7 Things to Do in Sawara, One of Japan’s Historically Important Districts

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  • Sawara (佐原), an old and historical district in Katori City (香取市), Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), possesses many important cultural properties. One of which is Sawara no Machinami (佐原の町並み), the area itself. It’s one of the Traditional Architectures Preservation Districts in Japan.

    For over a thousand years, Sawara had prospered as an accessible merchant town near the Tone River (利根川). Even now, it offers many interesting and exciting things to do and see. However, since Sawara is geographically not so close to Tokyo (東京), it tends to be forgotten as a tourist destination nowadays. Fortunately for tourists (but unfortunately for locals), visitors to Sawara can explore the area without being bothered by crowds of other tourists.

    If you want to feel a genuine atmosphere of the old and traditional Japanese culture, this is the exact place to go! Check out the top seven things to do in Sawara below.

    1. Take a stroll along the Historic Streets of Sawara

    As I already mentioned, Sawara no Machinami or the Historic Streets of Sawara is registered and protected by the government as an Important Cultural Property. The Historic Streets of Sawara is the central part of the Sawara area. If you walk from the JR Sawara Station (佐原駅), it won’t take more than 10 minutes to reach it.

    Ono River (小野川) is peacefully running through the center of this area. Often enough, you can see some small wooden boats moving across the water. On both sides of the river, there are traditional Japanese buildings which make up for a magnificent view. Most of the buildings here are utilized as shops or stores as Sawara still retains its tradition as a merchant town. You can drop by these shops and enjoy shopping.

    The English website linked below by Katori City introduces the sites on the Historic Streets of Sawara that you have to pay special attention to.

    The Historic Streets of Sawara Website
    Access (For convenience, the point is set at Chukei-bashi Bus Stop)

    2. Learn about the first map of Japan at the Inoh Tadataka Museum (伊能忠敬記念館)

    The Inoh Tadataka Museum is located in the area of the Historic Streets of Sawara and is also a 10-minute walk from the JR Sawara Station.

    Inoh Tadataka (伊能 忠敬) was the man who made the first survey map of Japan. He married into the Inoh family when he was 17. The Inohs had been thriving merchants and powerful landlords in Sawara for generations then. When he was 55, Tadataka started to measure and survey the land. He walked all over Japan for this project. In 1821, three years after his death, the map was completed by his assistants.

    The Inoh Tadataka Museum introduces Inoh Tadataka’s life and exhibits the tools that he used for measurement and the maps that he actually drew. These goods are registered as national treasures. Across Ono River, the historic house of Inoh Tadataka (伊能忠敬旧宅) is also open to the public.

    The Inoh Tadataka Museum is open from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. It’s closed on Mondays and several days before and after New Year. The admission is 500 yen per adult and 250 yen per child (up to junior high school). If you are going to Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan (水郷佐原山車会館), there is a combined ticket for a discounted price – 800 yen per adult and 350 yen per child.

    The Inoh Tadataka Museum Website
    Access

    3. Ride a Sawara Sightseeing Boat (小野川観光船)

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    You can take a Sawara Sightseeing Boat near the Chukei Bridge. As this boat moves through Ono River, which runs through the center of Sawara district, you can see the picturesque scenery of the Historic Streets of Sawara.

    One ride takes roughly 30 minutes. The fare is 1,300 yen for adults and 700 yen for children under 12 years old.

    4. Visit Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan

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    Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan is the museum that displays “dashi” floats made in Sawara and other festival equipment that represent the traditional culture of the place. “Dashi” is a parade float carried by people on the shoulders at Japanese festivals. In the old times, it was believed that gods came to stay inside dashi floats during festivals and were known as “gods’ carriages.” Dashi floats are respected and treated by people as a sacred object.

    In Japan, local people make dashi floats with the pride of the city, town, or village. Sawara is well known for its festival called “Sawara no Taisai (佐原の大祭),” which literally means the “Big Festival of Sawara.” Most of the collection at Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan were actually used in Sawara no Taisai. You will feel the energetic and festive atmosphere of the festival inside the museum.

