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The port city of Maizuru in Kyoto has two different sides. Western Maizuru is home to a castle town with a traditional atmosphere. The eastern side has a historical port and modern buildings. We'll introduce the highlights, food, and activities available on each side of this unique city.
Maizuru is a port city in northern Kyoto. The western half of the city is home to a fishing harbor with a traditional neighborhood built during the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). The east features naval ruins and western architecture from the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912). The two halves of the city each have their own unique characteristics and wonderful places to visit.
The history of Maizuru starts in its western half.
During Japan's warring states period, the feudal lord (*) Hosokawa Fujitaka commissioned the construction of Tanabe Castle. The city was later named after the castle's other name—Bukaku Castle—written in the same kanji characters as Maizuru.
Shortly before the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tanabe Castle was besieged by the anti-Tokugawa army for two months.
Hosokawa used his military prowess to resist the opposing army of 15,000 troops. By preventing Tanabe Castle from falling into enemy hands, Hosokawa contributed to Tokugawa's victory and was later rewarded by the warlord himself.
Except for the castle tower, the original structure no longer remains. However, you can visit the castle museum to get a glimpse of its original glory. The castle's Otemon gate was rebuilt in homage to the gate at Kyoto's famous Nijo Castle.
Hiranoya Shopping District is fashioned with a colorful archway. Its design is said to have been influenced by Russian visitors who once frequented the city.
The shopping district is home to a number of dessert shops. Among them, Yumekabo Miyashita is a traditional wagashi (*) store that also sells Western-style sweets.
Pictured above is a fruit-flavored popsicle (160 yen with tax) available in the summer. Made using arrowroot powder, this tasty treat has a firm texture and won't melt quickly.
*Wagashi: traditional Japanese sweets
Don't miss out on the chance to dine at Ameiro Bistro Arle, a renowned Italian restaurant. They serve desserts, as well as delicious Italian dishes!
You can also order some desserts to go. The Maizuru Pudding (original flavor 320 yen before tax, matcha flavor 350 yen before tax) is popular with visitors.
Yoshihara Inlet is located on the north side of western Maizuru. You'll find many fishing vessels docked at this traditional harbor. With houses lining the shoreline, the inlet resembles the boathouses of Ine.
Yoshihara Inlet's harbor is a popular spot for taking photos. You'll also find plenty of cozy scenery hidden in the town's backstreets.
Waka-no-Yu and Hinode-Yu are bathhouses in western Maizuru with a history spanning over one hundred years. In fact, both bathing facilities are listed as tangible cultural properties of Japan.
Located in Hiranoya Shopping District, Waka-no-Yu opened its doors in 1903. The building reflects the western architectural style that was popular at the time.
Most bathhouses in the Kansai region do not have murals on their walls. But Ms. Wakai, the owner, invited Morio Nakajima—one of Japan's three master bathhouse painters—to paint scenes of Mt. Fuji on the walls.
The wall in the men's bathing room has a unique scene; this painting combines Mt. Fuji and Amanohashidate (or "Heaven's Floating Bridge") in Kyoto. This view isn't visible in real life but you can enjoy it at Waka-no-Yu.
Hinode-yu is located near Yoshihara Inlet. While this historic bathhouse is believed to have been built over a century ago, the exact year is unknown.
Once jointly operated by the community, the bathhouse used to have a rest area and banquet hall on the second floor. Today, it is owned and run by the Takahashi family.
The exterior resembles a traditional town house. Upon entering, you'll find a cozy bathing facility with beautiful tiling. This design is representative of a typical Kansai bathhouse.
The baths are cleaned every day, and the tiles shine in cute pastel colors from green to pink to sky blue.
After crossing a mountain pass, you'll find yourself in eastern Maizuru.
Unlike the traditional streets of western Maizuru, eastern Maizuru is characterized by brick warehouses and landmarks of its historic navy district.
Maizuru is the site of a navy base. Many of the historical facilities belonging to the navy still remain today.
