Aizu, Fukushima – This unusual destination for western visitors holds an amazing modern marvel: The samurai village of 大内宿 (おうちじゅく / Ōchi – juku). Since ancient times, this area of Japan has been an important route for trade. Do you want to know how it survived the force of modernization? Keep reeding!
About the samurai village of Ōchi-Juku
Ōchi-juku has been historically a city for connection. Specifically, it used to connect the Aizu (in Fukushima prefecture) and Nikko (in Tochigi prefecture) regions back in the Edo Period (1603 AC – 1868 AC). But it connected these regions in a particular manner, since this is what many call a “Post Town”. It used to serve as a postal service station that allowed towns without ZIP Codes to send and receive mail. This lovely village also served as a stopping station for travelers looking for accommodation or food.
This post town was considerably relevant during Edo Period, but it first gained relevance in the Heian period. Then, it was rumored that Prince Mochihito (known for initiating one of Japan’s civil wars) hid there after loosing a battle. Yet today you can find a shrine dedicated to him right in the middle of Ōchi-Juku.
Local government recently rennovated this village to meet modern visitors’ requirements. They added a parking lot, they have a lookout for the beautiful mountain views, gorgeous traditional restaurants and underground modern services to meet the expectations of a pristine samurai village.
How-to-go & what-to-see at the Samurai Village of Ōchi-Juku?
Nowadays, reaching Ōchi-Juku to enjoy its beauty has become quite simple (but a little bit time consuming): you will have to take a 20 minute taxi from Yunokamionsen station in Minamiaizu, which is already fairly far from central Japan where you probably will spend most of your journey. However, it is well worth the time as Ōchi-Juku serves one of the most exquisite delicatessens that feudal Japan has to offer: soba noodles. They are so good that people all around Japan travel to Fukushima just to have a bowl of them.
If you are not into Japanese food, Ōchi-Juku has you well covered! There are festivals, beautiful scenarios and pretty souvenir shops conveniently placed into original feudal buildings that keep the early appearance of this town. You could also visit the main temple, which lays in the ending of the main street. There, you will find a lovely view of all the town. We forecast samurai vives when you see this by yourself!
As lovely as it is, please consider that there is currently no accommodation around. You will have to go back to Aizu before night arrives.
All reasons given, some visitors avoid the visit to Ōchi-juku because it is way far from “usual” trip routes. However, some others take their journeys to Ōchi-juku in order to witness their famous yearly festivals. Their Official website displays all the list of festivals, but we give you a couple that are remarkable:
Spring festival (April)
Many celebrations are held in Ōchi-Juku each season, but one of the first attractions of the year are the blooming Sakura trees around the main street. Although there is no official celebration around this event, many visit the place as its floral beauty peaks around March-April each year. Of course, many businesses in Ōchi-Juku sell cherry blossom inspired products, so you should try to get a glimpse at the stores for seasonal goods.
Summer festival (July 2nd)
Also known as the “Half Summer Matsuri”, in early July people celebrate the 大内宿半夏祭り (おうちじゅくはんげまつり / Ōchijuku hange matrsuri) or, as should be known, the Takakura shrine’s festival. Here, locals perform a Shinto ceremony to please Prince Mochihito’s spirit. Afterwards, people pray for wealth and health and end with the resounding music of taiko drums, which lasts until July 3rd’s midnight.
Autum festival (September 1st)
In order to commemorate the importance of disaster prevention, each September 1st (at midday) the local government activate the safety systems against fires. This makes a lot of sense considering that houses and businesses are completely made from wood as they would be back in Edo Period. This is a worth-to-see spectacle that happens only once a year!
Winter festival (variable, 2 days long)
Lastly, our favorite is the yearly Winter festival of snow. As this location is well set into the Fukushima mountains, it snows almost all winter (and part of Autum). People around the place create snow sculptures and set a great winter atmosphere worth seeing. There is even a fireworks event! We suggest you to check the schedule for this event, as it is slightly changed year after year.
NihonPot score: The samurai village of Ōchi-juku
Suggestion: As this is a rare visit for westerners, english is not a very popular language among villagers.
Japanese is not mandatory, but recommended.
There you go! Now, you have meet one of the hidden treasures of northern Japan not many foreigners have witnessed. You can check this other entry about other hidden gem in Japan, or leave a comment with your toughs right in the comment section!
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