Culture Travel Guide

7 Historic Samurai Districts in Japan

Japan has many historical places that include old towns, castles, famous samurai districts and merchant districts. To tell you the truth, Japanese government has successfully preserved all these places, especially the samurai districts. They represent Japan every now and then.

Not every city in Japan has samurai districts but only certain places have them. They are mostly found in the former castle towns where samurai used to resides in the feudal period.

If you are planning to visit Japan then I want to tell you that visiting these samurai districts will add an extra value to your entire Japan trip.

Nagamachi Samurai District. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In general, samurai districts were formed in order to divide the social castes by the samurai. During the Edo Period, they were forced to reside and allowed to construct elaborate residences in specified districts of castle towns.

Today, I have intended to guide you on how to explore them pointing out their residences across Japan.

If you are a tourist, explorer or Japan enthusiast, you should discover these hidden gems. Here, I welcome you to discover the best Samurai districts and residences of Japan.

1) Kakunodate Samurai District:

Samurai District in Kakunodate
Weeping Cherry Trees in Kakunodate Samurai District. Photo credit: Kwong Yee Cheng at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

There are number of famous Samurai districts in Japan. Kakunodate is one of them and pride of Akita Prefecture.

Located in the northern part of the city, it is considered one of the most popular samurai districts in Japan. If you ask me to tell you must-see places in Kakunodate, I will first recommend this notable Samurai District.

Except this one you could also visit Kakunodate Castle, and Merchant District. Kakunodate itself is a very famous place to see cherry blossom in spring. This cherry blossom festival is known as Kakunodate sakura matsuri.

About 80 samurai families used to live in these samurai houses such as Aoyagi House (Aoyagi-ke), Iwashashi House, Odano Samurai House, Matsumoto Samurai House, Kawarada Samurai House and Ishiguro House (Ishiguro-ke). These six houses are open to tourists/public. Though, they are closed from November to early April.

Discover its samurai armors, clothing and anatomical drawings. Ishiguro residence storeroom can delight you very much! Don’t leave this place without seeing that preserved storeroom.

In additon, visitors can also spend times visiting Denshokan Museum and Omura Art Museum.

2) Nagamachi Samurai District:

A Beautiful Sunny Day in Nagamachi Samurai District. Photo credit: Douglas Perkins at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Nagamachi samurai district is one of the most visited Samurai Districts in Japan that is located near the Kanazawa Castle.

Many local and international tourists visit this historic samurai district to explore the Edo period of samurai life style. Being a former samurai district people see Kanazawa differently. It is truly an amazing place to discover.

Anyone can take a stroll down the street of the samurai district where many old houses lining the streets. In the past, Kaga Clan Samurai families used to live in these residences.

My personal experience says that to get an ancient atmosphere of feudal period of Japan, you must visit this historic samurai town.

Samurai Armor at the Front of the Nomura Samurai House. Photo credit: jpellgen at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Now, you take down few note pleases, I hope you are ready! Except strolling down the street you can see 400 years old trees inside the garden of Nomura Residence.

In fact, this residence is a famous one along with Kaga Hanshi. Every visitor is allowed to enter in this house. Explore its treasure throughly! 

Earthen or mud walls, Kobaita wooden roofs, water canals, narrow lanes, samurai windows, and entrance gates can also be seen. You must visit two museums here called Shinise Kinenkan Museum and Ashigaru Shiryokan Museum

Between these two, Ashigaru Shiryokan Museum is free to access, on the other hand, to enter Shinise Kinekan Museum you will have to pay 500 Japanese Yen.

3) Chiran Samurai District:

View of Minamikyushu Residence, Chiran Samurai District. Photo credit: eesti at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

It is said that approximately 500 samurai families used to live in this old samurai district during the Edo Period. Comparing to the other samurai districts, I believe this is far beautiful than those ones.

The reason behind this is here you can see seven beautiful traditional Japanese style landscape gardens. They are attached to the samurai houses.

In my opinion, this place is one of the perfect photo shooting spots in Kagoshima prefecture!

Only spending 500 Japanese Yen, one can enjoy the natural beauty of the seven gardens at once. Please note that five out of the seven gardens are of Karesansui Dry Garden variety.

You will see a “Tsukiyama Snsui” style Japanese garden with rocks and pond in the garden of the Mori family.

Visiting Hour – 9:00 to 17:00 and there is no closing days. Getting to this district is easy; you can take bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station and the Yamagataya Bus Center. Hourly bus service from Kagoshima is available to public.

4) Former Castle Town of Hagi:

Hagi Castle Ruins. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hagi is a small town, located on the north coast of Yamaguchi on the Japan Sea. It is a very famous for having old merchants and samurai residences.

When you visit Hagi museum, make sure you explore it thoroughly. Map of present and old Hagi is shown there.

During the Feudal age of Japan, Hagi was a town of samurai and many merchants who used to do kimono and sake business.

