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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide
Historic towns and districts

Narai

While many of Japan's historic buildings and districts have been lost due to fires, earthquakes, wars and city redevelopment over the centuries, some cities and towns have managed to preserve a street block or whole district of traditional buildings for residents and tourists to enjoy today. The list below introduces some of Japan's best preserved historic city districts and towns:

Former Samurai Districts

Many Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, have developed as castle towns, where the local feudal lord resided in the centrally located castle, and his retainers, the samurai, lived in the districts surrounding the castle.

As the highest social caste during the Edo Period, the samurai were allowed to construct elaborate residences with earthen walls and elegant homes. Among the best preserved former samurai districts are the ones of Kakunodate, Hagi and Kanazawa.

Hagi
Former Castle Town
User rating: 81/100 (58 votes)
Visited by: 122 users
A few lanes, lined by the white walls and wooden gates of former samurai mansions are beautifully preserved in the Jokamachi district of Hagi today. Some houses are open to the public.

Kakunodate
Samurai District
User rating: 80/100 (75 votes)
Visited by: 144 users
A beautifully preserved samurai district with several former samurai mansions open to the public. Kakunodate's samurai district is famous for its many weeping cherry trees.

Kanazawa
Nagamachi
User rating: 78/100 (153 votes)
Visited by: 287 users
Narrow lanes and old mansions are preserved in Nagamachi, Kanazawa's former samurai district. Kanazawa used to be the capital of the Edo Period's second wealthiest feudal domain.

Kunisaki Peninsula
Kitsuki
User rating: insufficient data
Visited by: 5 users
Kitsuki is unique for having two samurai districts on hills sandwiching a merchant district in the valley in between. They are among the most pleasantly preserved samurai districts in Japan.

Tsuwano
Old Town
User rating: 80/100 (6 votes)
Visited by: 13 users
The highlight of Tsuwano's old town is the Tonomachi district where one street block of the former samurai district is particularly nicely preserved with earthen walls, historic buildings and a water canal filled with carps.

Matsue
Samurai District
User rating: 75/100 (61 votes)
Visited by: 115 users
Some of Matsue's former samurai mansions have been preserved along the busy road north of Matsue Castle. Among them is the former residence of Lafcadio Hearn.

Usuki
Samurai District
User rating: insufficient data
Visited by: 3 users
The preserved area of Usuki's samurai district is small but photogenic. Referred to as Nioza Historical Road, it is about 200 meters long.

Former Merchant Districts

In theory the lowest of the four social castes during the Edo Period, many merchants actually grew very wealthy. Like all the social castes, the merchants lived in assigned city districts. Merchant districts are characterized by shop lined streets and warehouses (kura). Among the cities with the most beautifully preserved former merchant districts are Takayama and Kurashiki.

Takayama
Old Town
User rating: 87/100 (413 votes)
Visited by: 716 users
The narrow streets in Takayama's old town are lined by traditional buildings, shops and sake breweries. A few former merchant homes are open to the public.

Kurashiki
Canal Area
User rating: 83/100 (224 votes)
Visited by: 430 users
Numerous warehouses are preserved along a willow lined canal. Many of the warehouses have been converted into museums, souvenir stores, boutiques and cafes.

Uchiko
Yokaichi Old Town
User rating: 81/100 (14 votes)
Visited by: 31 users
A 600 meter long street lined by preserved buildings from the era when the small town of Uchiko on Shikoku gained international fame and wealth as wax producer.

Nara
Naramachi
User rating: 80/100 (291 votes)
Visited by: 626 users
Naramachi is the former merchant district of Nara, where several traditional warehouses and residential buildings have survived. One old residence is open to the public for free.

Asuka
Imaicho Town
User rating: 80/100 (7 votes)
Visited by: 29 users
Rather than just a district, Imaicho is a whole town whose machiya town house lined streets have been preserved. A couple of merchant houses are open for tourists to enter.

Kawagoe
Warehouse District
User rating: 75/100 (147 votes)
Visited by: 308 users
More than a dozen massive warehouses, reminiscent of the Edo Period, are preserved along Kawagoe's main street. Many of them are now housing stores and restaurants.

Narita
Sawara Town
User rating: 75/100 (26 votes)
Visited by: 57 users
A former transport hub for rice shipments into the capital, Sawara's historic center lies along a canal lined by a few preserved and restored traditional residences, merchant shops and warehouses from the Edo Period.

Matsumoto
Nakamachi
User rating: 71/100 (98 votes)
Visited by: 182 users
Nakamachi-dori is a street lined by several nicely preserved, old buildings, including a number of warehouses. Some of them house small shops, restaurants and ryokan.

Geisha Districts

Traditional geisha districts are characterized by the wooden tea houses, in which the geisha perform during banquets. The most beautiful, traditional geisha quarters are found in Kyoto and Kanazawa:

Kyoto
Gion
User rating: 85/100 (1484 votes)
Visited by: 2716 users
Gion's Hanami-koji Street is lined by beautiful old buildings, tea houses and restaurants. In the evenings, you may be able to spot a geisha apprentice.

Kanazawa
Chaya Districts
User rating: 82/100 (232 votes)
Visited by: 423 users
Kanazawa has multiple geisha districts with several old tea houses, where geisha are still performing at banquets today. Two tea houses are open to the public.

Post Towns

Post towns were built along the country's major highways, such as the Tokaido and Nakasendo, to accommodate and cater to travelers. Only a small number of former post towns have preserved their Edo Period appearance. The best among them is Tsumago in the Kiso Valley.

