Things to Do | Visit Chiba | Latest update:2023/01/18
Sawara was once one of the major hubs of commerce along the network of waterways that led to Edo, the former name of Tokyo. In fact, Sawara was so influential during this time that it earned the nickname “Little Edo.” Around 140 docks once lined the flanks of the town’s Ono River, and twenty of those docks have remained preserved today.
Throughout the district centered around the Ono River, visitors can view the aesthetics of three different eras of Japanese history, as Edo, Meiji and Taisho-era houses stand side to side along the narrow streets. Even distinctive window frames of wooden lattice, once a symbol of the merchant class, remain preserved.
Along one of the riverside streets you’ll find the Ino Tadataka Museum. Ino Tadataka was a 19th-century geographical surveyor and the first person to make a complete map of Japan. He spent the first half of his life as a merchant in Sawara, before he set out on his trek across the country.
Straying from the beaten path leads to all kinds of discoveries in Sawara. Behind the museum, a replica of a two-hundred-year-old telescope stands mounted like a massive objet d’art, while further down a narrow lane lies the red gate of a community Shinto shrine. Then, just beyond what seems like a dead end, a modern reconstruction of an Edo-era house offers the curious an education in what that period’s houses would have looked like from the inside.
Walking around the area, you’ll come across many different kura (antique storehouses), each preserved and decorated to different degrees and in various styles. Just one block to the east of the Ono River, the former Mitsubishi Bank building stands proudly with its copper roof, red bricks, and stunning cut-stone highlights. Just across the street from the bank, an old furniture shop from the Showa era sits unused, but unaffected by the passage of time.
You’ll find the entrance to the Sawara Machinami Koryukan next to the Mitsubishi Bank’s brownstone facade. Part regional museum, part contemporary art gallery, this facility offers a taste of the breadth and depth of the culture found in Sawara. Seasonal events are also showcased within this establishment, such as an exhibition of Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Festival) dolls in March. However, perhaps the most stunning displays within this facility are the scale-models of the riverside’s heritage buildings.
Mixing the old with the new, the riverside walk also offers many shops selling confections like kakigōri shaved ice covered in your choice of many flavored syrups. For something of a slightly higher class, visitors can stop in one of the many Japanese tea shops.
Finally, for those who crave immersion into these showcased eras, the best perspective is gained from the boat tours which operate on the Ono River. From these half-hour trips, one can take in the views enjoyed by merchants of the region hundreds of years ago. Whichever way you choose to enjoy Sawara’s riverside, be sure to bring your sense of wonder and a quality camera, as vintage views like these are rare sights.
Katori City, Sawara, I, 1903-1
(A 15-minute walk from Sawara Station on the JR Narita Line)