Nestled in the mountains of southwestern Fukushima Prefecture is the small isolated thatch roofed village of Ouchijuku. The village was a former post town along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route during the Edo period. Travelers at the time were restricted to journeying on foot, prompting post towns to develop along various routes which provided food and accommodations to the weary voyagers.
Today, Ouchijuku has been restored to look as it did in the Edo period. Its telephone and electric wires have been buried out of sight as not to impede with the period look. The unpaved main street is lined with thatched roof buildings which house a variety of shops, restaurants and minshuku (small traditional Japanese inns). Restaurants serve up soba (buckwheat) noodles and locally caught iwana (char fish) roasted on sticks to the 1.2 million visitors who travel to this village each year.
The former Honjin, the inn reserved for high ranked government officials, is also located along the main street and open to the public as a museum. Inside, visitors can see the elegant interior of a traditional house from the Edo period as well as a collection of dishes, clothing and other artifacts.
At the end of the main street, you will find a temple situated above a steep set of stairs which offers magnificent views of the street and the thatched roofed houses below. Within a five minute walk off the main street is a shrine with a unique purification fountain worth visiting.
Tourists often make a day trip to the village while they are visiting some of the esteemed Aizu onsens (hot springs) nearby. The village is served by the Yunokami Onsen Station on the Aizu Line. The Yunokami Onsen Station is the only railway station in Japan with a thatched roof.
If you are not planning on staying at one of the onsens overnight, you can combine a trip to Ouchijuku with a visit to the castle town of Aizuwakamatsu (会津若松市), located just one hour away from Ouchijuku. The town has a long samurai tradition that it proudly displays for visitors and what better way to observe that tradition than to visit Aizuwakamatsu Castle also known as Tsuruga Castle. The castle is a concrete replica of the original constructed by Ashina Naomori in 1384. It was the military and administrative center of the Aizu region until 1868.
During the Battle of Aizu in 1868, the newly formed Imperial Army laid siege to the castle causing significant damage to the castle walls with artillery fire. Deemed structurally unstable, the castle was demolished by the new government in 1874. The tenshu, the largest tower of the castle, was reconstructed in 1965 in concrete and currently houses a museum and an observation gallery on top with panoramic views of the city.
A journey to Ouchijuku is a step back in time and a wonderful way to observe what life may have been like for travelers during the Edo period. To reach Ouchijuku, take the Aizu Railway Aizu Line from Tokyo Station and exit at Yunokami Onsen Station. From there, your destination is just 10 minutes away.
Photo Credits: Moritoshi Inaba