Travel back to the Edo era (1603-1868) and experience its temples and traditional wooden houses with lattice-work facades and clay-fired roof tiles in Takehara, a city in Hiroshima Prefecture. This picturesque, old merchant town achieved success in the salt-making and nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) brewing industries.
Located in the south-central part of Hiroshima Prefecture facing the Setonaikai (Seto Inland Sea), Takehara should be at the top of everyone’s list of places to visit here.
A great first stop is Honmachi dori, the main street of the Takehara Townscape Conservation Area, which is located close to Takehara station. Takehara is known as the “Little Kyoto of Hiroshima” for its beautifully preserved downtown historic district. It is easy to see why with a large collection of authentic traditional townhouses and merchant warehouses.
This is the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll through the old streets and experience a walk through time to the age of the samurai. Two fine examples of the traditional architecture of the area are the former residence of the Yoshii family and the former residence of the Matsusaka family.
The Yoshii residence dates from 1691, making it the oldest house in Takehara. It was originally the home of a wealthy salt and sake merchant. The Matsusaka residence was remodeled in 1879 is an excellent example of a Meiji period building with its elaborate latticework on the facade and roof tiles in the kawarabuki (gently curved ceramic roof tiles) style. The historic district was selected as an “Important Traditional Building Group Conservation Area” by the Japanese government in 1982.
Tucked away along one of the smaller alleys in the historic district is the Fujii Shuzo sake brewery. The Fujii family has been producing top-quality nihonshu for around 150 years, over the course of which they have won many prestigious awards, including the top prize in Japan’s first refined sake competition in 1907. Yoshifumi Fujii, the fifth generation brewery master and president, and his son, Norihiro Fujii, strive to produce sake using only local ingredients such as organically-grown rice and clear, clean tasting water from a nearby spring. The sake pairs well with locally caught whitefish from the Seto Inland Sea.
Free sake tasting is available, and there is even a soba restaurant offering authentic handmade noodles prepared with the same natural spring water as the sake. Norihiro Fujii is very friendly and speaks English, so this makes a fantastic place to fuel up with some traditional fare and learn a little about the history and traditions of Takehara before—or after—venturing out to explore your surroundings.
Like Kyoto, Takehara is also famous for its bamboo and has a history of bamboo craft. At the Machinami Takekobo Bamboo Craft Workshop, you can try your hand at making a traditional bamboo basket or pinwheel yourself by weaving individual bamboo sticks together. You can even get more detailed advice on making bamboo crafts from one of the local master craftsmen on site.
The best times to fully experience and enjoy this historic district is in the evening or early in the morning before the crowds descend upon the old streets. A stay overnight at the Nipponia Hotel will allow you to soak up all the atmosphere without all the people.
The goal of the Nipponia Hotel is to provide guests with a comfortable stay in traditional Japanese-style accommodations while they experience the historic district and enjoy some delicious local food.
A short 20-minute ferry ride from Takehara Port is Okunoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea that is one of the only places in the world where you can walk freely among rabbits. The remote island is home to about a thousand of the furry friends, giving Okunoshima the cool nickname of Usagishima (Rabbit Island).
The former fishing and agricultural island has a dark past, with many of the abandoned buildings and ruins camouflaged in naturally growing ivy, alluding somewhat to its previous history.
Okunoshima was fortified during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) to protect the Seto Inland Sea area from attack. In 1929, the Imperial Japanese Army built a secret military facility for chemical weapons research and production that remained in use until the end of World War II.
After World War II, Okunoshima was turned into a kyukamura (national park resort) to provide a place for rest and relaxation in a scenic natural environment. It’s rumored that domesticated rabbits were released on the island in 1971, where they thrived without natural predators. At least, that is one theory among many and perhaps something to debate with locals over a glass of nihonshu.
A stay overnight on the island at the Kyukamura Hotel — or an overnight camp near the swimming beach — will provide you with the best chance to experience the cute rabbits. They are most active early in the morning and in the evening — though you are bound to encounter them at any point during the day if you are exploring the area.
Takehara is a perfect travel destination for anyone interested in Japanese history and culture with its beautifully-preserved Edo-period streets and houses, traditional sake breweries, local bamboo handicrafts and delicious local food. Along with the scenic natural splendor of Okunoshima, Takehara is also a great place to escape the outside world, relax and refresh away from the urban crowds.
For those coming from Tokyo, take the Tokaido Sanyo shinkansen to Fukuyama station. From there, take the JR Sanyo line for Mihara to Mihara station. Transfer to the JR Kure line for Hiro and get off at Takehara station.