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As I mentioned before, telling you about Kakunodate, my travel itinerary in Japan followed as closely as possible the footsteps of the samurai. Inspired by the movies of Kurosawa and the many historical novels read during my teens, I absolutely wanted to see castles and neighborhoods inhabited by these postmodern warriors, also known as bushi.

The samurai lived in respect of the bushido ethical code, known as “the way of the warrior,” in perfect harmony with Confucianism and zen Buddhism.

After centuries of fights, Japan has reunited in the sixteenth century, and throughout the Eno era, the samurai remained at the top of the social caste system. Faithful to their master, they guaranteed his security living right outside the castle walls, and actually, having the residence close to the castle meant being a more important clan.

Other curiosity: the samurai were the only ones allowed to carry a sword, and when they did not have an official master, they were called ronin, free spirits that seem to have created lots of security problems over the centuries …

Over the last 250 years of the Edo period, however, peace was restored, and the samurai gradually converted into artists, bureaucrats, and teachers until the abolition of their social class in 1868.

Enough history now, here are the samurai themed stages of my trip to Japan, following my personal taste 🙂

Samurai in Kakunodate

Kakunodate was my first samurai stage and probably the one I preferred. Maybe cause of the snowy white coat covering everything and creating a surreal silence or because this, without a doubt, is the wider and the best-conserved samurai neighborhood in Japan.

Anyway, I heartily recommend you visit it!

Samurai in Hagi

In the Middle Age, the Yoshimi clan ruled over the town and built the Hagi Castle, now a scattered ensemble of ruins in the Shizuki Park (210 yen), but the most flourishing period for the city was the one under the clan Mori, daimyos of the then called Choshu, giving cultural and commercial importance to the whole district.

It actually seems that Hagi still is a politically significant town, birthplace to many prime ministers and dignitaries of Japan (in Akihito’s word, my last-second guide to the city :-))

Today the city is quite big, but the Horiuchi district still retains all the feudal charm of the time! Among the residences I visited, these are those I preferred:

  • Residence Kikuya (600 yen), open from 8.30 a.m. to 5.15 p.m. The garden is gorgeous, and the rooms can be fully opened thanks to the sliding walls that leave even the corners free! I actually dream of something like this a home!!!
  • Residence Kubota (100 yen or 310 yen for a grouped ticket to other eight smaller samurai compounds), open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. The Kubota clan in the Ero period produced and traded kimono getting quite rich, and you can tell looking at the architectural and decorative details of the house! There’s also a very, very beautiful display of antique lamps and an amazing ancient instruments collection.

Horiuchi is about two kilometers from Higashi-Hagi Station. I walked for about half an hour, but I noticed several tourists riding bikes…

Samurai in Kitsuki

Kitsuki’s historic district is simply great, even because perfectly preserved and freed from any modern intrusion, such as cars and electric cables! A tourist dream …

The city of Kitsuki is known as a “sandwich castle city” because its two sloping samurai districts surround the merchants’ one, and when looked at from above, it seems to create a sandwich effect.

Residences, museums, and the castle (the smallest of Japan and with an amazing sea view) are accessible from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., paying a single 800 yen cumulative ticket and, as downtown in Kyoto, here too Japanese young people (and the Chinese!) use to rent a kimono and get their hair hooked to stroll around and take souvenir pics.

Among the residences I preferred:

  • Residence Ohara, looking like a perfect historical novel house!
  • Residence Hitotsumatsu, with a stunning sea view and several beautiful collections of drawings
  • Residence Nomi, recently restored and with a small bar serving green tea and pastries
  • Residence Sano, with a quite scary vintage medical accessories exposition

Kitsuki is about 45 minutes by bus from Beppu and the ticket costs 1200 yen.

Samurai in Chiran

Chiran is a small town in the Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Samurai district is perfectly preserved and aesthetically spectacular, among rocky walls that made me think of Peru’s Inca walls, nice hedges, and no visible modern life element, just like in Kitsuki.

I did not place Chiran at the top of the list because, unfortunately, the residences are closed to the public, and I could only visit their perfect gardens. You can visit seven of them, from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., paying for the 500 yen cumulative ticket available in neighboring shops.

Chiran is an hour and a half by bus from Kagoshima and the ticket costed me 850 yen.

Samurai in Kanazawa

The Kanazawa Nagamachi is right downtown, along pretty channels adding a certain charm to these narrow alleys with earthy walls and tall hedges.

The most important samurai residence in Kanazawa is Nomura-ke, recently restored and open to the public from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (one extra hour in summer), with an entry ticket that costs 550 yen.

The free Ashigaru Shiryokan museum is also worth a visit. It’s the reconstruction of two typical ashigaru compounds, the samurai militias.

Samurai in Hiroshima

There’s almost nothing left of Hiroshima’s historic center, but the Hiroshima castle’s reconstruction in an elevated position deserves a visit! There are no more tracks of the original samurai district, but the permanent exhibition in the castle is all about them.

Several samurai swords can be touched and raised by visitors among the exposed curiosities and many complete seals and various artifacts. So very heavy!!!

Other samurai stages I hadn’t planned

As I told you in my post on Sapporo, during my stay in Hokkaido, I visited Noboribetsu, and I accidentally discovered the Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura samurai theme park (2900 yen).

There is a samurai compound at the foot of the Himeji Castle too, but only the Kokoen Gardens can be visited. They are wonderful and very peaceful, and you get an idea of what the district was when leaving through long walkways lined with ancient walls and dotted with the gardens of former residences.

The Japanese Swords Museum in Tokyo (600 yen), about 15 minutes walking from Shinjuku Station. The swords collection is fantastic, and some craftsmen produce them in front of the tourists (like Venitian glass on Murano island).

Warning: I got definitely badly advised and took a daily trip to Matsue, but everything was closed due to a very long restoration project! Plan it in your itinerary only if you visit Japan after April 2018!

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.