Sawara – The Little Edo of Chiba

The Japan trip was drawing to an end so we headed back to Narita for the last two nights, but I had one more trick up my sleeve before returning to Canada. Years ago when I was an English teacher in Tokyo, my colleague had told me about the little town that he had lived in when he first arrived called Sawara. I remember him telling me it was an old merchant town with a big river running through it, with really old shops and buildings all along the river that dated back to the Edo period. I figured this was my chance to go visit.

Sawara is an easy day trip from Narita if you’re staying in the area and have some time, and is definitely worth visiting to enjoy the classic scenery and architecture. However, be aware that because of its somewhat remote location deep in the countryside of Chiba, surrounded by nothing but rice paddies and farmers’ fields, the train only runs once an hour. That means you need to know what train you want to catch when you are ready to get back to Narita.

The very stylish Sawara Station

After arriving in Sawara Station you’d hope to step outside and find signs in English pointing tourists to the Old Town… but as is quite typical in rural Japan the only signs in English were for prefectural offices (which does not help tourists at all). So we crossed the road in front of the station and then just after the Koban (police box) we saw a sign for the Ono River, and then came across a small Tourist Information Centre. With Japan’s border’s still closed we were the only tourists there so the staff were quite happy to have a chat, give us a map and show us how to find the historic old town, which was about a 5 minute walk away. (Bonus tip: Be sure to check with the Tourist Centre about the next train leaving Sawara so you don’t miss it!)

Something that Sawara is famous for is its canal system which during the Edo period was developed to transport shipments of rice, leading to Sawara’s prosperity. As this “Little Edo” town flourished, beautiful merchant houses and warehouses were built along the waterfront, many of which are now converted into souvenir shops, cafes and small restaurants. Today the canals are only used for transporting tourists who come for a scenic ride under the town’s many bridges and along the scenic waterways.

We didn’t take a boat ride this time because we didn’t have enough time, but we were lucky to see another of the town’s interesting and quirky spots – the Toyo Bridge which has a waterfall every 30 minutes. We happened to just be walking by when suddenly the water started to flow! Was quite cute.

Sawara is very quiet and the old town by the river is a small area – I think we only spent about an hour there walking around and having a little bite to eat, but you could certainly stay longer to visit the little museum or sit and enjoy one of the restaurants or cafes. But since the next train was leaving soon, we decided to high tail it back to Narita to be ready for our departure flight the next day.

Sayonara Japan… it’s always a pleasure.

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