6 Picturesque Post Towns you should visit in Japan
Also known as shukuba-machi, post towns served as places where travelers (including feudal lords and their followers) could find lodgings on their journeys around the country. Many of these towns developed along the Tokaido and Nakasando trails that connected Edo and other major cities. Back in the Edo period, the main mode of transport was either by horse or on foot, so these towns played a significant role. Many post towns still preserve their historical atmosphere and now welcome tourists from all over the world.
Ouchijuku, Fukushima Prefecture
Ouchijuku is a post town that connected Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima and Nikko in Tochigi prefecture. It features more than 30 thatched-roof houses that have been preserved since the Edo period and has been designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in Japan. The Ouchijuku Snow Festival takes place on the second weekend in February, with handmade snow lanterns and a spectacular fireworks display wrapping the entire town in warmth. The local specialty negisoba (soba noodles served with a local leek) is a must try. Owing to its proximity to the castle town Aizu-Wakamatsu, it'd be fun to plan a regional trip.
Access: four hours from Asakusa
From Asakusa Station, take a Tobu Railway Limited Express Revat to Aizu-Tajima Station. Transfer to the Aizu Railway and get off at Yunokamionsen Station, then take the Aizu Bus to Ouchijuku.
Tsumagojuku, Nagano Prefecture
Tsumagojuku is known as the 42nd post town on the Nakasendo - a route that connected Edo (the former name of Tokyo) and Kyoto. This large post town was the first to be selected for Japan's Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings in 1976. Hikers are recommended to walk the nine-kilometer mountain trail that leads to the nearby post town of Magomejuku to enjoy its peaceful village scenery and cypress forests along the way. If you are planning a trip around this area in November, try and coincide your trip for November 23rd to experience the local costume parade featuring more than 100 participants dressed as samurai warriors and monks.
Access: four hours from Tokyo, including a 1.5-hour Shinkansen ride to Nagoya
Ride the JR Chuo Main Line to Nagiso Station from Nagoya Station, then take a local bus to Tsumago.
A Guide to Tsumago
Magomejuku, Gifu Prefecture
Magomejuku is the 43rd post town on the Nakasendo and is Accessible from neighboring Tsumagojuku via an adventurous mountain trail. Exploring this town is an absolute joy as its sloped, cobble streets are filled with attractions such as cafes, local craft shops, restaurants and museums. Whilst nibbling local snacks such as goheimochi (grilled rice cake with sweet walnut sauce) and rice crackers, you can enjoy a leisurely walk in this atmospheric town that preserves the feeling of the Edo period. There are also several guesthouses where you can overnight to experience the historic architecture and local cuisine.
Access: five hours from Tokyo
Starting at Shinjuku Station, take a highway bus bound for Nagoya and get off at Chuodo Magome
A Guide to Magome
Naraijuku, Nagano Prefecture
Situated at the midpoint of the Nakasendo trail, Naraijuku is the 34th post town and can be found in the mountainous Kiso Valley. Its well-paved, one-kilometer walking path accommodates all travelers and is known as the longest of its kind. Naraijuku is famed for its woodworking industry, which is characterized by wooden combs, lacquerware, and wood carvings that are available at local craft shops. During the Edo period, the town was situated on a path that delivered tea from Uji, Kyoto to the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu whose palace was in Edo. The town commemorates this prestigious history with a costume parade on the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in June.
Access: three hours from Shinjuku
Take a Limited Express Azusa train to Shiojiri Station, then transfer to the JR Chuo Main Line until Narai Station.
A Guide to Narai
Sekijuku, Mie Prefecture
Tokaido served as an important route connecting the ancient capital city of Kyoto with the imperial city of Tokyo. Sekijuku is the 47th post town in Tokaido and welcomed daimyo (feudal lords) and their servants on their sankin-kotai duties. This town still preserves many of its historical houses and old structures, including museums, tea shops, temples and shrines. Hyakurokuri-tei is a small park in Sekijuku and features a building where visitors can capture panoramic views of the town. Those who need a space to unwind should check out the entrance-free foot bath facility, Koman no Yu.
Access: two hours from Nagoya
Ride the JR Kansai Main Line to Nagoya Station, then take the JR Kansai Rapid Line to Kameyama Station. Transfer to the JR Kansai Local Line and stop at Seki Station.
Hizen Hamashuku, Saga Prefecture
Hizen Hamashuku is a post town along Tara Kaido Street, which connects Saga and Nagasaki Prefecture. During the Edo Period, Saga's feudal lords passed through this town en route to Nagasaki to perform their duties. This seaside town is known for its sake breweries and visitors can enjoy all kinds of activities, from sake tasting to shopping to brewery tours. Hizen Hamashuku is also home to the Yamaguchi soy sauce brewery , which was once owned by a samurai family. Some of the local houses were also owned by samurai and are characterized by their bright white walls, thatched and tiled roofs.
Access: one hour from Hakata City, Fukuoka
From Hakata Station, take a JR Limited Express Kamome to Hizen-Kashima Station. Transfer to the JR Nagasaki Main Line and stop at Hizenhama.
Welcome to Hama-cho: Bizen Hamashuku Brewery Street in Saga