Traveling Back in Time – Showa no Machi

Are you a fan of Japanese history? If you are, there’s a big chance that you’ve heard, or even also love, the retro aesthetic often associated with the Showa Period (1926-1989). Snugged in the little Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture, is a shopping district named Showa no Machi (Showa’s Town), where the streets and shops are modeled in the classic style of 50-60s Japan. Almost like a movie set, this Showa no Machi takes you back in time as you stroll around.

Part of what maybe makes this place get overlooked if you aren’t familiar with the area, is the fact there is no direct train going to Bungotakada. So if you’re going by train, you’ll have to get down at Usa Station in the neighboring city, and then take a bus (about 15-minute ride) to Showa no Machi.

Arriving at the bus stop, I followed the sign that pointed to the direction of the shopping district. It’s easy to find, and immediately visible in just a short walk from the bus stop. I could already feel the Showa town concept right away even before I passed through the front gate. The first place you’ll see is an area called Showa Romangura (the gura here could be translated into warehouse), which was surrounded by three buildings: the Minamigura, Kitagura, and Higashigura. Minamigura serves as a restaurant, while the other two are exhibition halls. At the front of these warehouses too they already had some exhibits: retro cars, old-style vending machine, and traditional children toys that visitors could try playing with.

Strolling around the Showa no Machi is free, but inside the Kitagura and Higashigura, there are three exhibition halls that require some fee if you want to enter: Showa no Yumemachi Sanchome Hall, Dagashiya no Yume Museum, and teamLab Gallery Showa no Machi. I think the tickets could be purchased separately, but since I was going to visit all of them, I bought the all-entry ticket for convenience. 

One of my Showa no Machi highlights is definitely the Yumemachi Sanchome Hall. Here you’ll find the convincing mini reconstruction of life in the past Japan, starting from classroom, arcade area, to a house.

Moving on from the classroom to the arcade, the number of old arcade machines they have on display is quite impressive—some of which are still playable! I followed the route to the house, along the way enjoying their massive collection of retro household appliances—rice cooker, toaster, kitchen utensils, tableware, clothes iron, radio, cathode-ray tube television, old-style briefcases and so on. The route led me to an area partitioned by curtains, and I guess this was partly why the hall was named Yumemachi (yume means dream, while machi could mean town, street, or neighborhood).

The area was designed to make you feel like you were outdoors, with a ceiling that’s painted to resemble the sky, and lightings that change automatically to represent the cycle of the day, in just a few minutes it will turn from bright to red and purple, then midnight blue. Supported by sound effects, it did feel like you were watching the sun rise and set. I mostly appreciate the thoughtful little details they put into this yard, there were old bicycles and vehicles, barrels, wooden carts, a water well, and a sleeping cat doll at one corner that would even meow if you touch it.

The inside of the house also felt authentic. From the kitchen to the living room, it had that full, slightly messy, yet warm and homey atmosphere you’d see in old Japanese movies.

If Yumemachi is mainly for showing replicas, then the Dagashiya is for showcasing the real collections. They had about everything you could imagine; vintage magazines, newspapers, toys, movie posters, vinyl records, the 1964 Summer Olympics memorabilia—this hall was so full it could be a bit overwhelming, so take your time looking around!

After feeling content going through all the displays, I finally went outside to see the streets.

According to the information board near the entrance, the entire length of this Showa no Machi is 550 meters and it takes only about 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other, but that certainly didn’t apply to me. There were so many interesting things to see, the electronic shops you could enter and have a look, the traditional fish, vegetable and fruit shop, and not to mention the money museum and vintage clothing store you could try on and rent. I dropped by any place that piqued my interest, stared at every vintage billboard and admired the shopfronts. It’s a small shopping district, but is just perfect for a leisurely one-day trip!

As for the food, there’s a wide range of options ranging from snacks to a full meal. For lunch I decided to stop by a place called “Boulevard”, a restaurant and bar that designed its menu based on school-provided lunch for children a few decades back.

I remember sitting in class listening to my professor recalling his childhood days when Japan was still recovering from the war and life wasn’t as easy, he told us how food was rationed and the best meal of the day that a child like him could get was probably the school lunch. He then proceeded to describe what the meal was like—bread, meat, milk, vegetable, and a tiny dessert—each of everything he mentioned in the story was on the tray I ordered in that restaurant.

To the Japanese, Showa no Machi might evoke the feeling of natsukashii, but I think that even if you didn’t in Japan during that time period, Showa no Machi would still manage to bring you a sense of nostalgia, just like how it brought me a sort of appreciation wrapped in a tender feeling. So if you have the chance to visit Oita Prefecture, do drop by and explore vintage Japan in Showa no Machi!

Practical Information

Open: Showa Romangura (9.00-17.00), Showa no Machi shopping district (9.00-18.00, differs for each shop)
Address: 879-0628 Oita Prefecture, Bungotakada-shi, Shinmachi 989-1
Phone: 0978-23-1860

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