DAY 16 Station Master Cat and Aizu Wakamatsu

DAY 16 Station Master Cat and Aizu Wakamatsu

October 29th, 2019

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Ashinomakionsen station
Akabee/Haikara-san loop bus
Tsuruga-jo
Bukeyashiki
Mount Iimori
Sazaedo

Hotel: Aizu Wakamatsu Washington Hotel*

The hotel breakfast was pretty good, they had a housemade soft tofu and miso sauce with lots of other healthy-type options for the non-meat/fish eaters:

From Aizu Wakamatsu station we caught the 09:19 train to Ashinomakionsen station. The JR Pass only covers the trip from Aizu Wakamatsu station to Nishi Wakamatsu, so you may have to later pay for the fare adjustment. We had to do this at Ashinomakionsen station, as well as pay for the return journey route not covered by the JR Pass.

The trains were painted and decorated in such a lovely way, I kept saying how much more bearable train travel in Melbourne could be if we had cute trains:

Ashinomakionsen station is home to one of the famous Japanese train station master cats. Some of you may know these cats as Conductor Whiskers in the (pointless but cute) game Neko Atsume, which my daughter enjoys.

The cat at Ashinomakionsen station is Love (or Ai in Japanese). Visitors can not touch Love or take any photos (even with no flash) but there are photos and a giant stuffed toy cat you can take photos with.

When we arrived, Love was in the office area having a rest but soon got up. An office attendant attached a harness to Love, then asked us to wait inside the store (attached to the office) while she put up a barrier over the entrance– this is to stop visitors like us from possibly touching the cat. Dee and I watched Love parade happily up and down the platform, sniffing the weeds and having a photo shoot. We were the only ones there and the kind attendant asked Dee if she would like to pat the cat, which was a nice surprise as they don’t otherwise allow this.

As a vegan, I tend to stay away from places that have animals for public display so I was curious to see what was happening here as unfortunately Japan doesn’t have the greatest track record with animals on display (store window puppies in tea cups, owl cafes etc) and there are groups working to raise awareness about this to stop such practises. For the station master cat, the hat is attached to the collar on the back of the neck. From what I could see the cats are the priority, with people being told not to try and touch them or take photos, and the areas the cats are in are clean and comfortable. In the past another station allowed photos of the station cats but this, with the flash photography, was soon banned. Love looked as happy as my own two spoilt cats at home, so in that respect I can’t say there was any obvious sign of a cat being unhappy but of course this is where opinions differ in the vegan community, and not a topic I will get in to on this travel site. From what I understand, money raised from sales of the (expensive) merchandise go towards maintaining the small station and looking after the cats, but I couldn’t find any additional information.

We got to browse the gift shop which was full of station master cat merch and there was an anime where we figured it was local to the area as the illustrations were all over the station and neighbouring stations. Soon some tour groups arrived by train, and Dee and I walked around a bit before our 10:40 train back to Aizu Wakamatsu station. We paid for our ticket at Ashinomakionsen station (in the office there’s a ticket section):

 

From Aizu Wakamatsu station we bought tickets for the Akabee/Haikara-san tourist loop buses. I think the price was 600 yen for me and 300 yen for Dee. This is where it started raining and it rained pretty much all day which slowed us down considerably. Going to sites and between takes more time than you may realise but when you add rain to the mix it can take longer!

Our first stop Tsuruga-jo. From the official website: ‘when the castle was constructed nearly 600 years ago, it was just a traditional Japanese building. However, many famous Japanese military commanders successfully ruled the castle, as it was a key castle located at the center of the Tohoku Area. Around 400 years ago, the castle tower was built, and the castle was officially named “Tsurugajo Castle” . During the Boshin Civil War that occurred at the end of the Edo Period, many Aizu citizens were held inside the castle as it was relentlessly attacked by the Meiji government army for a period of one month. Eventually, the Aizu clan was forced to surrender After the Meiji Period in 1874, Tsurugajo Castle, which was once called impregnable, was completely torn down, except for the stone walls surrounding the perimeters. The current castle tower was rebuilt in 1965.’

Inside Tsuruga-jo is a museum focusing on the history of Aizu, which was really interesting (though Dee was more interested in climbing to the top floor to get to the balcony lookout). The museum was quite busy but the displays were great:

We didn’t go to Rinkaku tea house on the castle grounds, and some of our time outside was spent under shelter, waiting for the rain to pass. There were a couple of food options (not vegan) on the grounds. We didn’t fully explore the castle grounds due to time and rain but it would certainly be something to check out in better weather.

We caught the loop bus again to Aizu Bukeyashiki, a reconstruction of a samurai mountain house. There were lots of school students on an excursion and interestingly no teachers. The village reconstruction was nice to look at, and there was an archery setup but unfortunately in rainy weather it doesn’t seem to operate so we missed out. Overall it was an okay place to spend an hour, though again it was raining and most of what you see requires you to walk outdoors:

And from there it was back on the loop bus to the Iimori hill stop. Mount Iimori has a well known history in the Aizu region and further, particularly where the ritual deaths of nineteen young boys aged 16-17 are concerned in the Boshin Civil War of 1868. Twice a year there are memorial services.

You have the option of climbing many stairs to the top or catching an escalator for a small fee. We got the escalator, it was still raining a bit but it was also humid and I didn’t fancy climbing stone steps! But there were stone steps anyway at the top (quite steep in parts). We spent some time looking out over the city and looking at the different plaques and information displays. Quite beautiful:

From there we went to Sazaedo, a temple with a fascinating double-helix style design. The staircase going up is separate to the staircase going down, so you don’t pass anyone on the stairs going in the opposite direction to you. Take care walking inside as the floor isn’t level and the lighting is quite dim in parts!

We walked back down to the main street area and checked out the food shops. I was so happy to see something I had hoped to sample in Japan: steamed buns made with millet flour and a red bean filling. I bought two and promptly went back for three more. The texture was like fine semolina, when I’ve had millet before there has been a slightly bitter aftertaste for me but these buns had none of that. They were so good, I still think about them:

It was around 4pm at this stage, maybe later, and as it would get dark earlier in Japan we decided to call it a day as we were feeling tired and rained out. We went back to the hotel for a convenience store dinner of onigiri, salad, fruit and mochi.

 

On to Day 17.

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