Things to Do | Visit Chiba | Latest update:2021/03/31
Consistent with the trends in international travel, tourists arriving in Japan from abroad seek deeper, more immersive experiences. Perhaps the richest experiences are those that allow you to step into yesteryear. Hiyodori-zaka, and the nearby Samurai Residences provide such an authentic taste of the past, with little mitigation or compromise. Being located a twenty-minute walk from Sakura Station – which itself sits twenty minutes by train into the countryside beyond Chiba Station – puts these destinations at just the right distance to ferry one out of the modern world and into the Edo period. The samurai themselves were famous for their journeys on foot, and such a setting affords you the chance to walk a mile in their boots.
The upper entrance to Hiyodori-zaka is marked by an antique-style sign announcing its name in English and Japanese, and an antique area map; setting the tone for the immersion into history. Flanked on each side by towering bamboo trees, and descending steps crafted with mud and wooden posts, visitors are immediately transported into another era; and into the mindset of those who once trod this very road. Making reservations in advance, one may partake in a “Samurai Sampo” (Samurai Stroll) in which you may don a samurai costume, while following these famous footsteps.* One may also participate in a try-on event of samurai armor; which were once worn by actual samurai.** Additionally, one may also take part in a taste of Tatsumi-ryu; a martial art once practiced by the samurai of this region.***
The experience at the nearby Samurai Houses is divided into three separate properties; the old residences of the Kawara, Tajima, and Takei families. In the Edo period, Sakurajo Castle sat on a nearby plateau. Mountains surrounded and guarded the castle to the north, south, and west, so these samurai houses were lined up to the castle’s east to protect it in times of emergency.
Although these houses are currently each named after a family, in days of yore samurai did not own their own domiciles; they were property of their clan, who in turn lent them a house. Divisions by class were also strong, and only the head of the family of each house, or their guests, were permitted to use a house’s front entrance. Everyone else was relegated to using a separate entrance which was dark and narrow.
The roofs of these lodgings are known as kayabuki-yane. The word “kaya” covers many types of grasses which were used to produce thatched roofs. The bases of the roofs consisted of bamboo poles on top of which bunches of kaya were strapped. At the top of each section, a board of Japanese cedar was placed under the kaya; to prevent rainwater from leaking into the home. The kaya for each house comes from the nearby Inbanuma Lake, and in modern times few tradespeople still possess the knowledge of this craft. Since the materials that are used are susceptible to rot, the roofs must be replaced every ten to twenty years. To prevent destructive insects from living in the roofs, the staff of these samurai residences use kamado (traditional Japanese stoves) to heat firewood, smoking the roofs in the process.
The old residence of the Takei family is the only samurai house without such a roof, but has otherwise been conserved to keep its original aesthetic. The owner of the property – who knew of its samurai house history – maintained the building while using it as a rental property, and eventually donated it to the city in the late 1980’s. Being that its roof was made of tin at the time of donation, arrangements were made to have it copper plated.
Volunteer guides also eagerly await your visit; English-speaking and Japanese-speaking guides are available by appointment. Japanese-language guides are also present on site during the weekends. Visitors can also try on the famously heavy Kabuto helmets that were once used by the samurai (currently unavailable at the time of this writing due to COVID-19 prevention measures). A local company even produced a game set here in samurai times, which you can access via QR code. Those who like to walk may even tie in a visit to the National Museum of Japanese History, just 1300m away.
* ** *** Please note that due to COVID-19 prevention measures, the costume, armor, and marital-art activities have been temporarily suspended. The date for the resumption of these activities is still yet to be determined.
5-23 Jonaicho, Sakura City
(A 20-minute walk from JR Sakura Station)
Kawara-ke: 57 Miyakoujimachi, Sakura City
Tajima-ke: 61 Miyakoujimachi, Sakura City
Takei-ke: 60 Miyakoujimachi, Sakura City
(A 15-minute walk from JR Sakura Station)