Things to Do | Visit Chiba | Latest update:2022/05/17
The city of Sakura and neighboring town of Shisui are located along the JR Line, a popular route for visitors travelling from Narita International Airport to Tokyo. However, many tourists who pass through this area are unaware of the historic sites on offer along the train route. In fact, all it takes is a quick stop at JR Sakura Station, just two stations away from JR Narita Station, to add more history to your next Japan trip.
To help you with getting around the area like a local, we planned out this model day trip, starting from JR Sakura Station. Rental bikes are available at the tourist information center outside of the station’s North Exit, and are a great way to access historic Sakura. After talking with the friendly staff at the tourist information center, we were equipped with rental bikes which we rode for about 10 minutes and then parked them at the Old Samurai Residences in Sakura City.
Sakura was an influential castle town during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1867) and these three old samurai houses and the property they share are vestiges of that storied past. The oldest of these three houses, the former Tajima family house, has remained at this site since it was built in the early 1800’s, while the other two were relocated here from the surrounding areas. Visitors can tour around the property, enter two of the houses, and view artifacts that were excavated from the original properties.
Before heading back to the parking lot to get our bikes, we took a walk to the nearby old samurai road known as Hiyodori-zaka Slope. The scenes along this bamboo-lined walking path are said to have hardly changed since the days of the samurai. Nowadays, the slope is a popular spot for people looking for a perfect backdrop for their social media posts. Some people even rent a kimono or hakama just to come here to take a photo.
To learn more about the Old Samurai Residences in Sakura City and the Hiyodori-zaka Slope, please click here: https://www.visitchiba.jp/things/hiyodori-zaka-and-old-samurai-residences/
If you’re interested in Japanese history, you may want to consider spending a whole day in Sakura, as the National Museum of Japanese History, Sakura Castle Ruins Park, and other historical sites are located nearby the samurai houses. The entrance to the park is about 700 meters (about a 10-minute walk) from the samurai houses, and the museum is just on the other side of the park. There is even a Sakura City themed RPG smartphone game, Tenrin’s Sakura, that you can download in English or Japanese, to play while you tour around Sakura. To learn more about the historical sites in Sakura, please visit the Sakura City English sightseeing website:http://sakuraseeing.city.sakura.lg.jp/en/discover/
After taking the train one stop from JR Sakura Station to JR Minami-Shisui Station, we headed for Iinuma Honke, a famous family-owned sake brewery in the town of Shusui with over 300 years of history. Its storied past and countryside location make Iinuma Honke a great place to experience traditional sake brewing that makes use of local ingredients and classical techniques, fused with modern day knowhow and technology.
Iinuma Honke is more than just a sake brewing company, they are also committed to promoting sake culture by holding community events such as their morning market, and renovating the centuries-old buildings on the brewery grounds. They are also engaged in promoting their sake all over Japan and in overseas markets. Their foundation in sake culture is said to date back to the Edo period when the Iinuma family received permission from the Edo Shogunate to brew sake that was to be dedicated to shrines and temples.
One of the brewers, Mr. Mikogami gave us a tour of the brewery and explained the sake making process at each step along the way. Iinuma Honke produced an English language guide of the brewing process which helped us understand some of the more technical aspects of the explanation. We were also shown some of the traditional sake brewing equipment and tanks that are preserved on site, and we were able to compare it to the machinery that they use today. Mr. Mikogami also showed us how the rice is washed and sorted and how they select rice that will result in the best tasting sake.
All that information helped us appreciate the last stage of the tour, a tasting of three of their recommended sake varieties. Mr. Mikogami helped us understand the differences in the taste, aroma, and texture of each sake. I particularly enjoyed Kinoene Junmai-ginjoshu, a 2021 Fine Sake Awards Gold Prize winner. Mr. Mikogami explained how they use the natural flavors of the rice to create the rich and fragrant taste of Kinoene Junmai-ginjoshu, inspiring me to bring a bottle home as a souvenir!
For those interested in taking the tour, reservations can be made on this website (Japanese): https://coubic.com/iinumahonke/885426
At the end of the tour, we had lunch at the Sakagura Café, just outside the brewery. The staff recommended their delicious curry lunch plate, cooked with sake kasu (a paste-like cooking ingredient made of the lees left over from sake production). The building also has a sake gift shop on the first floor, and an art gallery on the second and third floors.
To read more about Iinuma Honke, including an interview with the Senior Managing Director Kazuyoshi Iinuma, please click here: https://www.visitchiba.jp/things/iinuma-honke-and-cafe/
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)
5-23 Jonaicho, Sakura City
(A 20-minute walk from JR Sakura Station)
106 Umabashi, Shisuimachi, Inbagun
(A 10-minute walk from JR Minami Shisui Station)