Many samurai abandoned their life as samurai and turned to merchant, actually this happened to the Kikuya family too. You can visit the Kikuya residence in order to see its beautiful architectural design.

I want you to make a plan to visit the Hagi Castle Ruins; it will cost you only 210 Yen as admission fee. The entrance to this castle, the castle garden and the castle moat are great spots to take wonderful photographs.

As it is located in Shizuki Park, I guess you will not miss strolling through the walking trails of the park. Lastly, I believe, without visiting Ensei-ji temple in Hagi, your pleasant tour in the town will remain as incomplete.

5) Usuki Samurai District:

Japanese traditional style and Samurai house in Usuki, Japan. Photo Credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) at Flickr.

Being a former castle town of Japan, Usuki has been recognized as a must-see place in Oita prefecture. Tourists also come here to see the rare Stone Buddhas.

However, the Nioza Historical Road is the main attraction of this samurai district that is about a 200 meter long narrow alley.

Getting to this site will not take much time; it is only 10-15 minutes’ walk from JR Usuki and Kami-Usuki Stations.

While strolling down this alley you will be seeing Edo Period of samurai residences and temples. You will also see a merchant street (Haccho Oji Street), which is lined by the crafts shops, groceries, and sundries.

A residence of Inaba Clan is situated here, known as Inaba Residence. It is a beautiful wooden house with a nice garden outside. Marumo Residence is another samurai residence that you can explore. Both these samurai residences are open to public.

To reach there you have to head towards the southern part of the town center. In order to see the ruins of Usuki Castle, you will have to go to the eastern side of the district.

You can enjoy your time looking at the Daimon Gate of the Usuki Castle but unfortunately, you will not see the main castle, it has been destroyed over the years! Only stone walls and few buildings can be seen. In fact, this historic place became a park.

The perfect time to visit this place is in the spring. Cherry blossom festival, “Hanami” is quite popular here in this park.

6) Kitsuki City Samurai Residence:

The Beauty of Kitsuki Castle Town. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In Kitsuki city, there are few samurai residences situated on the northern and southern hills centering the Kitsuki Castle. The city centre is often known as a Sandwich castle town. It is because of the interesting landscape that has two separate samurai districts on the north and south hills.

Here, the Suyanosaka Slope is just stunning to look at and explore. Take a leisurely walk along the slope and then enjoy the time looking at the beautiful and well preserved samurai houses on the both side of the slope.

There is a place named Nakane-tei from where visitors can rent kimono, once it was a samurai residence though. It will cost you only 2000 Yen for renting a kimono with additional cost of tabi (kimono socks).

Wearing a kimono, you can go for a sightseeing at free of cost that includes Kitsuki Castle, Museum and the five Samurai residences.

I highly recommend you to take this super offer. Visit Ohara, Nomi, Sano and Isoya residences and enjoy seeing the gardens as well as the beautiful house designs.

As Kitsuki is located halfway between Oita Airport and Beppu (Famous Japanese Hot Spring Resort), tourists can either take a taxi or bus. Taxi is always available at the Oita airport. Show the map of Kitsuki City Castle to the taxi driver if you can’t speak Japanese and he will take you there safely.

Alternatively, you can take hourly buses from Oita Airport to Kitsuki. The ride from Oita Airport to Kitsuki takes 30 minutes.

If you want to get there from Beppu, you should take a bus (50 mintues). Just wait for the bus to arrive at Beppu Kitahama bus stop!

7) Matsue Samurai District & Tsuwano Old Town:

Shiomi Nawate – 500 meter Long Street in Matsue Samurai District. Photo credit: jpellgen at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Matsue Samurai District and Tsuwano Old Town both are located in Shimane Prefecture. There are some beautiful famous samurai residences on the north of Matsue Castle.

In my opinion, there is only one samurai residence that is also worth a visit. In fact, that’s the main attraction here.

This residence is called Matsue Buke Yashiki. During the feudal ear, a high ranked samurai family resided in this house. You can take a walk along the Shiomi Nawate, a-500 meter long street running along the castle moat that is lined with old Japanese style houses.

When it comes to exploring Tsuwano old town, I tell you to visit its Tonomachi District where one street block of the former samurai district is well preserved with mud walls, water canal and historic building.

I don’t know if you would like to see Tsuwano Castle Ruins but since it stands top of a mountain narrow chain, 200 meter above of the town center, I guess you should go there and explore the surroundings.

From the top of the hill you could see Tsuwano town and beautiful mountainous landscapes. You will not see any stone walls or the castle but only the stone foundations. To reach this site, you can either go on a hike, which will require about 15-20 minutes or just take a chair lift.

I have explained you the most famous historic samurai districts of Japan. Make sure that you visit them if you are interested in knowing the samurai history and their lifestyle. The great warrior samurai were featured in many manga, anime and Japanese martial art movies.

Therefore, to see their traditional old residences, you have got to come here in Japan. I hope this article helps you to find them in one platform.

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