buckwheat noodles

♫Kansai Roadtrip♫ Izushi Soba and Takeda Castle Ruins

1:32 AM

A couple weekends ago, some friends and I decided a tiny road trip was in order. And with only only 1 week of planning, we were able to grab some crab nabe, a night of onsen, Izushi soba and healthy little hike.


To reserve our hotel, we used Rakuten Travel. It's a well-known Japanese travel service that offers a plethora of discounts for hotel and transportation within and outside of Japan. The service also has an English website and Smartphone application. The results and prices seem more or less identical on both sites, so you shouldn't have to worry about getting duped out of a few bucks. If you're still a bit nervous about using a Japanese service, there's always Voyagin. They have staff available that can speak both languages and help you out with your reservation.
Enjoying the expressway sights.
While all of the locations I'll list in this blog are accessible by train, trying to see them in all in two days like we did may make for a very hard, and not very relaxing, trip. If possible, I definitely recommend renting a car and making a classic road trip out of the adventure. There is a toll to use the expressway, and while it is not necessary to use the expressways to get around, it will shave off quite a few hours from your trip.

Here is  map of our route and all our stops. Detailed information about the nearest train and bus stations is available on the map above.

The Sights


Official Izushi Tourism Website (JP)
Official Izushi Tourism Website (ENG)
The Shinkoro clock tower.
Izushi is a cozy little castle town that is well known in the kansai area for its soba. Once you enter the small town, you'll see that these noodles shops are arranged much like Starbucks, with one on every corner and sometimes a couple in between. Also, be on the look out for friendly townsfolk ready to hand out coupons for their noodle shop, if you're looking to save some yen.

Tojo Soba

Toyoka-shi, Izushi-cho Yagi 13
Hours of Operation
Mon. - Fri.: 10:00 AM to 5:00PM
Sat./Sun./National Holidays Open until 6:00 PM
Tel: 0796-52-5567
Official Website (JP)
Tojo Soba right by the clock tower.
We wandered into this castle town without much of a game plan. We knew there would be soba, and we doubted that we would run into any terrible restaurants, so we just picked the restaurant that looked the coolest. Tojo Soba is located right next to the little pond that surrounds the clock tower. You also get a view of the Izushi Castle ruins from the eating area, so it's a great spot if you're a bit of a romantic.

Tojo Soba has a basic soba plan where 1 person gets 5 plates of soba, plus all of the dressings, for 850 yen. Our group was feeling pretty hungry, so we ordered 10 plates per person. That was more than enough for me.

That's a lot of soba.
For the big eaters, they have an eating contest where if you each a certain number of plates within a specified time limit, you can get up to 1 year of soba free! I don't know who needs that much soba, but there must certainly be a need for them to have it up on their site, right?

Izushi Castle Ruins

Kinosaki Webpage on Izushi Castle Town (ENG)
Bridge to the ruins.
After lunch, we wandered over to the ruins of the old Izushi Castle. Unfortunately, since they are ruins, there's only this first gate at the moat, and one other gate further up the hill. Everything else is just rocky remains.

The second tower.

I read on a couple sites that this town has quite a lot of festivals, and I bet a festival setup around the castle ruins would be pretty awesome. Though I have to be honest when I say I'm not sure whether I'd make the long trip back out here just for a festival (I don't do well with crowds anyway). But if I lived in the area, I'd probably be at the castle town for every festival.

Arikoyama-inari Shrine

Stairs leading to the shrine.
Further up the mountain, behind the ruins, is the local Arikoyama-inari Shrine. Inari shrines are local shrines located in villages and towns throughout Japan. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, Arikoyama-inari Shrine has been around since 1604.

The inari watching us all.
Aside from just giving you your classic shrine feels, the location of this shrine sports a fantastic view of the castle town below and the mountains beyond. I'm being completely serious when I say this is one of my favorite shrine shots from all my shrine visits in Japan (even the Grand Shrines!).

Lovely momiji leaves.
One of the best things this area has going for it is all the flora surrounding the castle town. The town itself is quite small and mostly filled with souvenir and soba shops. There are also shops where you can try making your own soba or porcelain, but these are also activities available in much closer cities. But if you have the time, and the means, I would definitely suggest visiting at least once.

