Many people have heard of the UNESCO heritage village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture. However, when mentioning Ouchi-juku, the only reactions I have received were tilted heads and quizzical looks followed by “Ouchi- what?”
| So where and what is this place?
In the Minami Aizu district, Ouchi-juku was a post town along the Aizu-Nishi Kaido trade route. It connected Aizu and Nikko (Tochigi prefecture) during the Edo period. This valley town came in to existence due to restrictions made by the shogunate during that period. This meant travelers had to commute to Aizu by foot. As a result, several post towns with accommodation were created for travelers to rest before continuing on their journey.
Fast forward to the 21st century, Ouchi-juku has been restored to its former glory with its beautifully maintained thatched roofs and lovely obachan’s hanging up their dried persimmons in the fall whilst selling intricate craft and mouth watering dango. For the history fans, the honjin (an inn for previous high ranking government officials), was converted to a public museum.
| What not to miss
To all my foodie lovers, do NOT ignore the dango (Japanese dumpling). These scrumptious, mochi mochi dango are literally a piece of heaven once you sink your teeth into it. With free flow houjicha, don’t worry about choking or feeling parched after this tidbit. In my teens, I tried a dango at a festival in Osaka and somehow; I got put off by the taste. However, trying it again in my twenties has left me scratching my head as to why I got put off by it. IT’S DELICIOUS.
Once you’ve had your fill with dango, continue making your way to the end of the street where you will find a soba-ya called Misawaya. If you’re visiting in the winter, you can experience having your meal under a kotatsu, a Japanese heated style table. Now, you may think, “It’s just soba”, but do not be deceived. Yes, noodles are consumed by using a pair of chopsticks, but try eating it with a piece of leek. Leek, you say?? I kid you not. This interesting experience can either leave you very frustrated with not getting the noodles into your mouth, or you can take it as an enjoyable experience. My mother always told me not to play with my food, but I felt I was being played by my food instead. After chomping into my leek several times, I surrendered and asked for a pair of chopsticks.
| Amazing View
Once you have had your carb overload, take a walk up to the lookout point behind the soba-ya and you will be rewarded with an amazing view. The steep steps are slippery during winter, so please take caution when walking up and down. As the telephone poles and wires are hidden underground, the view is nothing short of spectacular and it feels like you are taken back to 300 years ago. There is also a shrine further up the path dedicated to the mythical Prince Mochihito, who took refuge in this town after losing a battle in the Heian period.
| So how do I get there?
Renting a car is probably best as parking is available, but if you are car-less, the closest train station is Yunokami station on the Aizu rail. From there, you can hail a taxi. However, from April to November, a bus operates between the station to Aizu once an hour.
It is hard to say which season is the best time to visit because it is beautiful all year round. I have visited and brought many of my foreign friends to this place at least three times in the past year, and each time; I find something new to be in awe of. Quaint and historical, this is a side of Japan that one cannot find unless you venture off the beaten path.
So pack your bags, put on your trekking shoes- it’s time for an adventure at Ouchi-juku!
Check out STAY JAPAN to book a stay in Fukushima and enjoy the same experience as Alex.