Are you interested in seeing what Japan looked like over two hundred years ago? There are many places that have been left untouched to help preserve traditions, and to offer you the chance to experience Japan, as it was, hundreds of years ago. We have selected the best five places in the country that still today, offer an insight into Edo Japan:
(image by flickr.com)
In Naramachi, an old town with vestiges of those times, there are World Heritage-designated temples, longhouses converted to restaurants, and souvenir shops for visitors to spend a leisurely time.
In 710, the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo, and Naramachi was situated on the old temple grounds of Gango-ji Temple. Outside Heijo-kyo, the old town developed on the roads of that time. Developing from a town of shrines and temples to a town of commerce to a tourist town, the old streets retaining the nostalgia from remains of machiya longhouses from the last years of the Edo Era into the Meiji Era are exquisite. There are many famous tourist spots such as the shrines, and the cafes and restaurants converted from the longhouses are popular. Another attractive point is that Naramachi is within walking distance of Nara Park with its many wild deer and the World Heritage site of Kasuga-Taisha Shrine.
The World Heritage site of Gango-ji Temple was once on the site of Japan’s first Buddhist monastery, Hoko-ji Temple (Asuka Temple), before its buildings were moved to Heijo-kyo and established in 718. The roof of the Gokurakubo main hall has the characteristic of a gyoukibuki roof with its pattern of overlapping curved and flat tiles, and part of the roof still has the tiles that were used at the time of its construction. The Naramachi House of Lattice Windows was built on the model of a machiya longhouse and can be visited to experience the feeling of an old lifestyle. With its narrow width and long length, you can learn about the functionality of the building through ways such as stairs which had storage spaces to effectively use the tight space and lattices which served a role in the use of ventilation and light. Admission is free and the admission office will distribute information on the places to see as well as maps. The Nara Craft Museum also has free admission, and you can view traditional crafts such as lacquerware, brushes, textiles and works made from animal horns.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Naramachi
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Naramachi
- Tours of Naramachi
(image by flickr.com)
Edo is right there as soon as you enter. On the huge 51-hectare site, there is The Furusato-no-Gi interactive area which involves the lifestyles of merchants and farmers, and the Fudoki-no-Oka area which goes into the learning of the history and nature.
16 buildings have been constructed ranging from dining establishments including soba shops and other eateries to blacksmith shops, referring to the old avenues of Boso from the late Edo Era to the early Meiji Era. Inari shrines, jizo statues and watchtowers, regular structures on the old streets, are reconstructed here. It’s a place which feels as if you‘ve entered a scene of a historical drama. From time to time, it is actually used for filming as a location set for TV productions. Over the year here, there are 350 kinds of performances and interactive programs prepared. Very interesting programs involving painted candles, tatami coasters, papier-mâché painting, soba-making and making of futomaki sushi are provided. Even among these, a popular program is the trying on of armor and helmets. There is a profound feeling to this armor that is close to the real thing, and once you hold that katana, you become a proper solider.
The Fudoki-no-Oka area centers on the large and small burial mounds of Ryukaku-ji Temple that number well over 100. There are thatched-roofed farmhouses that were built in 1779 that haven’t changed since the olden days. Features such as the surrounding verandas, the earth floors and the shining floorboards bespeak of a history spanning 200 years. The former white-walled Gakushuin main hall in the middle of a wide grassy area has been made into a National Important Cultural Property. It is a structure built in 1899 that relates school architecture representing the Meiji Era. At the Fudoki-no-Oka museum, information regarding archeology behind the unearthing of relics from primitive, ancient and Middle Ages Japan is collected and displayed. You can view valuable historical exhibits such as the skeleton of an extinct elephant calf discovered from Inba Marsh and Jomon earthenware. You can also see Burial Mound 101 which has been recreated to its original appearance while surrounded by terra-cotta figures from around the 6th and 7th centuries, and get a close-up look at the Iwaya Burial Mound, the largest of its kind in eastern Japan with one side measuring 80m.
