Imaicho: Nara's Edo Period Town of Living History
If you like old world charm and nostalgia, then you will love Imaicho (also written Imai-cho; in Japanese, 今井町). At 17.4 hectares, the town is the largest preservation district for groups of traditional buildings in the country. In fact, 9 properties have been designated as national cultural properties, 5 have been designated as city cultural properties and 3 have the prefectural cultural designation. Located in Kashihara, Nara, it’s an approximate one hour train ride from Osaka’s Umeda or Namba station to Nara’s Yaginishguchi station. From there it’s about another 10 minute walk to picturesque Imaicho. In its original construction, it was fortified and surrounded by a moat with gates, and one still remains today.
This Edo period town is well laid out with streets generally running east and west and north and south and consists of a combination of around 500 business establishments and residential properties.
Just as you enter the town, you’ll see Café Hackberry, and I recommend stopping for a bite. The interior is very cozy and gives the impression that you are eating in a house, rather than a restaurant. One of the reasons for this is that some of the seating is actually couches and armchairs and you are served on the equivalent of a coffee table. The food of course is incredible, with some dishes being served in bread bowls. There are a few other restaurants that offer non-Japanese fare, but for the most part, traditional Japanese cuisine is what you’ll find in this town.
Café Hackberry is closed Tuesdays. Their hours are 11am to 10:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 11am to 9:30pm other days (subject to change – see their website to confirm).
Shonenji Temple (称念寺)
The Shonenji Temple is the actual origin of Imaicho, as the town was centered around it before becoming a merchant town. The temple will reopen this year after being closed for renovations. More information is available on their English webpage.
Taking a walk through the narrow streets of Imaicho makes it easy to believe that you’ve become a part of living history. The white washed walls and old world construction fill you with wonder and admiration at the preservation measures that went into maintaining each façade. And since there are in fact people still residing in Imaicho, it really is a living historical town.
Kawai Sake Brewery
As expected, you’ll find businesses as old as this merchant town itself. One such is Kawai Sake Brewery. This family owned business was founded in the mid-eighteenth century and is still in production today. You are of course welcome to walk in and see part of the distillery and are invited to a free tasting, but for a more complete tour including access to the upstairs sitting room, you must call ahead to make arrangements. The staff is also very friendly, informative and knowledgeable.
After you’ve spent some time enjoying the scenery and wandering from place to place, why not take a rest and enjoy some refreshments at Machiyachaya Furui. This quaint café is located in the heart of the town and is the perfect place to indulge in some sweets. Situated in one of the traditional houses that were built in the 1700s, it offers a large courtyard complete with a waterwheel and decorative garden sporting a variety of wild flowers.
Indeed there is so much charm to this historical town that it can only be truly appreciated with a visit in person.