Kakunodate, Kawagoe and Kanazawa

Groups of Traditional Buildings are a Japanese category of historic preservation introduced by a law which mandates the protection of groups of traditional buildings that, together with their environment, form a beautiful sight. They can be post towns, castle towns, merchant quarters, ports, farming or fishing villages, and so on. The country’s cultural properties are recognized and protected under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties by the national government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Municipalities can designate items of particular importance as Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings and approve measures to protect them. Items of much higher importance are then designated as Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings by the national government. The Agency for Cultural Affairs provides guidance, advice, funds for repairs and other work, and additional support in the form of preferential tax treatment.

118 districts have been classified as Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings. Among them, I introduce 4 districts to you: Kakunodate in northern Japan, Kawagoe in eastern Japan, and two towns in Kanazawa in central Japan.

Kakunodate in Semboku City, Akita, is known as “Little Kyoto” in Michinoku for the large number of samurai residences. It has also a front gate and wooden fences of a former castle town created by a branch of the Satake clan. Each season has its own charm, but spring is said to be the best season because of beautiful cherry blossoms.

Old town of Kawagoe City in Saitama is nicknamed “Little Edo”. Edo is the former name of Tokyo, and you can feel a nostalgic atmosphere at the town. There are dozens of traditional wooden townhouses and storehouses from after a great fire in the late 19th century and western style buildings in the early 20th century.
Due to the U.S. air raids, you have difficulty finding old Tokyo in present Tokyo. It takes less than 40 minutes from Tokyo to Kawagoe by train, and there are a few train lines you can choose. Saitama is the prefecture where I’ve lived for many years, so I would like you to visit Kawagoe if you stay in Tokyo.

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa, has 4 Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings. Here, I pick up 2 from them.
Higashiyama is known as “Higashi Tea House Quarter”, the tea house neighborhood with two-storied houses that was created about 200 years ago by moving buildings from central Kanazawa. You can enjoy shopping and eating Japanese sweets at the district.

Teramachi-dai is a temple town formed in early modern times. Myoryu-ji Temple, popularly known as “Ninja-dera”, is located in the district. You can enjoy the building full of tricks. You must make a reservation if you would like to visit the temple.

I just introduce to you some of Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings. I have been to other districts such as Sawara (merchant quarter) in eastern Japan, and Narai and Tsumago (post towns) in central Japan. Please feel free to ask me if you are interested in visiting a traditional district with a guide interpreter.

Yuki Takano, a member of iTWS japan LLP

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