A collection of warehouses on the base was converted into the Maizuru Red Brick Park. There, you'll find many restaurants, cafes, and gift shops.
The Red Brick Park has been used as the set of several shows and movies, including the live action version of Fullmetal Alchemist. The brick warehouses make a splendid backdrop for photos!
The Kitasui Pier's Quay is currently used by the Japanese Marine Self-Defense Force. The site is open to visitors on weekends and holidays (*1). If you come on a weekday, you can ride a sightseeing boat to see the large marine vessels and cannons.
Certain warehouses are only periodically open to the public. Check the official website to make a reservation.
*1: As of December 2020, Kitasui Pier's Quay is closed to the public.
When spending long periods aboard vessels, marines often lose track of time. To combat this, the crews began serving curry on Fridays. This tradition is carried on by the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The original recipe for the navy curry is written in the imperial navy's cookbook. However, nowadays each ship serves its own curry with different ingredients and seasonings.
You can try navy curry at Maizuru Red Brick Park. If you want to taste the original curry flavor, we recommend going to Shoeikan, which is only a short distance away.
First opened as a ryokan (*) in 1904, Shoeikan was frequented by navy personnel. Both the exterior and interior design blend Japanese and western styles. The moment you step foot inside, you will be transported to another time by the historical atmosphere.
Pictured above is the Navy Curry Rice (1,000 yen including tax). Shoeikan faithfully replicates the flavors of the original dish, from the blended spices to the diced ingredients. We recommend ordering a glass of milk with your meal.
You can also enjoy other dishes and desserts made using the navy cookbook here.
*Ryokan: a traditional Japanese inn
You can find more navy dishes at the shopping district in eastern Maizuru. They include roll cakes and nikujaga (meat and potato stew).
The navy was not only particular about their curry, but also their desserts. The long standing dessert shop Togetsudo makes Maizuru Navy Rolls (980 yen including tax). Based on the original recipe, these roll cakes are light and have a delicate sweetness.
A staple of Japanese cuisine, nikujaga is a beef and potato stew. The dish is said to have originated at the Maizuru Navy Base.
We recommend trying the Nikujaga Croquette at Sakai Meat Shop (120 yen after tax). They also sell Navy Curry Croquettes (100 yen after tax).
Maizuru has a different aesthetic in its east and west sides; if you want an immersive experience, you should spend a day on each half of the city.
For accommodations, we recommend spending the night at Saikaan in western Maizuru.
Originally a tobacco shop, the 130-year-old building has been well-preserved.
When Ms. Nagao, the current owner, converted the building into a guesthouse, she did her best to preserve the traditional atmosphere. A beautiful garden is also visible from the rooms.
An annex was recently added to Saikaan. While the exterior is a traditional Japanese building, the interior design is modern. The rooms are bright and even include a kitchen.
You can choose between two buildings for your stay. Both options include the use of a public bath and rental bicycle. After you arrive in western Maizuru, drop off your luggage and cycle around the neighborhood!
There are other great experiences to have in Maizuru. We will feature two more destinations to conclude this travel guide.
Being a port city, Maizuru is home to a variety of fish. As such, fish cakes called kamaboko are a local specialty.
In western Maizuru, you can take a kamaboko-making workshop taught by real artisans. Experience hand-crafting and tasting grilled chikuwa (*) and tempura. Reservations are available on the official website.
*Chikuwa: a cylinder-shaped kamaboko that is either steamed or boiled on a stick.
The Maizuru Nature and Cultural Park boasts the largest hydrangea garden in the Kansai region. During springtime, visitors can catch the camellias in bloom. You can also enjoy a view overlooking eastern Maizuru and the harbor.
The Nature and Cultural Park produces its own camellia oil, too. It's 100% natural and great for your skin and hair.
Maizuru is a city with a distinctly different flavor from Kyoto. You'll be able to smell the sea breeze and feel the warmth of the locals.
Two days may feel enough to explore the city. However, we're certain you will have a hard time saying goodbye once you step foot on its streets!
In cooperation with Kyoto by the Sea DMO and Maizuru Tourism Association