    This place is open from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. In June, it’s open every day, while in the other months, it’s closed on Mondays. Admission is 400 yen per adult and 200 yen per child. Again, for those who are interested in visiting both Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan and the Inoh Tadataka Museum, a combined ticket is available for a discounted price.

    Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan is a 15-minute walk from the JR Sawara Station.

    Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan Website *Japanese only
    Access

    5. Eat and shop at Mizu-no-sato Sawara (水の郷さわら)

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    Mizu-no-sato Sawara is a local marketplace where you can buy fresh vegetables, fruits, rice, and other local products. They also have a food court where you can eat your breakfast, lunch, or early dinner. You have a variety of food to choose from, including ramen (ラーメン), onigiri (おにぎり), karaage (からあげ), udon (うどん), pizza, curry, and desserts.

    From April to September, the food court is open from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. In the other months, however, they close one hour earlier.

    Furthermore, this place offers several types of boat rides. Since Sawara is an area surrounded by water, you can enjoy its views while on a boat. Please note, however, that the boat rides are not very frequent so it’s better to check out the timetable in advance if you are interested.

    Mizu-no-sato Sawara Website
    Access

    6. Enjoy nature at Suigo Sawara Ayame Park (水郷佐原あやめパーク)

    suigo-sawara-iris-festival

    Suigo Sawara Ayame Park is a park full of flowers and plants. The estate is surrounded by rivers and an inlet. Visitors will surely have a pleasant walk here.

    Throughout the spring and summer seasons, you can enjoy various flowers in bloom. From June 3 to June 25, 2017, the park will hold its annual Suigo Sawara Iris Festival (水郷佐原あやめ祭り) where you can see up to 1.5 million iris flowers and be entertained by some special spectacles.

    During the festival, the park is open from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM (except on June 3, 2017, when it opens at 9:00 AM). Admission is 800 yen per adult and 400 yen per child (up to junior high school).

    Suigo Sawara Ayame Park is a bit far away from the JR Sawara Station so I recommend you to take a shuttle bus (during the Iris Festival), a local bus, or a taxi.

    Suigo Sawara Ayame Park Website *Japanese only
    Access

    7. See Katori Jingu (香取神宮)

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    This is a shrine celebrating the Shinto (神道) god called “Futsunusi no Ookami (経津主大神)” who has been believed and known as a war god.

    There are more than 400 shrines called “Katori Jinja Shrine” all over Japan and Katori Jingu is their headquarters – the most powerful one. The establishment of Katori Jingu was in the year 643 and it has over 1,000 years of history. Some of the buildings within the estate are registered as Important Cultural Properties and it possesses as many as 200 of Chiba Prefecture’s Cultural Properties.

    The paths leading to the shrine are packed with souvenir and Japanese sweets shops. Why not stop for a while and enjoy shopping or a tea break?

    Unfortunately, there is no public transport from Sawara Station to Katori Jingu. You can take a taxi (approximately 10 minutes) or ride a rental bicycle from the station.

    Katori Jingu Website *Japanese only
    Access

    How to Get to Sawara

    To get to Sawara from Tokyo Station (東京駅), ride a train to Chiba Station (千葉駅), then transfer to a train bound for Narita Station (成田駅). This will approximately take two hours. From Narita Station to Sawara Station, it will just take another 30 minutes.

    Major sightseeing spots in Sawara are within walking distance from the station. You can also ride a rental bicycle, or take a local bus or taxi.

    More Useful Information

    Katori City has an English website for tourists. It mainly introduces sightseeing spots in Sawara but also mentions some other places in Katori City.

    There is also an English map with a lot of useful information on Sawara by Burekimera (ぶれきめら), a tourism agency in Sawara. Print out the map and bring it with you on your trip!

    Furthermore, there is a tourist information office near the JR Sawara Station. If you need a map or some help, feel free to visit and ask them.

    Access

    Thankfully, there is free Wi-Fi within Katori City, too! You can always look at Google Maps if you have to.

    With the help of this article, are you now ready to cherish the genuine atmosphere of Japanese tradition, culture, and architecture in Sawara?