Tucked away in Mie Prefecture, Iga is known as the birthplace of one of Japan’s leading schools of ninjutsu. The ninjas from Iga played important roles throughout Japanese feudal history. But a visit to Iga offers more than just ninjas. The city is also home to a beautiful white-walled castle, a traditional form of pottery, and the classic haiku poetry master Matsuo Basho.
That isn’t to say that ninjas aren’t enough for a visit. Ninjas are awesome, and the city of Iga knows it. Restaurants serve ninja-themed food, shops sell ninja-themed souvenirs, and there is a ninja museum where you can learn about the history of ninjutsu and how ninjas influenced Japanese history.
In other cities in Japan, visitors can rent kimonos, but in Iga, you can rent ninja gear at the Danjiri Museum. It’s another great attraction, and it also showcases the giant floats from the city’s Ueno Tenjin Festival in the fall.
Most of the city’s main attractions are situated around Iga Ueno Castle. It’s also known as the White Phoenix Castle due to its beautiful white walls and architecture. Here, you can explore the castle museum or just take in the atmosphere from the castle’s surrounding park. The Ninja Museum of Igaryu is just next door, and the Iga Ueno Ninja Festival is held annually during Golden Week in early May.
Basho Memorial Museum
Around town, you will discover several spots dedicated to the Japanese poet Basho. The Basho Memorial Museum is located near the castle. If you can, try to visit during the Basho Festival held on Oct. 12—the date of the great writer’s death. During the festival, you can go inside of Haiseiden Hall, which commemorates the 300th anniversary of Basho’s birth and is enshrined with rare artifacts.
If you head outside of town, you can relax and take in all the natural scenery of the Iga basin. You can also learn everything about traditional Japanese pottery in the small village of Marubashira, hidden away in the mountains behind Iga Ueno. Join pottery classes and take trips to the nearby kilns that fire pottery at over 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Marubashira is around a 15-minute trip north of Iga Ueno.
Don’t leave Mie without visiting Ise City, the birthplace of the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu.