| Hannah Tsai

The Samurai and Ninja of Central Japan

Are you also in love with Japanese history from playing video games or watching TV dramas? Are you intrigued by the enigmatic Japanese ninjas? If you have an unquenchable desire to see samurai and ninja then Central Japan needs to be added to your bucket list. It is the birthplace of countless samurai, including the Three Heroes of the Warring States Period, and the birthplace of all the ninja clans are here. Join us as we share scenic spots rich in the historical stories of Central Japan, all of which are easily enjoyed in a single trip!

Central Japan's connection to samurai and ninja

The birthplace of the Three Heroes of the Warring States Period

Aichi Prefecture was the central area of the Warring States Period. Its excellent geographical location made it a must-have territory for warlords. Many were born here, such as the Heroes of the Warring States period, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Even at the beginning of the Edo period, about 70% of the daimyo came from central Japan. So, it can be said that Central Japan is the hometown of samurai.

Furthermore, many influential samurai battles took place here, such as the Battle of Okehazama and the Battle of Komaki Nagakutate in Aichi Prefecture, and the Battle of Sekigahara in Gifu Prefecture occurred in this region. Today, memorial facilities have been built at these locations, allowing people to visit the war sites and reflect on the past.

Home of the ninja

A ninja is an espionage and combat expert highly valued by military commanders. To obtain information, they disguised themselves as members of various professions and employed multiple stealth techniques. The most well-known ninjas are the ninjas of Iga (Mie Prefecture) and Koka (Shiga Prefecture); after the Edo period, they were trusted by feudal lords throughout Japan and sent to different parts of Japan. As a result, Iga and the Koka ninja left their mark across the country.

5 days 4 nights, an in-depth tour of the history of Central Japan

If you want to arrange a trip to Central Japan, refer to our five-day, four-night itinerary. As for the must-see places, please keep reading!

Day1 Chubu Centrair International Airport → Inuyama, Inuyama Castle, boat ride on the Kiso River → Nagoya (overnight)
Day2 Takayama City: visit the old town and enjoy the culture of the Takayama Festival (overnight stay)
Day3 Matsumoto: Matsumoto Castle and stroll around castle town (overnight stay)
Day4 Narai-juku → Nagoya (overnight stay)
Day5 Visit the Ninja Museum in Iga City → Chubu Centrair International Airport

Chubu Centrair International Airport: The hidden version of ninja is waiting for you!

From your first stop at Chubu Centrair International Airport, there is a bunch of ninjas waiting for you!
Ninjas fly over the departure desk, they accompany you up and down the escalator and even greet you while you wait for your luggage.
Every month on the 22nd, you can join the airport's Ninja Segway Scooter Tour (¥3,500 per person.) A ninja-clad guide takes you around the airport on a modern scooter. Other ninjas are hiding out at the airport, waiting for you to find them.

Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture: A battleground for warlords

Although there are countless Japanese castles in Japan, only five of them are designated as national treasures. The central region has three of them: Hikone Castle (Shiga Prefecture), Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Prefecture), and Inuyama Castle (Aichi Prefecture)! Inuyama Castle is located beside the Kiso River and the Nakasendo highway and has the geographical advantages of water and land routes. As a result, it was a battleground for military strategists. The countless traces of combat are found throughout the city, like the numerous archery and artillery facilities, that provide clues to what areas used to be part of a battleground.

Another feature of Inuyama Castle is the 360-degree panorama view of Aichi and Gifu Prefectures at the top of the castle keep. Enjoy the sights while taking in the breeze and admiring the castle's splendor as if you were the lord of the castle.

Take the Inuyama Castle Cruise on the Kiso River to observe the unique rocks and gorgeous green bridges on the river and listen to the intriguing details from the guide. In the spring, rows of cherry blossoms line the shore, and the crimson foliage on the mountains in the autumn are unforgettable. Inuyama Castle Cruise: 40-minute trip / ¥1,000

Inuyama castle town is full of old folk houses, with many stores selling cute snacks that attract many young people.
We recommend trying Inuyama's famous dengaku, which is tofu, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture: Come and see the Takayama Festival, one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan

The city of Takayama has preserved the old Edo-period streets with their coffee-colored wooden buildings. You can stroll around and see traditional Japanese crafts, sake, sweet rice dumplings, and other local products sold in the stores or take a rickshaw ride to experience the past.

