In Yanai City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, there is a particular district that resembles the streetscapes of the Edo Period (1603~1867). The streets are lined with white-walled buildings that were constructed with the dozozukuri-method (covering the walls with mud). The area is now registered as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
Though located a mere 5 minutes walk from JR Yanai Station, the street itself is only a few hundred meters long and very compact! In this article I’m going to offer my recommendations of what to do on a casual walk through the area.
The first place you should visit is Shokoan Temple. There is a well and a willow tree here that are said to have mysterious powers.
About 1400 years ago, Princess Hannya, a lady unrivaled in beauty, came to the temple to rest during her stay in the capital. The story goes that she drank from the well and it healed her weariness. As an expression of gratitude she stuck a toothpick made of willow in the soil next to the well, and the very next morning it had already sprouted.
The name of the city, Yanai, originates from the willow (yanagi) and well (ido). Even today the well still contains fresh, clean water that is said to make whoever drinks from it beautiful.
After having tasted the pure water, I visited a grand mansion that lies only a few minutes away from the temple.
Muroyanoen flourished as one of the most prominent merchant houses in western Japan during the Edo Period.
The largest merchant house from the Edo Period still in existence today, the huge property has a staggering 11 buildings and a combined total of 35 rooms. The feudal lord often stayed at Hakansha, the detached house, as well.
Sitting here in tranquility and gazing out over the garden, the hustle and bustle of the city seemed far away. It felt like I gained some kind of knowledge of the traditional Japanese mind.
After that calm and peaceful break, I returned to the streets and continued on my walk. Soon, I smelled something delicious…
Producer of the famous Yanai City specialty kanro soy sauce, this is the Sagawa Shoyu soy sauce brewery. The name comes from when the feudal lord, delighted by its flavor, shouted “Kanro! Kanro!” in joy. (Kanro = nectar.)
The huge barrels in this massive storehouse are filled with the ingredients used to brew soy sauce. I got to taste the finished product, and it did indeed taste like nectar! Tasting it must have triggered my appetite, because my stomach started growling.
The explanations were a bit hasty, but a casual stroll around the district easily takes in excess of an hour.
After finishing lunch, I continued on my walk. Check PART 2 of this article series for the rest of my introduction to the white-walled streetscape. Next, we will visit Kingyochochin, a very popular local folk crafts shop.
● Soto Zen Temple – Shokoan
Address: 3058-1 Shinmachi Yanai, Yanai City, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Address: 439 Kanaya Yanaitsu, Yanai City
Open: 9:00 – 17:00
Closed: Tuesdays and end-of-year
Admission: University students and older 450 yen – junior high school students 350 yen – elementary school children and younger 300 yen (group discounts available)
● Sagawa Shoyu
Address: 3708-1 Furuichi Yanai, Yanai City
Open: 8:00 – 17:00 (Sundays and public holidays 9:00 – 16:00)
Closed: No regular holidays
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masafumi Fujimoto
Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.
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