Ranking as one of the most popular destinations in Fukushima with 1 million visitors each year, Ouchijuku (大内宿) is receiving all the attention from the media lately. What is Ouchijuku? And what makes it so popular? Let’s find out.
What is Ouchijuku?
Ouchijuku is a village made of over 30 traditional Japanese houses with straw-thatched roofs which is now a famous tourist destination that attracts over 1 million visitors each year. It’s located on the south Aizu Wakamatsu city, the west side of Fukushima Prefecture, surrounded by a range of high mountains.
In the Edo era, it was a town famously known to have many inns with soba restaurants and souvenir stores. However, the town’s status became diminished as the main street stopped being the main thoroughfare between Aizu Wakamatsu city and Imaichi in Tochigi Prefecture. It wasn’t until in the Showa era that it started to receive some attention again as a place of historically preserved town of the Edo era. In 1981, Ouchijuku was appointed as the third district of preserved historic buildings. Ever since then, the town has poured more effort in maintaining Ouchijuku as a tourist destination.
When you walk down the road, sandwiched by rows of traditional Japanese straw-thatched houses on both sides, you feel as if you have travelled back through time to the Edo era, 400 years ago of Japan.
Best Things to do in Ouchijuku
#1. Negi Soba
Negi Soba is a famous dish that can be enjoyed at Ouchijuku. It’s called Negi (green onions) Soba (buck wheat noodles) because in stead of chopsticks, a whole stick of green onion is offered as a utensil to eat the soba noodles. This tradition is originated from Nagano Prefecture, but has been spread to Aizu area in Fukushima Prefecture. The skinny, long features of the green onion signifies the wish for one’s long life. Although it might take a while to get used to using a stick of green onion to eat soba noodles, it is a fun experience to be added to your traveling memory. Still, if you really prefer to use a pair of chopsticks, they can offer them to you upon your request. Another tip to remember is to pace yourself when you eat the green onion because you will run out of your “chopsticks” to eat the rest of the noodles!
#2. Asanuma Shokudo
Asanuma Shokudo is a soba restaurant you must visit, not only for Negi Soba but also for its Kinoko (mushroom) Soba and sweets such as Ankomochi (sweet sticky rice cake with red bean paste stuffings). The sweets are popular treats for ladies. It is located at the end of the long stretched main road with mountainous landscape behind the building. It is in a location where you can have a whole view of Ouchijuku. Again, looking down at the whole village of Ouchijuku from here gives you an illusion of slipping back into the Edo period 400 years ago.
#3. Honke Tamaya
Here at Tamaya, other than the famous delicious Negi Soba, Imagawayaki (baked batter with sweet red bean paste stuffings) is another must-try item. Unlike other kinds of Imagawayaki, Tamaya’s Imagawayaki has brown rice, which makes the outer layer crunchy while keeping the inside soft and chewy. Also, on the second floor, you can find rare items from Edo era on display.
#4. Ouchi Town Museum
Photo Credit: prelude2000@flickr
Ourchi Town Museum was originally an inn designated as a lodge for Daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) in the Edo era. After a renovation, it was turned into a museum where approximately 1,300 items display the lifestyle and culture of the Edo era such as weavers and an indoor fireplace. You can also visit the replicas of daimyo’s bedrooms and bathrooms. There is a record of a party, consisting of more than 600 people, staying at Ouchijuku on one occasion, indicating the prosperity and liveliness Ouchijuku once had.
Lodging in Ouchijuku
With a history of 300 years, Iseya has been a historical inn where its guests can enjoy various local cuisines. It is also known for its at-home atmosphere with its straw-thatched roof. It also offers rest areas as well as a souvenir store for visitors to stop for a break if they don’t plan to stay overnight.
Yamagataya is one of the restored buildings that now has the balcony floor board and wooden door that makes it even more complete as a traditional Japanese house. It allows the guests to fully enjoy the experience of traditional lodging in a Japanese house during the Edo period.
#3. Honke Ougiya
Honke Ougiya is the only lodge in Ouchijuku where you can experience staying overnight at a Japanese traditional warehouse. Here, you can sit around the Japanese traditional indoor fireplace, known as an Irori, at night while enjoying a nice relaxing chat with the owner of the inn and savoring the authentic local cuisine. The warmth of the owner will make you want to come back again.
Souvenir Stores in Ouchijuku
#1. Honke Minoya
Minoya is a souvenir store specializes in Aizu Nakatsugawa Clay Dolls. Other than the clay dolls, ceramic bells and zodiac dolls can be found here as well. You can also meet the famous cat that watches over the store sometimes if you are lucky.
If you are interested in various Japanese lacquerware, Matsubaya is where you need to visit. Whether it’s the utensils used everyday such as chopsticks, spoons, or soup bowls, or kitchenwares for more formal occasions such as Japanese bento boxes or trays, Matsubaya has them all. The most popular item for a souvenir is small lacquerware articles. They all look so pretty that you might want some for yourself!
#3. Tochimochi Katoya
Katoya is a souvenir store specializing in Tochimochi. Tochimochi, a rice cake made of pounded horse chestnuts and sticky rice, is not an easy dessert to make. It takes 13 days to make Tochimochi that combines horse chestnuts and sticky rice. Add some red bean paste or soybean powder to enjoy the richer flavor of Tochimochi.
Minatogawaya is a perfect souvenir store to visit for those of you who are looking for a hands-on experience. At Minatogawaya, you can paint your own souvenirs. This is a great activity even for little ones, which makes it a very family friendly event. They are also known for their fried sticky rice as well as boiled eggs on a stick. When your stick is marked with red at its tip, don’t throw it out! It means that you have won another stick of egg! Enjoy your hands-on experience while savoring some simple local tastes is a fun way to enjoy Ouchijuku.
Events in Ouchijuku
#1. Ouchijuku Snow Festival
Ouchijuku Snow Festival is a popular annual winter festival held on the second Saturday and Sunday of February. It attracts approximately 20,000 visitors in these two days alone. During the festival, the main street is decorated with lanterns along the road on both sides which adds to the Edo era atmosphere. Fireworks in the evening as well as Butajiru (miso soup with pork and vegetables) and Amazake (sweet drink made of fermented rice) can be enjoyed at the event. A photo contest is held in association with the festival, attracting many amateur photographers to capture many breath taking shots of the winter fantasy. Ouchijuku dressed in a pure white layers of snow is surely a picturesque scenery that can’t be missed!
#2. Hange Summer Festival
Photo Credit: 下郷町 Shimogo
Ouchijuku is also a legendary place after Prince Mochihito Takakura, the second son of Emperor Goshirakawa, fled here and went into hiding in order to get away from the Heike Clan’s pursuit. Every year on July 2nd, the enshrining of Prince Mochihito is celebrated. The traditional style of Togyo Parade held this day has not been changed for hundreds of years.
#3. Takakura Shrine
As it is in the name, this shrine is dedicated to Prince Mochihito Takakura who failed to succeed the throne because of Heike’s revolt. There are three Torii, a gateway at the entrance to the shrine, leading up to the shrine. Once in the property of the shrine, check out many 50-meter tall Japanese cedars that are over 800 years old! They are clearly much taller than other trees, so you shouldn’t have any problems picking them out.
[map lat=”37.333742″ lng=”139.860936″][/map]
Address: 8 Oji Ouchiji Yamamoto, Shimogo, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima Prefecture
Access: 10 minutes taxi ride from Yunokami-Onsen Station to Ouchijuku