Admission: ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Boso-no-Mura
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Boso-no-Mura
- Tours of Boso-no-Mura
(image by nijyojinya.net)
There was a man by the name of Suketada Ogawa who had served under Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and was defeated at the Battle of Sekigahara. His eldest son began Nijo Jinya as a rice exchange on the land near Nijo Castle. Such a facility is known as a jinya, but it was also used as an inn for visiting feudal lords (daimyo). Even now as it has for generations, it remains a residence of the Ogawas, and it is the second private home in Japan to be registered as a National Important Cultural Property. It is well-constructed to prevent fire and has been devised with defensive measures which gives Nijo Jinya high architectural value. In addition, it is a building that is a masterpiece of Sukiya architecture where you can glimpse the attention to detail with the 7 tearooms, the latticework in the Big Hall and the porcelain ornaments designed to hide the nails, among other highlights. As well, due to its defensive construction, many contrivances can be noticed such as watch rooms and locks. Furthermore, there is the Noh-no-Ma which was used as a Noh stage, and the Kasuga Room which has the image of Nara, the hometown of the Ogawas. With Japan’s oldest tiled bathtub that was designed so that its temperature could be regulated and a tearoom that feels as if it’s on water, nothing was spared anywhere in the planning by the original owner.
The highlight of Nijo Jinya is its adroit defensive architecture. Since guests were staying to attend trials, the building was designed with ways of escape in mind. There was a secret watch room in the ceiling known as a mushagakure, a hanging stairway going up to the 2nd floor that was hard to see, and other hidden paths and stairs which made the house a veritable ninja residence. Also, other detailed measures were put in place such as copperplate and small windows so that there would be no fire damage from sparks.
Admission: ¥ 1,000
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Nijo Jinya
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nijo Jinya
- Tours of Nijo Jinya
(image by flickr.com)
Okage Yokocho is located in one part of Oharai-machi. Transferred and recreated buildings that represent the Ise-ji Route from the Edo Era to the Meiji Era are all lined up, and the streets have that distinct character. Within its approximately 13,200 sq. meters, there are about 50 food stores and souvenir shops that can only be found in Ise-Shima where you can get a taste of the liveliness of touring Ise Jingu and the activity of the Edo Era.
The food and shopping go without saying, but experiencing the traditional culture of Ise is also one of Okage Yokocho’s attractions. There is a variety of workshops available throughout the year where you can create things according to the season such as candles and bonsai. Also, Okage-za Shinwa (Mythology) no Kan is a facility where you can experience the world of mythology through videos and Japanese paper dolls. At the Shinwa Theater, the essence of Japanese mythology is introduced in an easy-to-understand way on a large screen through media including animation. At Shinwa-no-Mori which is a domed space with the image of a primeval forest, 6 famous scenes from Japanese mythology are displayed through Japanese paper dolls. It lasts about 30 minutes, and you can enjoy with your eyes the world of living mythology.
When it comes to a famous product of Ise, one has to say Akafuku Mochi. The main shop for Akafuku Mochi is close to the entrance of Okage Yokocho, and there are always a lot of people there. In the open-air interior, freshly-made Akafuku rice cakes can be enjoyed together with bancha and matcha tea. Once a month in the early morning in Ise, there is a custom for visiting Ise Jingu known as Tsuitachi Mairi. At the main shop of Akafuku Mochi, on the first day of each month (except New Year’s Day), confections which change according to the season known as Tsuitachi Mochi are sold in limited quantities. To obtain these Tsuitachi Mochi, a lot of folks line up early on the 1st. This is also a common sight at Okage Yokocho.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Okage Yokocho
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Okage Yokocho
- Tours of Okage Yokocho
(image by flickr.com)
The borders and town streets, the downtown area and samurai residences, everything is built as structures from the Edo Era. The staff boost up the atmosphere. Everyone changes completely into samurai, ninja and Edo town residents, and fights and detective stories play out for real along the roadsides. You will enjoy yourselves no matter when and where you are. There are few places to get warm, and from around 2 p.m. in winter, the cold intensifies so please dress up for the weather.
You can masquerade yourself as a citizen of the Edo Era such as a ninja, samurai, feudal lord, princess, artisan or female swordsperson, etc. for a day. The staff will even address you as that transformed character.
You will learn 5 disciplines (wall-climbing, crawling above ceilings, navigating through traps, underground infiltration, shuriken throwing). Experience the arts of protecting yourself and deception.
This is a huge maze. There are also tricks that aren’t present in the usual mazes. It is exceptionally hard but emergency exits are available.
You will have plenty of Edo Era amusement such as ninja, sword battles, water tricks, and courtesan dances. Spectacular performances will be right in front of your eyes.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 4,700 / Child: ¥ 2,400