Sawara – a walk back in time
“What I found out was ... ,” said , “ ... there are cats here and there!” Given the significance of cats in Japanese culture – they symbolise good luck and fortune – the town of Sawara was a booming business hub.
Kita, who works at Association for Promotion of International Cooperation, is an avid photographer. She was accompanying Floyd Takeuchi, a senior photographer, veteran journalist and author.
Sawara, a historic trading town, is 90 minutes north of Tokyo by express bus.
“It has a well-kept historic district, with the canals once used for trading boat freighters that took rice and sake to Tokyo,” said Takeuchi.
The preservation of history and character makes this beautiful hamlet a photographer’s dream.
Back to the cats, Kita said. There were not many of them in the historical district, but one could see them as one walked into the town.
“There was one cat that allowed Floyd to pat himself or herself,” Kita recounted. “But the one we found early in the morning escaped from Floyd when he tried to get closer.
“So it seems like some are friendly and some are not,” she said.
Sawara sounds like a place to escape our fast-paced, information superhighway, terabyte-driven life and seek solace.
ROLL THE CLOCK BACK
Experiencing Sawara is to roll the clock back on life to a slow, gentle, and laid-back pace. It is, though, unfortunate that how we lived our lives yesterday has now become today’s luxury and a ‘retreat’.
The town of Sawara used to be famous for a water transportation business, which dates back to the 16th century. The Onogawa River, which flows in the town, is lined with simple yet intricate wooden houses where merchants used to live and ply their trade.
Homes of merchants who relied on the water transportation business that linked Sawara to Edo are preserved in their original form, along the 500-metre stretch of the Onogawa River. Most of these structures, built in the mid-18th century, became the first nationally designated Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in Kanto in 1996.
According to the information sourced from various websites, this district’s landscape is unique in that it reflects the changing times from the late Edo period (1603-1867) to the early Showa period (1926-1989). The beauty of it all is that many of the businesses are still operating in these buildings. Family enterprises and traditions have been passed down for generations since the Edo period. Sawara is a town that has maintained its original character but continues to be inhabited. This district is highly praised as a “living townscape”. The city of Varanasi, on the banks of river Ganges, in north India, comes to mind. It is the oldest living city in the world. We will take a trip there another time.
It is said that during the Edo period (1603-1867), Sawara prospered as a distribution centre, akin to a modern logistics hub, where goods from all over Japan came into what is present-day Tokyo. As the distribution business grew, Kawasaki Bank opened a branch in Sawara in 1880. Eight years later, the Sawara Branch became Kawasaki Bank’s official headquarters. Then in 1943, the building became the Sawara Branch of Mitsubishi Bank. In 1989, the building was donated to Katori City.
The Sawara Mitsubishi Building that stands today is a two-storey Western-style brick building that was built in 1914. Inside, there is a corridor on the second floor and an atrium. In 1991, it was designated as a Tangible Cultural Property by Chiba Prefecture.
Many of the shops and homes have also preserved their traditional Hina dolls and other tools.
How can any trip be complete unless one talks about food. “Sawara is famous for unagi (eel), and there are unagi restaurants all over the place,” Kita said.
Souvenirs in Sawara are delectable too. “This place is also famous for soy sauce, so it is one of the popular souvenirs for the tourists,” Kita said.
Takeuchi and Kita took the proverbial gazillion photos. The best of these shots have been collated in a book – Sawara – A Photographer’s Guide (https://www.blurb.com/b/11472981).
We are looking forward to the next set of travels as we travel around the land of the rising sun . Arigatou gozaimasu for the memories.
Special thanks to for the background information and photographs, and Floyd Takeuchi for the continued guidance. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @amitabhs