Joto Historical District
Strolling through an ancient castle town
Tsuyama, Okayama, Japan


Once upon a time, an ancient highway which connected Edo (Tokyo) to Izumo (present-day Shimane prefecture) passed through Tsuyama City.


Izumo is home to the Izumo Taisha Shrine, considered the oldest shrine in Japan and the most important.

The Izumo kaido highway went about 1 kilometer through Tsuyama Castle and the town around it. The area has been dubbed: “The Little Kyoto of Western Japan,” with cherry trees, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the Yoshii river canal running through it.




The eastern side or the Joto district of the castle settlement facing the old Izumo road prospered as a merchant town – with shops and inns catering to visitors/pilgrims to the Izumo Taisha Shrine as well as travelling samurai on their way to/from Tokyo.


To this day, the look and scenery of the Joto area has been wonderfully preserved.


Walking on these streets, one could literally feel the mood coming from the Edo era (1603-1868) to the early Showa period (1926-1989).



along the Izumo kaido road



Mitani koji shop


Clusters of machiya (traditional townhouses) line the streets, their distinctively stylish and practical namako-kabe walls (square tiles jointed with raised plaster, a sea-cucumber-like white grid pattern on black slate which helped walls shed moisture) and isode-kabe walls (side walls for fire prevention), an architectural delight.



Lattice design on walls – namako-kabe (sea-cucumber-like) walls



Joto Mukashi Machiya – a large merchant residence built over 300 years ago


Joto Mukashi Machiya


The Joto district has been classified as part of the” Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings” in Japan, a cultural and historical treasure.



Sakushu Joto Yashiki – with a traditional fire watchtower


Stores offering sake, knives, paper, traditional arts and crafts, restaurants and cafes housed in buildings that have retained their original design, can all be found here.



sakashu kasuri – hand-woven splash pattern cloth made out of cotton (in indigo blue and white)

A traditional Tsuyama craft


Family home of Genpo Mitsukuri

Family home of Genpo Mitsukuri – a prominent scholar of western learning


The Tsuyama Archives of Western Learning is a museum that documents Tsuyama’s role as a center for scholars in the Edo to Meiji era, producing many fine intellectuals that supported the development of modern Japan. Among them, Gensui Udagawa, who made significant contributions in the field of western medicine, and Genpo Mitsukuri, a renowned scholar of western learning whose birthplace is located in the Joto district.



Tsuyama Archives of Western Learning




The Joto district formed part of the backdrop of the movie series ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo’ (“It’s Tough Being a Man” – the longest running film series in which the same actor played the main character) and was also featured in the Japanese drama ‘Aguri’.


Confectionary shop – Kyo Goumon

On top of the building is the crest of the Mori family (the rulers of Tsuyama then)

Kyo Goumon

Try the local sweet kirigasane (filled with white bean paste and yuzu citron from the Mimasaka region)


Centuries ago, Tsuyama was an economic and political powerhouse along the Izumo kaido highway, and also a transportation hub with the Yoshii River (one of the 3 major rivers in Okayama prefecture). To this day, it is the main center of the Mimasaka region in northern Okayama.


Going through the whole 1.2km stretch of merchant quarters, museums, salt and dye shops, teahouses and cafes was a breeze, each step filled with many interesting sights and scenery, and gourmet specialties too!


Hayase Tofu

Hayase Tofu Shop – everything tofu!

A Tsuyama original (over 70 years old)


The Joto historical district and Tsuyama Castle (Kakuzan Park), one of the Top 100 cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan, are just minutes away from each other, and make for a good walking or cycling tour.


Tsuyama Castle

Tsuyama Castle – photo from the Tsuyama Tourism brochure


Tsuyama Castle Town - Joto Historical District

Tsuyama Castle Town – Joto Historical District


Take a leisurely stroll through this ancient castle town and be pleasantly surprised.





Joto District – 40 Higashishinmachi, Tsuyama, Okayama, Japan 708-0832

(the whole area runs in an east-west line)



Train / On Foot

  • 20 minutes on foot from JR Tsuyama Station
  • 60 – 70 minutes by train from JR Okayama Station


Car / Self-drive

  • 15 minutes’ drive from the Tsuyama or Innosho I.C. interchange on the Chugoku expressway
  • 70 minutes by car from Momotaro International Airport (Okayama) – via Route 61
  • 70 – 80 minutes’ drive from Okayama City on Route 53 and 72



Hours / Information       

  • Open generally between 9:00 – 17:00*

*hours/days may vary depending on the shop/attraction (see website below for specifics)

  • Free parking available at the Joto District tourist parking area



Other interesting places nearby



Telephone / Contact details

+ 81-868-22-3310 (Tsuyama City Tourism Association – Japanese)

+81-868-22-5791 (Japanese – Joto Mukashi Machiya)

+81-868-24-6095 (Japanese – Sakushu Joto Residence)



Website (Japanese) (English) (Japanese)


Writer:  CKS

The location of the article