Shurikens and spas

Stealth, speed and skill are all words associated with the legendary Japanese ninja. So are turtles, fruit slicing and marketingspeak, but let’s forget about those for the moment. We were at the Ninja Museum of Igaryu watching demonstrations of the ninja skills of sword fighting, shuriken throwing, bamboo slashing, the use of a rope to make an opponent decapitate himself with his own sword and…
… rolling a coin around the top of an umbrella.

Ninjas, secret spies of feudal Japan, often disguised themselves as travelling acrobats and required the skills to match their cover. During the show I was invited up on stage to attempt to roll the ball around. Unsuccessfully, I might add.

Afterwards I gave shuriken throwing a go. I managed to hit the target once out of five times, but it’s a pretty satisfying action.

The ninja show takes place behind the ninja residence, an unassuming thatched farmhouse style building that is equipped with secret doors and hidden levels where the ninjas can spy on and escape from unwelcome intruders. The adjacent museum has some fascinating displays on ninja equipment and life, which included preparing chemicals and medicines, learning “sorcery” to influence the actions of others, bathing and eating to hide body smells and even learning to breathe silently in their sleep.

There are adequate explanations in English, even during the Ninja Show, contrary to the guidebooks and the Museum’s own website. It really is both fascinating and fun.

The Ninja Museum is located in Iga City on the Kii Peninsula roughly halfway between Osaka and Nagoya. To get there we caught a rapid Yamatoji Rapid JR service to Kamo then, joy of joys, a KiHa 120 diesel set to Iga-Ueno along the Kansai Main Line. I did a similar trip with Mum last year, it really is a pretty line with cherry blossoms and river scenery.

At Iga-Ueno we changed to the private Iga Railway on their Ninja themed electric trains. Inside the carriage was a group of rowdy Italians who cheered when anyone boarded. The station before our destination of Uenoshi a Japanese family boarded, their young kids dressed as ninjas.

You can hire ninja costumes for boys, girls and adults at various places around Iga City. Alex refused to dress up, and anyway the nearest shop to the Museum had run out of every colour but pink.

Time was too short at Iga-Ueno to purchase tickets from the machine on the platform, but we were able to pay the attendant as we exited through the gate at Uenoshi. On our return we purchased them from the ticket window. Though there was plenty else to see in Iga City we were sadly in a hurry to return to Osaka for some required purchases.

The fastest way back was via a different route to the one we had arrived on. So I had the chance to complete another Japanese railway line, taking the Iga Railway to its terminus at Iga-Kambe. I regret not setting up the video camera for that because it was such a pretty route, the line winding around right behind houses, through fields and many cherry blossoms. Riding these little private lines gives you an intimate looking into the daily lives of the Japanese.

At Iga-Kambe we raced across the tracks to catch the approaching Kintetsu Ise-Shima Express, a sleek electric train set that looked like it was built for speed. No time for a ticket, we just tapped our Suica cards on the gate.

We didn’t realise until we were on board that this was not the train my Hyperdia phone app had recommended. No, it was faster still! However, all seats on the train had to be reserved, so I flagged down an attendant and paid the extra seat reservation fee in cash. Unfortunately, he couldn’t reserve seats for us and we had to change to different seats when other passengers boarded.

More great scenery along the way, travelling high along a valley of small towns, farms and forests. I’ve bought a Kansai Pass with access to the private railway lines before – I should have used it more as there are quite a few interesting lines in the area.

At Tsuruhashi we changed back to the JR Line for a ride to Shin-Imamiya, the station after Tennoji. The streets looked rough and lonely as we walked along to Nitori, a Japanese furniture and homewares chain. We wanted a Queen sized doona (quilt/duvet for you non-Australians) like we had bought for Alex last year, so soft and fluffy. Unfortunately they had non of the type we wanted in stock but, with the help of an English speaking staff member, we ordered one to be delivered to our hotel in Tokyo.

Nearby to Shin-Imamiya is the Shinsenkai, a colourful collection of restaurants and entertainment centres dominated by Tsutenkaku Tower. It was the site of the 1903 Expo, but now has a seedy reputation with many homeless people. However, at this time of night the streets were dominated by visitors and tourists. We had a dinner of kushikatsu, fried and breaded skewers of meat and vegetables. Very nice and Alex at a lot without being picky.

We had promised Alex a trip to an onsen and at Shinsekai is Spa World, a huge multistorey building devoted to the baths of the world. It was a little confusing to use, despite the English instructions and familiarity with the traditional style of onsen. After paying for entry you are given a wristband with a chip inside that can be used to pay for things inside.

There is one floor for women, another for men. One floor has European baths, the other baths from across Asia. The floors are swapped monthly, with men getting European baths on even months and Asian baths on the odd months and vice versa for women.

One thing about Spa World, like many Japanese onsen, is that it’s hipster and bogan unfriendly. No tatts! Think about it guys and girls when you want to ink yourself. You’ll be missing out.

Shoes are placed in a locker on the ground floor, then you go to the gender appropriate floor to change. The lockers require a Y100 coin to use, but these can be obtained by using your wristband at a machine near the lockers.

Our first destination wasn’t the baths however. On the 8th floor is a mixed gender swimming pool with a swimming river, childrens play area and waterslides. The water is very warm, though the framework looks a bit rusty. Alex had loads of fun and we enjoyed the warm water. There is also a hot baths and jacuzzis outside which can be used by mixed genders in swimsuits, so it’s suitable if you are of the shy sort.

B was feeling queasy and couldn’t figure out the locker system so went downstairs to rest while Alex and I returned to the 4th floor to explore the baths of Europe. There are too many to review but my favourite by far were the individual Finnish baths which effervesced, as if bathing in a bottle of hot sparkling mineral water. There were herbal Greek baths and a foot bath with pebbles that felt so good on my tired feet.

We returned to B feeling very soft and clean, then we walked back along the dark streets by the railway line to our hotel, stopping to buy fruit at an underground supermarket. In the morning we had walked around the Eastern side of Tennoji Station, discovering local shops selling fruit, crackers and wagashi, so different to the glitzy malls on the Western side.

All in all it was a great day. I rode my favourite KiHa 120 train on a local line, we saw a fantastic Ninja show, managed to purchase our doona, had great food and wonderful baths. To cap it all off I found a shop selling grapefruit Gokuri. It doesn’t get better than that!

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