Samurai Houses in Izumi City, Kagoshima: A Definite Must-Checkout
Entrance to Samurai Houses (Bukeyashiki)
“Samurai” should be one of the typical things to come to the mind when people outside Japan think about the country. The word samurai refers to feudal soldiers who protected their domain lords. Many of you may well have heard of “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa, the movie which made the existence of samurai widely known to the world.
When I asked my non-Japanese friends about the image of samurai, they mainly mentioned how cool and stylish samurai or the design of their swords is. But what I am going to introduce to you here is the houses where samurai resided. Photo: http://www.izumi-navi.jp/
Fumoto Matsuri Festival Held in November, http://izumiminamata.com/
While there are many places around Japan where you can find “bukeyashiki,” or samurai houses, my recommendation is Izumi City in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The Reason Why Many Bukeyashiki can be Found in Izumi City
Yoshihiro Shimazu, the 17th Lord of the Satsuma Clan, https://ja.wikipedia.org
Back in the Edo Period (17th – 19th century), Kagoshima Prefecture, present home to Izumi City, was called “Satsuma” and the present Kumamoto Prefecture, in the north next to Satsuma, was called “Higo.” Located on the border between these two domains, the Izumi area was naturally considered an important strategic point of defense for Satsuma. As Yoshihiro Shimazu, the 17th lord of the Satsuma domain, introduced “Tojo (Outer or Satellite Castle) System”* to fortify the regional defense, many samurai from around Satsuma gathered at Izumi. The samurai soldiers allocated to each “Tojo” area often lived near the fortified section at the foot of a mountain called “Fumoto,” preparing for an emergency. Many of the samurai houses found today in the city of Izumi are the remains of such residences built around the time.
*Tojo (Outer or Satellite Castle) System: Implemented by the Satsuma domain in order to fortify the defense of its territory. The system was aimed at tightening the immigration control across the borders by allocating many administrative offices or police stations called “Jito” or “Sekisho” around the domain.
The Old “Fumoto” Area with Many Bukeyashiki Houses Still Remaining Today, http://www.city.izumi.kagoshima.jp/
The Inside of a Bukeyashiki (税所邸), http://www.izumi-navi.jp/
While many of you might have already been interested in samurai themselves and their swords, I guess not so many of you have heard or known much about “bukeyashiki,” or samurai houses.
Selection of Tourist Spots around Izumi City
You can check the official website of Izumi City for tourist information in English.
Let’s briefly introduce to you just a few among the tourist attractions listed on the website.
- Kimono Dressing Experience: Reservation Needed 60 Days in Advance or Earlier to the Day of Visit / Available for a Group of at least 5 People and Up / Fee: 5,500 Yen per Person / 2 – 3 Hours for Dressing
- Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine: Shrine Known for Japan’s Largest and Smallest Shrine Bell / Admission Free / Located 10 Minutes’ Drive from JR Izumi Station
- Izumi City Crane Museum: Izumi City is known as a destination for cranes. / Located 5 Minutes’ Drive from JR Izumi Station
Enjoy Towari Soba Noodles While Admiring a Beautiful Garden
If you look a little further from the street lined with bukeyashiki houses, you will find a soba noodle shop with a reserved and peaceful atmosphere.
Though it’s somewhat easy to miss, careful eyes can spot the name “Gusoh-an” written on the signboard hung on one of the gate pillars. If you look more closely, you will see the word “Towari Soba.” “Towari” means 100 percent. While soba noodles are classified according to the ratio of buckwheat contained in the dough, it’s not very easy to find a shop serving “Towari” soba, which is made from 100 percent buckwheat. It is because soba noodles are easy to break when made without wheat as a binding agent.
Gushoan not only serves soba noodles with sophisticated flavor and texture but also allows you to enjoy the fantastic view of its own garden from the dining space. You can while yourself away in luxury enjoying the fabulous dish while admiring the beautiful view of the well-maintained garden. After finishing the noodles, you can sit back and enjoy a relaxing cup of green tea at the “engawa” space (“engawa” is a small veranda-like space unique to Japanese houses. It stretches out slightly toward the garden from the corridor and allows you to sit down).
They close as soon as they run out of stock soba noodles. So it’s recommended to visit the shop around 11 in the morning, which is their opening time. Their closing day is Mondays and if a Monday falls on a public holiday, then the next day on Tuesday will be the substitute closing day. Information: Map
Slow Sightseeing on an Ox-Drawn Carriage
Momo-chan, the Carriage Drawing Ox, http://www.city.izumi.kagoshima.jp/
Interestingly, you can find an ox-drawn passenger carriage service in the bukeyashiki area. Mildly tempered oxen named Izumi-chan and Momo-chan will give you a ride of about 30 minutes around the bukeyashiki area.
Fees and Operating Hours:
Fee for Adults 1,000 Yen, Children 500 Yen, Infants Aged 3 or Under Free / Available from 11 AM – 3 PM
Access to the Bukeyashiki Area
As for public transportation, you can take either Kyushu Shinkansen train or Hisatsu Orange Railway and get off at Izumi Station to reach the area on foot. Alternatively, you can get to the area in about 5 minutes’ taxi ride from the station. Free tourist brochures are available just outside the ticket wicket at Izumi Station, so be sure to take one of them.
Izumi City in Kagoshima Prefecture is an area with a very slow and laid-back atmosphere. The historic bukeyashiki houses are very atmospheric and their quiet elegance will surely sooth your soul. Those historic buildings can give you a precious opportunity to admire the old architectural beauty while pondering upon the lives of bygone samurai soldiers. It is well worth a visit at least once in your lifetime.
Note: Some of the bukeyashiki houses in the area are still inhabited. Please remember that you cannot enter the sites unless it is specifically made open and accessible to public for viewing.