Tourism

Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence
A hidden old town where samurais spent the night
Yakage Town, Okayama, Japan

2022-01-25
Yakage townscape

 

Take a stroll down a beautifully preserved post town harking back to Japan’s Edo past (1603-1868).

 

Yakage townscape

 

From the 17th century to the late 19th century, the samurai ruled Japan, and post towns, locally known as shukuba (宿場), served as pit shops along the ancient highways to refresh weary travellers before they continued on their journey to Edo (now Tokyo), the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate.

 

Many of these travellers were officials, nobles and samurai warlords who were moving around in connection with their administrative duties and/or with the system of alternate attendance, where they spend time every other year in the capitol, Edo, a practice known as sankin-kotai.

 

Yakage Town in Okayama Prefecture prospered as a post town that hosted samurais from all over Japan, particularly those coming from the Shikoku and Chugoku regions.

 

route to Edo (Tokyo)

route to Edo (Tokyo)

 

samurai armour

Samurai armour

 

These samurai travelled along the 560-kilometer sanyo 山陽road that ended in Osaka, with the route changing to one of the go-kaido roads五街道 that lead to Nihonbashi, the center of Edo (Tokyo), where they could finally be reunited with their families, who lived in the capital as mandated by the shogun.

 

Yakage is the only town in that course (the Sanyo Road) that remains preserved to this day.

 

entrance - Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

 entrance – Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

 

Japanese architecture

Japanese architecture

 

Yakage town inn

Yakage town inn

 

There are quite a number of historical sites and buildings in the area, a number of them designated as Important Cultural Properties. Many shops and edifices from the Edo period are still intact and operating. The atmosphere, unchanged for over 400 years, is charming and nostalgic.

 

One such structure is the Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence, a place where powerful and influential officials from the surrounding regions stayed for the night.

 

remembering the past

remembering the past

 

Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

 

While family-run bed & breakfasts (minshuku民宿and small inns (waki-honjin) abound in post towns, the honjin 本陣 was exclusively reserved for top, high-ranking government officials. The honjin accommodation were luxurious walled residences that usually belonged to the post town leaders, who offered their gated homes to these honoured VIP guests, (VIP – very important people).

 

hand-painted sliding doors

hand-painted sliding doors

 

grand room

grand room

 

water pump

water pump

 

foyer

garden view from house

 

The Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence is a vast property, covering more than 3,000 sqm., a grand residence fit for royalty – Princess Atsuhime spent the night here too (on her way to marry the 13th shogun leader of the ruling Tokugawa family), and a sweet which she was particularly fond of, yubeshi (made of starch and citron) can be purchased at the shops around the area.

 

cups and glassware used by the guests

cups and glassware used by the guests

 

princess carriage

princess carriage

 

Yubeshii - popular Yakage town sweet

Yubeshii – popular Yakage town sweet

 

chest and tapestry

chest and tapestry

 

Inside, one can see how the members of high society and the elite lived during that time, with impressive home furnishings and precious artifacts, and Japanese architecture at its finest. There is also a sake brewery and rice warehouse at the back.

 

The buildings of the Ishii family residence were built in the mid to late Edo period and have been reconstructed one after another. There are records of elephants, as well as humans, stopping by on their way from Nagasaki to Edo (Tokyo) to meet the shogun.

 

kettle

kettle

 

cooking stove

cooking stove

 

sake wood vat

sake wood vat

 

Every year in November, the townspeople re-enact the arrival of the samurai feudal lords passing through the town, in a spectacular daimyo gyouretsu parade, each procession differing in size and splendour, highlighting the feudal lord’s wealth and power.

 

It is interesting to note that while Yakage Town has carefully kept the memories of its glorious past (the inns, traditional residences, the craftwork shops, boutiques, sake warehouses etc.), the town has been innovative and diligent in unearthing historical sites (tombs, early carvings, an ancient Kannon pilgrimage route) and coming up with events regularly to attract visitors – way before rustic countryside and regional tourism became popular.

 

Old buildings have been restored and converted into museums and accommodations, whilst maintaining the traditional look and feel of the town.

 

The newest attraction is totally worth a visit – Issai Ishibiki Cacao, a bean to bar chocolatery just a few meters across the Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence. Here, chocolate is made by hand, milled using stones coming from a quarry nearby.

 

Issai Ishibiki Cacao

Issai Ishibiki Cacao

 

Issai Chocolate

Issai Cacao

 

stone mill for chocolate

stone mill for chocolate

 

mortar and pestle grinder made of stone

mortar and pestle grinder made of stone

 

Yakage Town has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to both remember the past and revitalize for the future – in a wonderful blend of history, creativity and foresight.

 

garden - Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

garden – Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

 

Yakage Town memorial - Sanyo Road post town

Yakage Town memorial – Sanyo Road post town

 

 Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence - warehouse panorama shot

 Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence – warehouse panorama shot

 


 

Address

3079 Yakage, Yakage Town, Oda County, Okayama Prefecture, Japan 714-1201

 

Access

Train / Bus / Taxi

  • 8 minutes on foot from Yakage Station (Ibara Railway)
  • 20 minutes by taxi from Shin-Kurashiki Station (JR Sanyo line)
  • 45 minutes by train from Kurashiki Station (JR Sanyo line)
  • About 1 hour by train/taxi from Okayama Station (JR Sanyo line)

 

Car / Self-drive

  • 20 minutes by car from Kamogata Interchange
  • Approximately 1-hour from Okayama City on the Sanyo expressway

 

 

Hours / Information       

Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence

  • March to October 9:00 – 17:00
  • November to February 9:00 – 16:00

*last entry 30 minutes before closing time, closed on Mondays and year-end / New Year

**if a national holiday falls on a Monday, the property is open to visitors and will be closed the following day – please confirm before visiting

 

 

Telephone / Contact details

+81 0866-82-2700 (Japanese – Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence)

+81 0866-82-1016 (Japanese -Yakage Town Hall Industrial Tourism Division)

+81 0866-83-0001 (Japanese – Yakage Sightseeing & Tourism Association)

+81 0866-82-2110 (Japanese – Yakage Art Museum)

 

 

Website

https://www.yakage-kanko.net/spot/5/ (Japanese)

http://www.town.yakage.okayama.jp/machi/shisetsu/honjin.html (Japanese)

 

Writer:  CKS

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