Genbudo Cave Park

Genbudo Museum
Toyooka-shi, Akaishi 1362
Hours of Operation
Mon. - Fri.: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Tel: 0796-23-3821
Entrance Fee: FREE
Genbudo Museum Website (JP circa 2000)
Kinosaki Genbudo Tourism Website (JP)
Blue Dragon Cave 青龍洞
There are no hours of operation for the park written on what appears to be the official website of the museum (and it really is from the year 2000), but I would assume that they're the same as the museum. And no, you cannot go inside of the caves, much to my disappointment. These man-made caves were used for mining and due to earthquakes, are definitely not safe to enter.

Black Tortoise Cave
Though I am sad we couldn't enter, these are definitely some interesting rock formations. According to the information in the park, and on the internet, these formations are the results of a volcanic eruption from 1.6 million years ago. Over time, the interior rock became exposed due to erosion, and the locals began mining the rock. It was designated as a National Natural monument in 1931 and became a national park in 1963.

Takeda Castle Ruins

Asago-shi, Wadayama-cho, Wadayama 372 banchi 1
Hours of Operation
Daily: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed: At the End and Beginning of the Year
Tel: 079-674-2120
Entrance Fee: 500 yen (under 14 years of age is FREE)
Official Takeda Castle Ruins Website
Asago City's Takeda Castle Webpage (JP)
Tree, mountans, castle ruins.
Takeda Castle Ruins, also known as the Sky Castle, also known as Japan's Machu Picchu. From the picture above, you might not see any resemblance, but one glance at the photo on the official website will clear that up for you. Which isn't to say that isn't impressive, it just ain't Machu Picchu, and that's totally okay. You won't need an oxygen tank to wander these ruins.

There's a little cloud action here.
Once you pass through the entrance and up to the plateau, there are no signs or infograms. There is a roped pathway that will lead you around the entire castle grounds. But this leaves your eyes with plenty of landscape to take in.

Probably my favorite shot of most of the castle area.
Most visitors aim to get here early in the morning, something to the tune of 4:00 AM, so they can take in the castle in all its foggy glory. My friends and I are not like those people, and like our sleep, so we enjoyed the castle in all its midday, rainy glory.

Asago City and Science Museum / Musee Family's Former Residence

Asago, Sano 1826-1 
Hours of Operation
9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (probably) 
Abandoned Elementary School creep factor = Over 9000
This was the last stop on our Hyogo Prefecture tour, an abandoned mining facility, located in the mountains around Asago. The factory employed hundreds of workers, and as a result, a town was built around the mining facility. There was a school, shops, and even a movie theater.
Minerals were brought down from the mountain here.
But once the facility was closed, everything else went with it. All that remains is a tiny museum that houses some relics from the facility's glorious past and a friendly old dude happy to chat with you about the facility's history (Japanese only I'm afraid). The creep levels were pretty high around the abandoned school (creepy children are always the creepiest), but the facility itself was pretty cool. Unfortunately, like always, we couldn't go inside, so we had to settle for a walk around the premises.


Resort Villa Hachi Kita

美方郡香美町村岡区和池 635−7
Mikata-gun, Kami-chou, Muraokaku Wachi 365-7
Tel: 0796-96-1178 (JP only)
Official Resort Villa Hachi Kita Website (JP)
Rakuten Travel Page (JP)
The Silent Hill-esque woods in the back.
This is a fairly standard hotel. They feature Japanese-style and Western-style rooms, along with a natural bath located in the basement of the building. Nothing too fancy, though it seems like it used to be quite popular during the Bubble Era. This hotel also has skiing facilities next to the hotel, so it might be a place to keep in mind if you're into winter sports.

Crab Hot Pot = A Whole Lotta Work
Our main objective for coming to this hotel was to get some crab hot pot. Crab hot pot is one of the big dishes served at hotels during the winter season, so getting a room with the hot pot meal can usually cost quite a few pennies (yen), but with Rakuten Travel, we were able to get 2 rooms, plus dinner and breakfast, for 15,000 yen per person (about 150 USD). Quite the deal. Sadly, this hotel doesn't exist on any English hotel search results, so you'll have to try your luck in Japanese.

I also crafted a video out of our trip. It's about 18 minutes, but it covers all of the areas mentioned in this article, so if you're interested in viewing more, albeit shaking, footage, check out the video below.

As always, questions, comments and concerns are welcome!

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