Whenever I flick through a pamphlet filled with photographs of Fukushima, there is a certain photo that causes everyone nearby to let out an “oooooooooooh” sound:
The photo of Ouchi-juku.
When I tell locals that I’ve recently moved to Fukushima and I often travel around the prefecture, one of the first questions I’m asked is “Where have you gone to so far? You’ve been to Ouchi-juku, right?!” The reaction when I told them that no, I haven’t been yet, was always one of disbelief! I was very happy to learn I would be visiting Ouchi-juku at the end of November, so I could see what all of the fuss was about.
It just so happened to begin snowing for the first time this winter on the day that we visited Ouchi-juku, which gave the whole day an exciting atmosphere.
Having arrived in Ouchi-juku, I understood from one glance what everyone loves about it.
Surrounded by mountains, Ouchi-juku is tucked away in Shimogo Town, Minamiaizu. The olde-worlde buildings, their thatched rooves, the smells and sights of traditional snacks being cooked, and the absence of the noise of cars and roads…Ouchi-juku really feels like it exists in its own period of history.
A wonderful view of the whole of Ouchi-juku can be seen from the top of a hill, near a local shrine. The walk to the top takes around 3 minutes, but the stairs can be slippy during wet or snowy weather, so take care!
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Ouchi-juku was used as a post town, used by feudal lords, travelers and passersby as a place to stop for the evening and rest their weary feet. The streets are incredibly well-preserved, and a large amount of care and attention goes into keeping the town looking as it did hundreds of years ago.
Although there are a number of giftshops in this area, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the look is all that is left of the traditional life style of Edo period Japan. Many of the buildings are still inhabited by local families; some of whom allow guests to stay as a guesthouse. Moreover, a number of the on-site restaurant staff provide the same home-made, local food for day visitors as they would for their overnight guests.
The route that runs through Ouchi-juku is called the Kaido Route, which continues from Imai in Tochigi all the way to Aizuwakamatsu. This makes it really easy to imagine a travel route going through Nikko, to Ouchi-juku, and finishing in Aizuwakamatsu City.
One of the local dishes that is famous in Ouchi-juku is ‘negi-soba’. Negi means onion in Japanese, so you may assume that this dish consists of soba noodles, and onions cooked in a certain way. In fact, negi soba includes soba noodles and toppings, which you are supposed to eat with a long green onion, occasionally chewing off the end to mix the flavor in with the rest of your meal.
I loved the taste of the soba, and I really liked the very traditional interior of the restaurant in Ouchi-juku, but I have to say that the taste of the onion was super strong! I could still taste it at dinner time! But it was a really fun experience.
Through the window of the restaurant, I got a good view of a man wrapping something around the tree in his card. I asked my colleague what he was doing, and he told me that because snow falls so heavily in Minamiaizu, residents wrap bamboo around trees during the winter to protect their shape and cover their leaves.
The snow does fall extremely heavily in this area, as you can see from this photo of Ouchi-juku, during the Snow Festival that is held every year in February:
You can reach Ouchi-juku by bus from Yunomaki Onsen (roughly 22 minutes, every 1.5 hours!) or drive directly there by rent-a-car.
For more information on Ouchi-juku, please click here!
Ouchi-juku is included in the Minamiaizu 3 day route displayed below here, so click on the route for more information on this!