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WOW! JAPAN

There are still many places in Japan that are full of atmosphere and appear to have preserved the scenery from the past. Here are seven towns with great scenery perfect for photographs.

1. Ishikawa - Higashi Chaya District

This is a town that retains the chaya (tea and entertainment house) architecture from the 1820's to 1870's. The main street is short, so the recommendation is to stroll around the neighborhood including the backstreets while enjoying the decorations on the buildings. Kaikaro, a chaya that is difficult to get into at night, is open to the public during the day. Take a break with the gourmet sweets at Kaikaro Cafe to rejuvenate after walking around. When the door lights are lit in the evening, the atmosphere changes with the sounds of shamisen and taiko drums wafting from the chaya entertainment houses.

1. Ishikawa - Higashi Chaya District

1 Higashiyama, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa

2. Saitama - Kawagoe

This is a town that is about an hour from central Tokyo, with a symbolic bell tower, Toki-no-kane, that announces the time. The area around the tower has many kurazukuri warehouse-style buildings and retains a townscape that can no longer be seen in Tokyo. The Osawa Residence, which was built in 1792, is the oldest of them. At first sight, all the buildings seem to be the same with large roofs made of onigawara tiles, black plaster walls and thick doors, but if you look closely, you'll find that each one has a unique design. Kashiya Yokocho, which has 22 shops selling sweets and snacks, is also a must see.

2. Saitama - Kawagoe

15-7 Saiwai-cho, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama

3. Nagano - Tsumago-juku

This is a post town on Nakasendo, which was historically the main road connecting Nihonbashi in Tokyo and Sanjo Ohashi in Kyoto. It has a townscape that makes one feel as if one has slipped in time to the Edo Period (1603-1868). There are many buildings on the 500m main stretch that reminds one of how things were then, such as the Honjin, which was designated by the Edo government as an inn for daimyo (feudal) lords, and residences of the local people. Be aware that all shops close at 5:00 pm. The view in the evening when the fixed paper lanterns in front of the houses are lit is fabulous. Why not stay a night in one of the minshuku inns in town?

3. Nagano - Tsumago-juku

2159-2 Azuma, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano

4. Fukushima - Ouchi-juku

This is a post town that retains the townscape from the Edo period, with more than 30 thatched roof houses. As transportation systems developed, the town was no longer on a major road and was thus able to maintain its Edo period townscape. There are many shops and restaurants in an area that is about 1km long, including restaurants that serve the specialty negi soba noodles that have a whole negi scallion on top and are definitely worth a picture. The negi scallions are used as utensils to eat the soba, so you will not get chopsticks unless you ask for them.

4. Fukushima - Ouchi-juku

Aza Yamamoto, Oaza Ouchi, Shimogo-machi, Minamiaizu-gun, Fukushima

5. Gifu - Takayama

The "old townscape" that retains the look of an Edo period castle town/merchants town is famous as little Kyoto, Hida Takayama. Utility poles are eliminated to maintain the scenery. The streets are lined with shops selling local specialties such as sake and hoba miso, and you can enjoy walking around eating Hida beef and mitarashi dango sweet dumplings. It is recommended to visit one of the morning markets (Miyakawa Asaichi or Jinya Asaichi) before strolling around.

5. Gifu - Takayama

Kamiichino-machi, Takayama-shi, Gifu

6. Gifu - Shirakawa-go Village of Gassho-style Houses

This is a village of gassho-style houses in an area with heavy snow where you can experience the wisdom and traditions of people who live side by side with nature. It is said that the gassho-style houses have roofs with sharp slopes so that it is easier to remove the snow. The buildings incorporate a variety of wise ways of life such as designing the roofs so the entire surface is warmed by the sun to help the snow to melt and minimizing the surface area that gets the wind that blows from south to north in the valley. This is a village that is a World Heritage Site, with a rich history where people have lived in harmony with nature for hundreds of years.

6. Gifu - Shirakawa-go Village of Gassho-style Houses

Ogi-machi, Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun, Gifu

7. Okayama - Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter

Kurashiki became a territory governed directly by the Edo shogunate government in 1642 and prospered as a place where supplies were collected. The Bikan Historical Quarter is the area in Kurashiki along the river with nuriya-zukuri houses and dozo-zukuri whitewashed walls. In addition to walking around the streets with whitewashed walls, the Traditional Boat Tour of Kurashiki Canal is an activity you won't want to miss (tickets available at Kurashiki Tourist Information Office, reservations not accepted, same day purchase only). You can enjoy a different view of the beautiful town from Kurashiki Canal, where supplies were once transported.

7. Okayama - Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter

1-4-8 Chuo, Kurashiki-shi, Okayama

The scenery of historic towns is maintained through the efforts of the local people. Please enjoy the quintessentially Japanese townscapes that have been lovingly cared for by generations of local residents.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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