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Historic Towns and Districts in Japan

Historic Towns and Districts

The historic towns and districts in Japan are areas that have been preserved to maintain the traditional buildings that have survived the many fires, earthquakes, wars, and modernization of the country. These sites are reviewed by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and if the place is qualified then it will be designated a Cultural Property. The preservation of these sites came about during the Meiji Restoration, when at the time the feudal era came to an abrupt end. In 1871, the Meiji Government seized lands and temples that were symbolic of the feudal age. Within the same year the Department of State issued a decree based on the recommendation from universities to protect the antiquities. Then in 1897 the Ancient Temples and Shrines Preservation Law was passed. Ito Chuta, an architect and architectural historian, provided the necessary guidance to formulate the 20 articles to set up the system to preserve the sites. Since then many laws were passed to further preserve anything of historical value both intangible and tangible.

The categories for the historic towns and districts to fall under depend heavily on their focus. There are former samurai and merchant districts that are known for their relation to prior owners of the structures. Post Towns refers to towns built along the former major highways in Japan. A small number of them have been able to maintain their Edo Period appearance, but with modern accommodations. In the Geisha Districts there are still Geisha performing in traditional teahouses, buildings, and restaurants. Other types of towns that have been preserved are pilgrimage, farming, and port towns. Then there is the very unique Ryukyu Village, which was influenced by an independent kingdom until it became part of Okinawa.

The major cities in Japan usually started out as castle towns that developed over time. Castle towns consisted the residence of the local feudal lord, which was the castle located in the center of the town. Surrounding the castle his retainers, the samurai, lived in homes ready to protect their master. This area was called the bukeyashiki.

photo of Former Samurai Districts in Japan
photo of Hirosaki Samurai District

Tohoku | Aomori | Hirosaki

Hirosaki Samurai District

The Hirosaki Samurai District consists of four samurai houses that served the Tsugaru Clan long ago during the Edo period.

photo of Usuki Samurai District

Kyushu | Oita | Usuki

Usuki Samurai District

A well preserved samurai district with Edo period architecture close to the ruins of Usuki Castle located in Usuki, Oita Prefecture.

photo of Matsue Samurai District

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Matsue Samurai District

Historic buildings, former samurai residences, traditional Japanese style tea houses, and more can be found in the Matsue Samurai District.

photo of Kakunodate Samurai District

Tohoku | Akita | Kakunodate

Kakunodate Samurai District

The Kakunodate Samurai District has been around since 1620 when Yoshikatsu Ashina became the lord of the area.

photo of Aizu Bukeyashiki

Tohoku | Fukushima | Aizu Wakamatsu

Aizu Bukeyashiki

Aizu Bukeyashiki was a samurai residence that once belonged to a powerful member of the Aizu Clan until it was burned down and eventually restored.

photo of Kitsuki Samurai District

Kyushu | Oita | Kunisaki Peninsula

Kitsuki Samurai District

A unique and well preserved samurai district located in Oita Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Hagi Former Castle Town

Chugoku | Yamaguchi | Hagi

Hagi Former Castle Town

A former castle town ruled by the Mori Clan and hometown to Hagiyaki Pottery located at Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Nagamachi Samurai District

Chubu | Ishikawa | Kanazawa

Nagamachi Samurai District

Nagamachi Samurai District is located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle and preserves a traditional atmosphere.

photo of Tsuwano Old Town

Chugoku | Shimane | Tsuwano

Tsuwano Old Town

Tsuwano Old Town is distinguished for its historically prominent buildings and well-preserved samurai residences.

photo of Chiran Samurai District

Kyushu | Kagoshima | Satsuma Peninsula

Chiran Samurai District

A well preserved Samurai District featuring 7 traditional gardens located in Kagoshima Prefecture, known as the little Kyoto of Kagoshima.

During the Edo Period merchants were considered the lowest of the four social castes. However, many of the merchants became very wealthy when the Edo Period came to an end. Merchant districts can identified by the kura (warehouse) buildings and shops lining the streets.

photo of Former Samurai Districts in Japan
photo of Nakamachi District

Chubu | Nagano | Matsumoto

Nakamachi District

Nakamachi District is a well preserved merchant area where the warehouses have been converted to various shops.

photo of Kurashiki Canal Area

Chugoku | Okayama | Kurashiki

Kurashiki Canal Area

Kurashiki Canal Area was an important part of distributing rice in large quantities and is also known as the Bikan Historical Quarter.

photo of Takayama Old Town

Chubu | Gifu | Takayama

Takayama Old Town

Takayama Old Town is a beautifully preserved district with businesses that have been around for more than a hundred years.

photo of Kawagoe Warehouse District

Kanto | Saitama | Kawagoe

Kawagoe Warehouse District

Kawagoe Warehouse District features clay walled warehouse styled buildings known as kurazukuri.

photo of Sawara Town

Kanto | Chiba | Narita

Sawara Town

Sawara is known as “Little Edo” because of its small district of preserved residences from the Edo Period.

photo of Imaicho Town

Kansai | Nara | Asuka

Imaicho Town

Imaicho town is a well-preserved area in current day Asuka, Nara prefecture, Japan.

photo of Yokaichi Old Town

Shikoku | Ehime | Uchiko

Yokaichi Old Town

This area features 90 buildings from the Edo period style to the early Meiji period from wealth accumulated by the wax trade this town was known for.

Post Towns in Japan can be found on the former major highways like Tokaido and Nakasendo. These towns catered to travelers going in and out of Edo (modern day Tokyo). There is a small number of towns that have preserved their Edo Period appearance, but still has modern accommodations.

photo of Post Towns in Japan
photo of Ouchijuku Post Town

Tohoku | Fukushima | Ouchijuku

Ouchijuku Post Town

Ouchijuku was a post town in the Edo Period when high ranking officials had to travel to the capital every other year.

photo of Tsumago Post Town

Chubu | Nagano | Kiso

Tsumago Post Town

Tsumago is one of the best preserved post towns on the old highway known as Nakasendo.

photo of Magome Post Town

Chubu | Nagano | Kiso

Magome Post Town

Magome post town is a post town in Kiso Valley that has been restored with a beautiful stone walkway.

photo of Narai Post Town

Chubu | Nagano | KIso

Narai Post Town

Narai was the half way point on the Nakasendo, an old highway connecting Edo to Kyoto.