You can't miss the grand floats in Takayama. The Takayama Festival is held every year in the spring and the fall. It is one of the Three Beautiful Festivals of Japan, in which a dozen or so magnificent mountain floats are brought out and paraded by crowds of shouting people. These floats are over 200 years old and are decorated with beautiful wooden carvings of dragons and flowers carved by Hida craftsmen. Don't forget to look at the dolls on the mountain carts. You won't believe that the dolls are controlled by puppeteers using thread.

The Takayama Spring Festival (Apr. 14 and 15) and the Takayama Fall Festival (Oct. 9 and 10) are held every year, and the floats are different from each other. The parade takes place from morning to night: it is lively during the day and mystical at night. If you don't come during the festival, you can go to the Takayama Festival Yatai Hall to see the real floats of the Autumn Festival!

Takayama is also a destination for fans of the animated movie Your Name., so you can experience the knotted rope, a token in the animation, at the Hida Takayama Machi Experience Exchange Hall. (Fee: ¥2,200)

You can also try Japanese archery at the Hankyu Dojo in Takayama City, where many local residents come to show off their skills and perhaps compete in a tournament.

Narai-juku, Nagano Prefecture: A nostalgic step back in time

Narai-juku is a post town on the Nakasendo (the old highway linking Kyoto and Edo), that travelers used to stop at on their journeys. Today, these historic buildings are preserved in their entirety, making it seem like you've fallen into the past when you walk in.

Narai-juku is about one kilometer long and is considered a Japanese Heritage site because of the Edo-style Japanese architecture along the road. Unlike Kyoto and Kanazawa, which are full of tourists, there are fewer tourists here, so you can enjoy the quietness of the small town. What makes it even rarer is that people still live in Narai-juku and those who sell Goheimochi (skewered sweet rice cakes) and lacquerware sleep and work in the same houses.

You can choose to stay here for one night and experience like you've really gone into the past. Some of the inns, such as Iseya, have been passed down from the Edo period. Some of the rooms are 200 years old, and you can even find traces of the carriages that stopped there!

Matsumoto City, Nagano: Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure

If you are interested in samurai and ninjas, you can't miss Matsumoto! Matsumoto City is home to the National Treasure Matsumoto Castle and its castle town and is fortunate that it escaped the ravages of war, so many historical monuments remain preserved.

Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure, was built during the Warring States period (1504) and is also known as Crow Castle because of its special black walls. Matsumoto Castle has one of the only two remaining five-tiered keeps in Japan. Because the black paint of Matsumoto Castle gets damaged by ultraviolet radiation, the castle is repainted every year from September to October to keep it shiny.

At Matsumoto Castle, some actors dress as samurai, princesses, and ninjas, known as Matsumoto Castle Omotenashitai, they portray historical figures related to Matsumoto Castle, such as the Lord of Matsumoto Castle. Don't be shy, just go up to them and take pictures!

Iga City, Mie Prefecture: Real-life ninja battles

If you want to see ninjas then you have to go to Iga City in Mie Prefecture. Because Iga is close to Kyoto, it was easy for the ninja to gather information, and the mountains around Iga made it difficult for others to spy on them. That's how the Iga-ryu ninja school formed.
Although ninjas are no longer seen nowadays, ninja fans will not be disappointed when they visit Iga. It is like a ninja town where you can find cute ninjas on buses and stations.

To preserve ninja history, Iga built an Iga-ryu Ninja Museum. It introduces ninja weapons, props, and a ninja house where you can see the mechanisms used by ninja, such as invisible doors hidden in walls and swords stashed under floorboards for quick retrieval.

Another must-see is the popular Ninja Show, where the ninjas fight with real scythes and darts. The show is intense and exciting that just sitting in the audience will get your heart pounding.

If you are curious, you can also participate in the throwing star experience, using throwing stars to hit a target. It looks simple and easy when you see ninjas use throwing stars, but that won't be the case when you use them. It is much harder than you think! Just watching the ninja's performance is quite enthralling.

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Samurai Ninja Video

For more in-depth tours of the Samurai Ninja in the central region, check out the video by the Youtuber Rion Ishida!

Wrap-up

The Chubu region is one of the most important areas in Japanese history, with battlefields, the Nakasendo, and the Tokaido, two of the major highways of old times, all located here, thus preserving a great deal of history and culture. If you love Japanese history, why don't you arrange a trip to Central Japan and see the traces left by these great historical figures for yourself?

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