Ogaki, a small historic castle town not far from Gifu and within easy reach of Nagoya, is best known nowadays for its connections with wandering Edo-period haiku master, Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉) and for its delicious-tasting water.
Ogaki was the final destination in 1689 of Basho's epic journey to the northeast of Japan related in "Oku no Hosomichi". A Haiku Journey: Basho's Narrow Road to a Far Province (Illustrated Japanese Classics)
References to the poet are everywhere: in the names of restaurants and shops, as well as Basho statues, museums and the town's Basho Festival in November.
On completion of his trek around the north of Japan, Basho took a river boat from Ogaki south to Kuwana and then on to his birthplace - the ninja town of Iga. Back in the Edo-period Ogaki was a strategic town on the east-west Nakasendo route between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) and the Suimon River was navigable, making Ogaki a major river port at the time.
Ogaki's role as an important crossroads is underscored by its nearness to the pivotal battlefield of Sekigahara. In 1600 Ieyasu Tokugawa comprehensively defeated his rivals the Toyotomi clan at Sekigahara. The forces loyal to the Toyotomis were lead by Ishida Mitsunari who had his main fortress in Ogaki.
Apart from some stone walls, there is not much left of the original castle, which was beseiged by Tokugawa after the battle of Sekigahara and destroyed in World War II. The small keep is a modern reconstruction and houses a history museum.
There's a larger local history museum (Kyodokan - Tel: 0584 75 1231) at the back of the Castle Park. Walking south from the castle brings you to a small Basho Museum near the Shiki no hiroba plaza - a pleasant canalized area on the Suimon River.
A short walk south of here is a Tourist Information Center (Tel: 0584 77 1535) - there's another at Ogaki Station, Basho's statue and a reconstructed wooden lighthouse.
Ogaki has a pleasant, laid-back charm and is well-worth a visit if only to sample some of its famed bean paste or persimmon sweets.
Ogaki is around 30 minutes on the JR Tokaido Line via Gifu by rapid train from Nagoya Station. Ogaki also connects to Kuwana and Yoro Park by the Kintetsu Yoro branch line. If you are driving from Nagoya on the Meishin highway exit at Ogaki Interchange.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007