Izushi is a small castle town now part of the city of Toyooka in northern Hyogo. It’s famous for its old-Japan atmosphere and distinctive soba noodles.
Izushi is a destination for castle enthusiasts and other fans of Japanese history. It boasts not only Izushi Castle, but also Shinkoro Tower and an old theater playhouse called Eirakukan.
When you arrive in Izushi, your first stop will be the castle. Izushi Castle is small but fairly well-preserved and has a hilltop location that commands a view of the surrounding area.
The castle is connected to a Shinto shrine with a picturesque series of torii gates.
The whole town is visible once you’ve climbed up into the castle grounds.
Nearby is Shinkoro Tower, an imposing-looking clocktower. Apparently, this used to serve as a drum tower, where a drum would be struck every morning to summon the townspeople to work.
Now it’s a famed symbol of the town. It’s even featured on the Izushi manhole cover!
Next, a short walk through town leads you to Eirakukan, a wonderful old structure that is my favorite place in Izushi. This building used to serve as a venue for traveling theater troupes back in the old days. Theater was one of the main forms of entertainment in pre-modern Japan. Plays gave way to movies in the 20th century, and the building turned into a movie theater for the golden age of cinema. As the times changed again Eirakukan fell into disuse, until it was recently renovated and turned into a cultural landmark.
Now, it is used as a performance hall for all different kinds of traditional Japanese arts, and you can take a tour that shows you the secrets of the Japanese stage.
Here’s a full view of the theater. Note that guests sit on cushions on tatami mats (of course). The pine tree backdrop is a traditional symbol of good fortune.
There are raised wooden walkways running through the seating that servers used to walk on as they offered guests food and drinks.
I can’t get enough of the old hand-painted ads for businesses that line the theater.
Or the movie posters. I bet a collector would be interested in these.
You also get a chance to learn a little bit about how the stage works. This is a trapdoor through which performers magically appear or disappear located on the “hanamichi” stage walkway.
The tour takes you under the stage, to this massive mechanism that workers would push around by hand to rotate a portion of the stage above.
There’s lots more to see, including performers’ dressing rooms and baths. Anyone who is interested in Japanese history or performing arts must give Eirakukan a visit. At the end of the tour, you receive this cute little flag.
The must-try local specialty during your stay is Izushi soba noodles. The town is absolutely packed with soba shops, and you can buy an awesome pouch of coins at the tourist center that entitles you to a serving of noodles at three different shops of your choice.
Here’s one soba restaurant.
A serving of soba is presented on three little plates, with a variety of different sauces and toppings to slurp up along with your noodles.
The idea is to try three different soba restaurants and compare the noodles to find your favorites. Apparently noodle softness/firmness and lightness/darkness are the main variables, along with the taste of the sauce.
So go explore! After finishing my noodles at one restaurant, I even received this awesome badge, which is now proudly displayed in my home.
How To Get There
From Sannomiya, take the Hamakaze express train to Yoka (2 hours and 20 minutes). Then, take the Zentan Bus to Izushi (30 minutes).
From Toyooka, take the Zentan Bus to Izushi (30 minutes). Because of its proximity to Toyooka, this is a good side trip to combine with visiting other destinations in northern Hyogo.
Izushi is a small town, and all the sights listed in this article are a short stroll from the bus stop.