Located at the top of an approximately 354 meter-tall hill, the Takeda Castle Ruins overlook the small town of Asago. There are two points from which to look at the ruins. First, there’s the nearby Asago Mountain, from which, depending on the time of day and season, the Takeda Castle Ruins and the valley appear to be filled with low-laying cloud, creating a spectacular illusion whereby the ruins float on a sea of slowly dissipating cloud – the Machu Pichu of Japan. Such a sight is typically visible during or right after sunrise, requiring an early morning trip. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see such an effect, but the view of Takeda Castle was still spectacular enough. I did manage to obtain permission to use the two photos below, taken by and copyright of Toshihisa Yoshida (吉田利栄). The second point from which to view the ruins is, of course, from the ruins themselves. To ascend the hill, you can drive or hike up the hill. Upon reaching the entrance gates near the parking lot however, there’s a fee of 300 yen (charged from 9:00-16:00 between March 20th & September 20th; and 3:00-16:00 between September 21th & December 10). Outside of the aforementioned hours, there is no charge. In any case, I shelled out the 300 yen and hiked the final distance. Even in harsh wind and rain, the ruins offered an interesting sight, with ancient stone structures built in approximately 1590 (with the original earthwork structure dating all the way back to 1441), and then abandoned in 1600. The ruins offer a strange contrast, with beautiful scenery in the valley below the desolate fortress. For more info on the Takeda Castle Ruins, check out Asago City’s website at http://www.city.asago.hyogo.jp/kankou/eng/index-en.html.Toyooka
After hiking up and down the steep hills around the Takeda Castle Ruins, you can take a break by shopping in central Toyooka City (Chuou-cho) around Caban Street (Handbag Street), known for its world-class bags using local high-quality leather. High-end brands from Toyooka and other parts of the world are available, along with leather accessories and, of course, vending machines selling bags. Other elements of Toyooka culture were also present, such as an umbrella store – highly useful in the rainy region where the local saying goes “You can forget your lunch, but don’t ever forget your umbrella.” A short car-ride away, the Hyogo Prefectural Park of the Oriental White Stork (Hyogo-kenritsu konotori-no-sato koen) has a small museum (free; open 9:00-17:00; closed Mondays and during the New Year Season) explaining the history of how the local species of bird is being saved from near extinction at a nature preserve nearby. Oriental White Storks are quite large and very elegant, and you can really get close to them (they’re not dangerous) at the park. The birds in the nature preserve have their wings clipped so that they cannot leave, and are instead protected from predators and pollution. At the cultural center, there is a donation box to help the preservation efforts, in exchange for which stork origami kits are available. I enjoyed seeing such large birds up close, and the cultural center was a convenient way to get a short summary of what was being done to save them. As a nice touch, even the mailbox nearby was decorated as an Oriental White Stork.For lunch, I headed to Tankuma (Open 10:00-18:00), a restaurant known for its fresh eggs and tamago-kake-gohan. Tamago-kake-gohan translates loosely as “eggs on rice”, and consists of a fresh raw egg or two plopped directly on white rice. Based on personal preferences, sliced spring onion and seaweed flakes can also be mixed in. A standard meal costs 350 yen, and includes a bowl of rice, miso soup, tea, and a small pickled side. Each seat has a bowl of fresh eggs and containers full of toppings from which you can take freely. Raw egg might sound like an unusual topping, but I found it to mix nicely with warm rice, and make a somewhat gooey yet satisfying dish.