#1. Tsumago-juku – Nagano
Photo Credit: そらみみ@wikimedia
Tsumago-juku was the 42nd of the 69 post towns on the Nakasendo. During the Edo period, this road connected present-day Tokyo to Kyoto. After the Chuo Main Line railway was built, not too many people visited Tsumago-juku. In 1968, local residents want to turn the town around, so that more tourist would visit. By 1971, there was about 20 houses restored and the town agreed that no part would be sold, hired out, or destroyed. In 1976, the town was designated a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site by the government. Even though the town looks very historic, there are many souvenir shops. Some local must try cuisine is the Gohei Mochi and the Oyaki. Gohei Mochi is made from rice pounded, molded onto a stick and then grilled over a fire. Oyaki is Japanese dumplings made from fermented buckwheat dough, it is filled with vegetables, fruit, or sweet red bean paste then roasted on an iron pan. Then the bun is steamed or broiled. There are many historic places to stay. The inns are all renovated houses and some serve breakfast or dinner.
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Address: 2159-2 Azuma, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 10 minute bus ride from Minami Kiso Station
Phone: 0264-57-3123 (Nagiso Town Office)
#2. Kawagoe – Saitama
Photo Credit: Yoshizumi Endo@flickr
Kawagoe is a city in the Saitama Prefecture, within the central Kanto region of Japan. The city is known as “Little Edo” because of the historic buildings. Kawagoe Castle was the headquarters of the Kawagoe Domain during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Before becoming part of Saitama, it was the capital of the Kawagoe Prefecture in 1871, then became the Iruma Prefecture in 1871 to 1873. Kawagoe is famous for the locally grown sweet potatoes. There is an area called “Candy Street”, there are treats such as sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato coffee, and even sweet potato beer, brewed at the local Koedo Brewery. The Kawagoe Festival is held every year on the third Saturday and Sunday of October. In 2005 it became a designated National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
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Address: 3-13 Saiwaicho, Kawagoe, Saitama
Access: 10minute walk from Honkawagoe Station
Phone: 049-227-8233 (Koedo-Kawagoe Office)
#3. Shirakawa-go – Gifu
Shirakawa-go is a historic village located in the Shogawa river valley, the town stretches across to the border of the Gifu and the Toyama Prefecture. This historic town is know for the thatched-roof houses, they roofs are said to look like praying hands. The design is very strong and the roofs can withstand the weight of the heavy snowfall during the winter. Within the land area, 96% of it is all forest. The upper part of the thatched-roof houses was for sericulture. The area below the house was used for the production of nitre and gunpowder.
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Address: 517 Hatogaya, Shirakawa Village, Ono, Gifu
Access: 50 minute taking a bus from Takayama Bus Terminal
Phone: +81-05769-6-1311 (Shirakawa village office)
#4. Kurashiki – Okayama
Kurashiki is the second most populated city in the Okayama Prefecture. The city is known for the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate controlled this town and it was very successful. It was a key spot to buy goods and materials under the leadership of the local merchants. The Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter used to house the wealthy merchants. This area is covered with historic sites, the houses and the townscape has a traditional atmosphere. A key spot to visit is the Seto Ohashi Bridge because it is one of the largest road and rail bridges in the world, it connects Honshu and Shikoku. Kurashiki is well-known for the industrial industry, covering agriculture by developing the generous and rich blessings of nature, fishing, a traditional textile industry successfully converted into a steady production district of jeans and uniforms, and heavy industries such as the Mizushima Complex.
[map lat=”34.595840″ lng=”133.771954″] [/map]
Address: 4 Honcho, Kurashiki, Okayama
Access: 9 minute taking a bus & walk from Kurashiki Station
Website: Kurashiki (Japanese)
#5. Kakunodate – Akita
Kakunodate is a former castle and samurai castle town in the Akita Prefecture. The castle itself is no longer standing but the town is famous for the traditional samurai and for the weeping cherry trees. The town was founded in 1620 and it has largely remained unchanged. There are two distinct areas of the town, the samurai district and the merchant district. There was once 80 families living there and the samurai district still has some of the best samurai architecture in Japan. Kakunodate is also well-known as a great spot to view cherry blossoms. Around late Apirl and early May, many people come to Kakunodate to see the cherry blossoms and the historic sites.
