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Historic Sites

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.

Former Castle Town

Nagamachi

Kitsuki

Old Town

Samurai District

Samurai District

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.

Old Town••

Canal Area

Yokaichi Old Town

Fukiya Village

Imaicho Town

Naramachi

Warehouse District

Sawara Town

Nakamachi

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:

Gion

Higashi Chaya District

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.

Tsumago••

Ouchijuku

Narai

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.

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.

Miyama

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 Nagasaki, Yokohama or Kobe, while others remained remote, small fishing villages. A few of them have preserved an atmosphere of bygone times.

Tomonoura

Ine

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.

Taketomi Island•••