Falling snow really does make things better. The way it cloaks the hustle and bustle of daily life in a layer of cold fluffy cotton makes everything seem positively ethereal. There is already a certain magic at work in the curves and ridges of Japanese Castles, and drenched in snow they look even more beautiful.
At the center of Aizuwakamatsu is the hill castle Tsuruga-jo. I have always enjoyed Japanese castles because in addition to being imposing fortifications, they are also works of great beauty. Tsuruga-jo is no exception. Like most of the castles around, it is a concrete reproduction. The original was pulled down when feudalism was abolished in the early Meiji Era.
The castle grounds were a hive of activity as volunteers prepared for a lantern festival that was going on that night. Our group sidestepped the work, and stopped for a look at a small Inari shrine on the castle grounds. The falling snow and older accumulation did make everything that much more beautiful, but it also made the steps that much more treacherous.
The ticket taker standing at the entrance was dressed up in full samurai gear, and jumped right into our group shot with a grin and some pretty decent English skills. The interior was dedicated to a museum showcasing the history of the area. Tsuruga-jo is fairly unique in the realm of Japanese castles, as it actually saw combat. The Aizu area was a stronghold of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and resisted the Meiji Restoration during the Boshin war. There was a battle that burned much of the town, and the castle itself held out for a month under siege before it fell to the Imperial forces.
I got to pick up a replica firearm from 1800s Japan, and boy was in a heavy and unwieldy piece of junk! The stock was shockingly small; I suppose to account for the user wearing armor. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to fire it with any hope of accuracy.
The top floor of the castle was devoted to an observation deck, but here was where the snow was a hindrance to our enjoyment. The view hemmed in by low clouds, blowing snow and was decidedly unpanoramic.
Near to the castle was a small garden and tea room that was included on our combo ticket. It didn’t take very long to wander through, but was all the more enjoyable for its small size. Our legs were getting tired from walking, and the chill was taking its toll. And so we walked up the mountain, to the wonderful onsen I talked about earlier. Post bathing, we taxied it back into town for a dinner of Thai food. I ordered the spicy pork salad, and it about burned my tastebuds off. I was the only person at the table who could eat it! I have had the same meal in Thailand, and that stands to this day as the spiciest thing I have ever eaten, and I love spicy food!