Touch the Samurai Spirit and Cherry Blossoms at Kakunodate, Akita
Kakunodate is a beautiful old castle town located in the Senboku district of Akita Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan. The town is famous for its well preserved samurai houses and traditional architecture, which have earned it the nickname of "The Little Kyoto of Tohoku". It is also one of Tohoku’s most popular cherry blossom spots with hundreds of beautiful shidarezakura (weeping cherry blossoms) lining the streets of the historic samurai district.
The layout of the town was established in 1620 by Ashina Yoshikatsu, the lord of the Satake Clan and of the region with the town divided into northern and southern sections. The north was named Uchimachi (Inner Town) and is where the samurai built their houses. The south was named Tomachi (Outer Town) and is where the merchants and townsfolk lived.
The layout of the town today has changed little in the 390-odd years that have since past. The elegant samurai houses of the Inner Town remain beautifully preserved, side-by-side with their black fences draped about by weeping cherry blossoms in the spring.
Many samurai houses still remain in Kakunodate and are scattered along Bukeyashiki Street, which means Samurai House Street in Japanese, and forms part of the Bukeyashiki Samurai District. The samurai district has some of the best preserved samurai architecture in all of Japan and is a living museum of Japanese culture and history. The samurai houses are protected as cultural artifacts and the samurai district has been designated as a "Historically Significant Traditional Buildings Preservation Area of Japan".
The samurai district once housed about 80 samurai families and today the houses are privately owned by descendants of the samurai warriors. Some of the magnificent houses are open to the public, allowing you to see how the samurai elite once used to live during the Edo Period (1603-1868) of Japan.
Two of the biggest and best preserved samurai houses are the Aoyagi House and the Ishiguro House.
The Aoyagi Samurai House belonged to a powerful samurai family in the service of the local feudal lord. The grounds of the house are expansive and inside you will find displays of samurai weapons, antiques, family heirlooms and artworks passed on through the generations.
The Ishiguro Samurai House belonged to a high ranking samurai family, who were retainers/advisers of the Satake clan (feudal lords of Akita). The house was built in the early 19th century and features a traditional thatched roof, black wooden fence with spy holes and impressive gate. Inside are many interesting displays including old maps of Kakunodate, books, pottery, tools, and swords.
A sense of history also remains in the Outer Town, where many of the old buildings and storehouses still remain. Many of the original buildings here have been turned into shops and restaurants that take you back in time to a golden age of Japanese history.
Kakunodate is an old samurai town that brings its historical traditions and atmosphere to life. The samurai may now be gone, but their spirit will forever live on in the old samurai district.
Kakunodate is about three hours from Tokyo on the Akita Shinkansen Komachi with the samurai district just a short 20 minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station.
Location: Akita Prefecture
Hours: Aoyagi and Ishiguro Houses open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Aoyagi House 500 yen and Ishiguro House 300 yen