On a rainy April 14, 2012 we hopped on the train in Utsunomiya and went to Shirakawa. We got to Shirakawa station and after making some enquiries discovered that due to damage by the 3/11 earthquake the Shirakawa Komine Castle was closed to tourists. We unfurled our borrowed umbrellas and trekked off to the castle grounds. Sure enough barricades prevented our entrance to the castle proper and work was ongoing even in the rain. We entered a cafe on the castle grounds, looked around inside noticing about six men chatting and all but one dressed in identical jackets. We decided to order an udon set which includes the udon noodles in soup and a number of other items including dessert elegantly arrayed on a tray. The food was very good. We had picked up some tourist pamphlets and Yayoi chatted with the six men. It turns out they were volunteer tourist guides. One particularly was very helpful and after lunch he approached us as we were leaving and offered us a ride to the city museum across town. We accepted. He explained that the castle outer or moat walls were deliberately built so that if a pivotal stone was removed by an enemies machinery (or earthquake in this case) that the whole wall would collapse crushing the enemy.
After seeing the museum we walked back to the castle and went into the museum on the grounds. After we went back to Shirakawa train station, had coffee and then took the train back to Utsunomiya. At the Utsunomiya train station we chose one of a number of gyoza restaurants and ate gyoza (a bit like pyrogies) which is an Utsunomiya specialty.
In spite of the rain, thanks to the nice people we met we had a good day.
A few photographs can be seen on Picasa at Shirakawa Komine Castle.