The Aizu region is located in the western part of Fukushima Prefecture. In the southern part of that region, you will find Ouchi-juku, a tourist destination that still exhibits the characteristics of Japanese townscapes from eras past. There are over 30 houses here, now used as gift shops and restaurants, still featuring the thatched roofs emblematic of the traditional Japanese home. Historically, the majority of Japanese homes used straw thatching for roofing, but such homes have all but disappeared today. In order to preserve this valuable townscape for future posterity, the local villagers established the so-called “three rules” to never sell, rent, or dismantle the homes, and began working on ensuring that the skills for constructing the thatched roofs were passed down.
This is a destination that we highly recommend all tourists visit, from both inside and outside Japan, to learn more about Japanese history, culture, and lifestyle.
Ouchi-juku was established as a post station around the year 1640 during Japan’s Edo period. Post stations were stops along the routes that led travelers and rice shipments from regional Japan into the capital city of Edo (Tokyo), providing a place for travelers to rest or spend the night. Today, the town has been resurrected as a tourist destination exhibiting the original townscape that allows you to experience a sense of life in old Japan.
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Sweets, pickled vegetables, and ceramic goods are available for sale in front of the houses. There are also toys local to Fukushima, such as the “Akabeko” (a cow-shaped bobble-head toy) and the “Okiagari Koboshi” (a round toy that rights itself when tipped over) endearingly arrayed to greet visitors.
Near the center of the rows of houses is a building recreating the “Honjin” inn, a type of inn historically reserved for the use of important personages such as feudal lords. Called the Ouchi Inn Town Exhibition Hall, exhibits include tools once used in the daily lives of the villagers, such as looms and farming equipment. When the fire is lit on the hearth, you will be carried away to a distant world out of time.
Dining is an essential part of the journey. Famous dishes available here that will evoke a sense of nostalgia in Japanese visitors include soy sauce flavored boiled konjac dumplings on sticks, and miso flavored fried dumplings. Another popular dish due to its appearance is the green onions and soba (buckwheat noodles) in which you use the green onions themselves as chopsticks. You can also test your skill at hand-making buckwheat noodles yourself.
If you really wish to delve into this traditional lifestyle, we recommend that you also spend the night here. There are three inns in Ouchi-juku, including Iseya where you can eat such dishes as buckwheat noodle hot-pot with kiritanpo rice sticks, maitake mushrooms fried in miso, and hearth-grilled char (fish), Honke Ogiya where you can spend the night in a traditional Japanese kura granary, and Yamagataya where you can dine on buckwheat noodles hand-made before your eyes.Stay at one of these inns and you will wake up in the Edo period to continue your journey back in time.
You will be able to observe different aspects of nature in Ouchi-juku depending on the season.Springtime features an array of flowers such as cherry blossoms in April, followed by canola flowers and the local kodemari flower in May. The trees in the surrounding mountains will burst forth with new green leaves all at once to create a wonderful background. In summer, the “Half Summer Festival” occurs on July 2, and the village will be filled with the echoes of traditional Japanese drums and flutes during the “Koimiya” festival on the night before. On the day of the festival, revelers will be attired in festival garb pulling a parade of traditional dashi floats. In fall, the mountain sides around the village will be decorated in the vibrant colors of autumn leaves, and in winter, the entire view will be coated in a thick layer of pure white snow. The village also hosts the Ouchi-juku Snow Festival on February 2nd of every year where visitors can enjoy hand-made buckwheat noodles, mountain vegetable dishes, and local freshwater fish. There are also small snow huts that you can enter. Thus, one of the special appeals of Ouchi-juku is that you can fully enjoy the unique nature of each of Japan’s four seasons.