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Kakunodate Tourist Association
Address: 394-2 Kamisugazawa, Kakunodate-machi, Senboku, Akita
Access: 44 minute taking shinkansen “Komachi” from Akita Station
Website: Kakunodate Tourist Association
#6. Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka – Kyoto
Ninen-zaka is a one that leads up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and it also leads to Sannen-zaka. Ninen means two years and Sannen means three years. There are some theories, but it is said that Ninen-zaka got it name because it is located just down past Sannen-zaka. It is also said that if you fall there, you will die within two years. Sannen-zaka is another famous sight-seeing spot on Higashiyama. The narrow pathway made with cobblestones leads up to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This area has many historical building and it is protected by the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. This pedestrian-only pathway is a great place to get a feel of the Edo period. There are many restaurants and tea houses to enjoy the local cuisine.
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Address: 2 Simizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto-city, Kyoto
Access: 20 minute walk from Shimizu-gojo Station
#7. Higashi Chayagai – Ishikawa
Higashi Chayagai is famous for all of the chaya type restaurants from the Edo period. A chaya or teahouse is where guests are entertained by geisha who perform songs and dances. These types of restaurants were designated to entertainment districts, usually outside of city limits. There are two chaya opened to the public, the Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse. Most of the other businesses along the way are cafes and shops. One of the shops to check out is Hakuza, they sell gold leaf products. There is a tea ceremony room completely covered in gold leaf.
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Address: Higashiyama, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa
Access: 25 minute walk from Kanazawa Station
Website: Higashi Chayagai (Japanese)
#8. Narai-juku – Nagano
Photo Credit: 663highland@wikimedia
Narai-juku was the 34th out of 69 station of the Nakasendo. It is located in the present-day city of Shiojiri, in the Nagano Prefecture. Narai-juku has the highest elevation among all of the other towns. Since there are many visitors passing through the Torii Pass, the town has flourished and it is referred to as “Narai of 1,000 buildings”. It is one of Japan’s Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Sites, most of the buildings haven’t changed since the Edo period. Narai-juku is an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings and it is also a Cultural Asset in the Groups of Traditional Buildings category of Cultural Properties of Japan in 1978 and is maintained by the Japanese government grant system.
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Address: Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Access: 3 minute walk from Narai Station
Website: Narai-juku (Japanese)
#9. Hida Takayama – Gifu
Photo Credit: Henry Burrows@flickr
Hida Takayama is a town that has been around since the Edo period. The city thrived when there were many wealthy merchants. Sannomachi Street is to the southern side of the old town, there are many old homes, shops, coffee houses and sake breweries, some businesses have been there for centuries. Surprisingly some of the old homes are open to the public, you can see what it was like during the Edo period. Most of these houses belong to merchants and craftsmen. Hida no Sato is known for the traditional houses that originated in the Hida region. Exploring these houses means you can learn about the life style and traditions of the people from that time period. This town is 99,000 square meters and there are thatched-roof houses. This folk village is showcasing the different ways people used to live. Some demonstrations of handicrafts are lacquer work, weaving, and dying fabric. There are also other crafts like straw crafts and sashiko quilting.
[map lat=”36.141079″ lng=”137.251432″] [/map]
Address: Takayama City, Gifu
Website: Hida Takayama (Japanese)
#10. Taketomi Island – Okinawa
Taketomi Island is a small island a few miles away from Ishigaki. There is a ferry and it takes about 10-15 minutes. This village is a popular destination for those going on day trips. Throughout the island, there are many “shiza” statues and it is believed that they bring luck to the inhabitants. Since the town is preserved, there are many traditional one-story houses surrounded by stone walls and covered with red roof tiles. Some of the village’s houses serve as minshuku accommodations. There are many restaurants and shops but no rental cars on the island. The best way to see the island is to rent a bicycle of ride on a water buffalo drawn cart. The tour is about 30 minutes and you get to see most of the village, sings songs, and hear Okinawan music.
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Address: Taketomi, Taketomi-cho, Yaeyama-gun, Okinawa
Price for ox tour:
Adults 1,200 yen
Children 600 yen
Website: Taketomi Official Tourist Information (Japanese)