19th Century British Explorer Isabella Bird’s time in Ouchi-juku

The historical post-town Ouchi-juku lies on the old Nikko-Aizu Road, which was taken by travellers passing between Nikko and Aizu Wakamatsu from the Edo period. Ouchi-juku was a key location where travellers could stop and rest for the night.

Out of the many notable figures who have stayed in Ouchi-juku over the hundreds of years, it’s likely that the visitor most unexpected by local people was a middle-aged British woman, travelling alone except for an 18 year old Japanese translator.

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Who was Isabella Bird?

Isabella Bird was a 19th century explorer from Yorkshire in the UK. She was a pretty spectacular woman, who followed her passions and brushed off criticism from those who judged her for not acting properly for a woman. She travelled in Australia, Hawaii, the US, Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, among many other countries.

During her travels in the US, she rode on horseback for 800 miles around the Rocky Mountains front-forward instead of sidesaddle – like a lady should. She was labelled “like a man” by the British newspaper the Times, who she threatened to sue in response in 1873. She was also the first woman to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

All in all , a pretty strong role model.

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Her travels in Japan

She travelled to Japan when she was 47, and wrote the book Unbeaten Tracks in Japan about her travels, which was published in 1880. She hired an 18 year old translator, and travelled extensively throughout the country – even staying with Ainu tribes in Hokkaido. She is thought to be the first foreign woman to travel across Tohoku and Hokkaido.

Isabella’s stay in Ouchi-juku

Isabella passed through Ouchi-juku in 1878, after following the old Nikko-Aizu Road from Nikko. She stayed in a house now called Abe-ke.

One of the local legends surrounding her visit to Ouchi-juku refers to her bringing a bottle of red wine with her, which she drunk in her bedroom for the night. Apparently it was the first time that the people of Ouchi-juku had seen red wine, and so they got very scared when they saw her drinking it, thinking she was drinking blood!

This just goes to show how few western travellers had visited Ouchi-juku by this time.

The room that Isabella Bird stayed in is available for the public to view, for a very extremely reasonable price of 200 yen! The house seems a little difficult to locate, but just look for the shop with lots and lots of painted postcards decorating the walls.

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As with nearly all buildings in Ouchi-juku, Abe-ke also has a shop at the front where the owners sell gifts and souvenirs to visitors. The postcards at Abe-ke are very eye-catching, so the building should be easy to find.

Here are some photographs I took inside the room.

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Getting to Ouchi-juku by public transport

From Aizu-Wakamatsu, take the Tadami Line / Aizu Railway Line to Yunokamionsen. From there, take a taxi, or take one of the seasonal buses. This year’s seasonal tourist buses run until November 30.

Getting to Ouchi-juku by car

  • 2 hours from Nikko
  • 1.5 hours from Koriyama
  • 50 mins from Aizu-Wakamatsu

 

More posts about Ouchi-juku here!

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3 thoughts on “19th Century British Explorer Isabella Bird’s time in Ouchi-juku

  1. Thanks you for this post (and the pasts). It’s funny because “Isabella Bird” manga has just been released one week ago in France so I could learn more about this astonishing woman. I went in Ouchi-juku 2 years ago and couldn’t see this house. So thank you again for sharing this pictures. Have a nice day. Forent

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