Just outside of Aizu-Wakamatsu is Ouchi-juku, a post town on the former highway between Aizu and Nikko to the north of Tokyo (or Edo as it was then). In order to control the Daimyo lords, the central Shogunate government required then to spend every other year in the capital, Edo. As all travel was done at that time by foot the post towns would have played an important role in breaking up the journey, and providing vital accommodation and supplies. The town has done a wonderful job of preserving the area just as it would have looked at the time by burying all electrical cables and mercifully restricting the use of concrete. As such, there is a long street with splendidly preserved thatch buildings lining each side:
You can really catch glimpses of how the town must have looked like at the time and a lost way of life:
We were lucky to catch the tail end of the cherry blossoms:
That night we stayed at a small onsen district, which was wonderfully atmospheric if a little run-down (and over-concreted as usual). It was very relaxing though and with a fantastic traditional dinner laid on for us.
We went with family up to Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture for Golden Week holiday period in May. We wanted to get there for the cherry blossoms but unfortunately we were just a little bit too late. Oh well. Next time. Wakamatsu is a lovely city and the whole area is really nice – this time we rented a car and it really does give a different picture of Japan when you can get away from the usual tourist haunts and explore some different areas which, just because they are not on the main Shinkansen route, tend to get overlooked.
‘Aizu’ is a clan name for the samurai who headed the domain around what is now Fukushima before the Meiji Restoration in 1868, to which they were opposed. We first went to an old samurai house, or bukeyashiki (武家屋敷), which has been preserved and is now a small museum. This is the entrance to the compound:
And to the main house:
And inside there were some (kind of creepy) life-size dolls portraying the samurai family and home life:
Construction on the main castle as seen today was completed in 1609, following the establishment of the central Edo shogunate, and it really is built to impress. This is the main entrance, built on a steep slope to deter attack:
The castle also features thick walls and winding labyrinthine paths to make it easier to defend. The fish ornaments on the roof were believed to protect against fire:
Some of the builders were obviously Christian and the lord of the castle at one time was Christian:
The walls also feature the crests of the various families that have owned Himeji Castle over the centuries:
The inside doesn’t really offer much in the way of exhibits – this was the gun rack:
It is really the most impressive castle in Japan and certain one of the most striking and beautiful in the world: