The Edo Era Lives on in Fukushima’s Ouchijuku
September 8, 2016
The merchants and feudal lords who once traveled the Shimotsuke Kaido trade route between Aizu-Wakamatsu and Nikko are no longer around, but the tradition and flavor of the Edo Era lives on in the post town of Ouchijuku, waiting for you in the mountains that dominate the southern part of Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizu region.
A traditional Japanese teahouse
In 1981 Ouchijuku won official designation as a Group of Traditional Buildings by the national government. Walking the town’s wide, unpaved street you’ll see why. Wood-and-thatch structures that have survived since Edo times line both sides of the road. Former merchants’ residences and businesses now house a colorful array of crafts and souvenirs along with a healthy dose of shops and restaurants offering Shinshu soba noodles, black garlic sembei and all other manner of the region’s traditional specialties.
Roasted dango rice balls with the regional specialty ju-nen miso is worth a try
Lacquerware is just one of many kinds of souvenirs flooding Ouchijuku
Ouchijuku is noticeably compact, allowing for an easy stroll to take in the town’s full palate of historic and cultural color. The Honjin was where high-ranking government officials would stay when traveling through. Now a museum, the Honjin is a show of elegant traditional Edo Era housing and displays a variety of goods and artifacts from the period. Down a side road marked with a huge torii, Takagura Shrine stands in a grove of 800-year-old Japanese cedars. Even when Ouchijuku is bustling, this shrine remains an oasis of serenity – and in the summer a shady reprieve from the heat.
A long stone staircase leads to the Koyasu Kannon temple
At the north end of Ouchijuku a stone staircase leads up to the Koyasu Kannon, a temple where women would (and still do) bring their children to pray for their health and prosperity. Down the path to the right you’ll find a postcard-worthy view of the old post town.
An unforgettable view of Ouchijuku
Ouchijuku makes for an attractive day trip in any season. Just keep in mind that the bus from Yunokami Onsen Station (south of Wakamatsu on the private Aizu Railroad) only runs up to Ouchijuku from April to November. In winter you can take a taxi – or hike the six kilometers for an even more rewarding visit!
Yunokami Onsen Station
Kevin Kato has hiked, biked, boated and locomoted through forty countries across six continents. He has a Master's Degree in Forensic Science in a box in a closet somewhere. He presently lives, writes and tries to keep up with his three kids in the mountains of Nagano, Japan.