Kiso Valley
Tsumago
User rating: 90/100 (117 votes)
Visited by: 203 users
A beautifully preserved post town along the old Nakasendo with most of the town's buildings dating back to the Edo Period, when they served as lodgings and restaurants.

Kiso Valley
Magome
User rating: 87/100 (115 votes)
Visited by: 203 users
Another nicely preserved post town, about 10 kilometers south of Tsumago along the old Nakasendo. The two towns are connected by a nice hiking trail.

Aizu
Ouchijuku
User rating: 86/100 (29 votes)
Visited by: 67 users
Ouchijuku is a post town along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route, which connected Aizu with Nikko during the Edo Period. It is located about 20 kilometers south of Aizu.

Kiso Valley
Narai
User rating: 84/100 (32 votes)
Visited by: 68 users
The wealthiest former post town in the Kiso Valley, Narai stretches over a whole kilometer. Unfortunately, vehicular traffic is not banned along the street.

Pilgrimage Towns

For centuries, Japan's most important temples and shrines have attracted crowds of pilgrims and tourists, resulting in street blocks, city districts and whole towns, providing visitors with lodgings, food and souvenirs.

Kyoto
Higashiyama
User rating: 86/100 (320 votes)
Visited by: 649 users
The narrow streets ascending the slopes to Kiyomizudera, one of Kyoto's most popular temples, are lined by many old buildings, shops and restaurants.

Ise Shima
Oharaimachi
User rating: 79/100 (62 votes)
Visited by: 146 users
Oharaimachi is the old street leading to the Inner Shrine of Ise. It is lined by many Edo Period style buildings, some of which are originals while others are reconstructions.

Farming Towns

The vast majority of Japan's population in the Edo Period and before was made up of farmers who typically lived in simple, thatched roof buildings. While single old farm houses are preserved at open air museums, there are a few remote villages that have preserved an appearance of past centuries.

Shirakawa-go
Ogimachi Village
User rating: 94/100 (154 votes)
Visited by: 273 users
The largest village in the mountainous Shirakawa-go region of Gifu Prefecture, Ogimachi preserves many massive gassho-zukuri farm houses in its village center and an adjacent open-air museum. The best way to experience the village is to overnight at one of the farm houses.

Shirakawa-go
Ainokura Village
User rating: 87/100 (62 votes)
Visited by: 128 users
Ainokura is a remote small village in Gokayama with several gassho-zukuri farm houses. Some of the houses serve as minshuku where tourists can experience an overnight stay.

Shirakawa-go
Suganuma Village
User rating: 87/100 (36 votes)
Visited by: 84 users
Suganuma Village is a small collection of gassho-zukuri farm houses in the remote Gokayama region of Toyama Prefecture.

Kyoto Prefecture
Miyama
User rating: insufficient data
Visited by: 9 users
Miyama is a rural town in the mountains north of Kyoto. It features over two hundred thatched roof houses scattered across its idyllic countryside. Miyama's Kayabuki no Sato village records the highest percentage of thatched roof buildings of any town in Japan.

Port Towns

Port towns have been accommodating the fishing and trading industries for centuries. Over time, some grew into large cities with major international ports, such as Yokohama or Kobe, while others remained remote, small fishing villages. A few of them have preserved an atmosphere of bygone times.

Hiroshima Prefecture
Tomonoura
User rating: insufficient data
Visited by: 18 users
Tomonoura is a picturesque port town situated at a bay in Hiroshima Prefecture facing the Seto Inland Sea. It features an endearing fishing townscape and an old town center of many photogenic alleys lined by rustic old houses. In the past, merchant ships traveling along the Seto Inland Sea would dock at Tomonoura while waiting for a favorable tide.

Marugame
Honjima Island
User rating: insufficient data
Visited by: 3 users
Kasashima Town on Honjima Island in the Seto Inland Sea preserves several buildings from the Edo Period. Honjima's former inhabitants controlled trade traffic across the Seto Inland Sea from the strategically well situated island.

Iwami Ginzan
Yunotsu Onsen
User rating: 78/100 (10 votes)
Visited by: 28 users
Yunotsu is now a pleasantly old-fashioned hot spring town along the calm Sea of Japan coast. A few centuries ago the town's port saw large amounts of silver from the nearby Iwami Ginzan silver mines shipped out.

Ryukyu Villages

An independent kingdom for several centuries, the Ryukyu Islands became part of Japan as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. Despite past assimilation efforts, the distinct Ryukyuan culture is proudly surviving today and has become one of Okinawa's main tourist attractions.

Yaeyama Islands
Taketomi Island
User rating: 93/100 (50 votes)
Visited by: 82 users
The small village consists almost entirely of traditional style, one-storied houses with red tiled roofs, stone walls, ample of lion like shiza statues and white sand roads.

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Related Pages
Travel
Sightseeing

Castles
Samurai
History: Edo Period

Kakunodate Samurai District
Kanazawa Nagamachi
Hagi Jokamachi
Matsue Samurai District
Takayama Sanmachi Suji
Kurashiki Canal Area
Uchiko Yokaichi Old Town
Naramachi
Imaicho Town
Kawagoe Kurazukuri Street
Sawara
Matsumoto Nakamachi
Kyoto Gion District
Kanazawa Chaya Districts
Kiso Valley Post Towns
Ouchijuku
Kyoto Higashiyama District
Ise Oharaimachi
Yunotsuru Onsen
Tomonoura
Honjima Island
Taketomi Island

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