1952.

While the military base works to maintain good relations with the community, it's still a source of some tension mostly noise complaints and a few ugly incidents with Marines stationed at the base. But its presence as a bulwark against North Korea means that nobody is exactly keen to see it go, either.

Tourist information

Get in

By train

JR Iwakuni Station is on the San'yo Main Line. It's about 45 minutes from Hiroshima by local train, and makes a nice onward stop after a night at Miyajima. The city can also be reached from Hiroshima in about 20 minutes via Shin-Iwakuni Station, on the San'yo Shinkansen. However, the only bullet train to stop at Shin-Iwakuni is the all-stops Kodama and there are few hotels and restaurants around the new station, which is a long ride from the old station.

By plane

Iwakuni Kintaikyo (IATA: IWK) reopened to public from the end of 2012 after a 48 year hiatus. At the moment, ANA operates 4 daily flights each to and from Tokyo Haneda. The airfield was only available for use by the U.S. military. It's still a cause of some controversy, as residents have clamored for it to be converted into a public international airport. Other nearby public airports are in Hiroshima and Ube.

By bus

Buses run to Iwakuni from the Hiroshima Bus Center. Most overnight routes from Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka that are bound for Hagi will include a stop at Iwakuni.

Get around

The tourist attractions are all within walking distance of each other, near Kintai-kyo and the Nishiki River. Buses run from JR Iwakuni Station (¥240, 15 minutes) and Shin-Iwakuni (¥280, 15 minutes). A cheery cartoon map near the station makes it look like an easy walk, but the route is considerably longer and less direct than drawn. If you'd like to walk, though, head west on Route 2 from JR Iwakuni Station toward the Nishiki River.

Iwakuni area maps

See

Iwakuni Castle

Do

The ancient Japanese art of cormorant fishing (ukai) is a popular summer pastime; every night in June, July, and August, teams of fishermen in traditional dress use trained cormorant birds to catch fish. (The birds get to eat the small fry, but a ring around their necks keeps them from swallowing big ones.) With torches lighting the way, it's a memorable spectacle, and Iwakuni is one of the best places in Japan to see it due to the relatively smaller crowds. If you're not content watching from the banks of the river, you can join a boat (tel. 082-728-2877) for ¥3500 adults, ¥2600 children. Boarding is 6:30PM next to Kintai-kyo, and fishing is from 8-9PM.

Festivals

Buy

The most distinctive Iwakuni souvenir is the ishi ningyō (石人形), a doll made from stones under the bridge. The stones, in turn, are made of smaller pebbles glued together by excretions from a species of cricket. (Honestly.) If you'd prefer not to creep out your children, you might omit the fact that the dolls are meant to represent the souls of workers who died in the construction of the bridge.

Eat

Iwakuni's main claim to culinary fame is a special kind of sushi, which is made with a square mold not rolled in seaweed and has some special flavorings such as chrysanthemum.

More recently, Iwakuni has become renowned for having an insane variety of ice cream. Within this small courtyard there are no fewer than 3 different ice-cream stores specializing in unusual flavors of soft-serve. One has 25 to choose from, another 50, and the smallest yet most famous of the lot has a whopping 100 flavors of ice cream including such classics as blueberry, chocolate, and garlic. You've probably seen this place on TV before, and if you haven't, well, you have now because the 100 flavor store plays the segment from their last encounter on loop on a monitor out the front. Loudly. The area is rather pretty and tends to attract a lot of stray cats (and if you're lucky, kittens) so feel free to let your inner child out for a bit and sit down licking ice cream whilst petting a happy feline. Joy. It's about 50 meters northwest of the bridge.

There are a few food tents near the bridge and Kikko Park, serving hot dogs, chicken, and other summer favorites.

Drink

There isn't much in the way of nightlife in Iwakuni; many foreign residents head to Hiroshima to drink on weekends. There are bars in and around the military base, but the spectre of drunk Marines (real or imagined) tends to keep most Japanese at a distance.

As weather permits, there is a rooftop beer garden at the Iwakuni Business Hotel & Spa.

Sleep

Iwakuni can be easily visited as a day-trip from Hiroshima, where there are more plentiful accommodations. However, there are a few options in town.

Go next

Routes through Iwakuni

Hakata Tokuyama  W  E  Hiroshima Shin-Osaka
Yamaguchi Yanai  W  E  Hatsukaichi Hiroshima
Yamaguchi Tokuyama  W  E  Hatsukaichi Hiroshima


Totoya, 6-3-9 Marifu-machi,  +81 827-23-0820. 11AM-2PM, 5-11PM. WEB-END

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.