I discovered this little town during my flight attendant training in Tokyo for All Nippon Airways. Sawara (佐原), also known as ‘little Edo, is a small town northeast of Narita ‘. This is one of the best places, with Boso no Mura, to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Edo period. Close to Narita and its airport, the town of Sawara is perfect for a day trip.
Sawara historic district
Sawara was formerly developed as a base for the river transport of rice to Edo (ex Tokyo). It became a prosperous city and wealthy merchants built houses along the city center’s Ono River.
Today, the district has retained its traditional urban landscape. The Ono River is lined with preserved and restored residences, shops and warehouses from the Edo period (1603-1867). The city is often used as a filming location and therefore made it popular with Asian tourists. However, during my visit, the streets were practically empty.
This store has been selling various products and tatami mats since the Meiji era.
The historic district of Sawara is quite small but the walk is a nice trip back in time during the Edo period. An opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in historic Japan. I recommend combining the visit of the historic district with the Katori-jingu Shrine and the Kanpuku-ji temple.
Sawara temples and shrines
You may have noticed words following the name of the temples or shrines:
- Jinja (神社) after a name means ‘sanctuary’
- Jingu 神宮 (like Meiji-jingu in Tokyo), means ‘main sanctuary’
- Tera or ji (寺) means ‘temple’
The temples are Buddhist, while the shrines are Shinto. Sanctuaries are easily recognisable because they’re often vermilion red and have a torii (sacred gate).
Katori-jingu shrine 香取神宮
The Katori-jingu shrine is one of the most important in Japan and a must-visit when In Sawara.
Kanpuku-ji temple 観福寺
The temple is known for its beautiful landscapes during the four seasons. I visited it in May and the flowers were in bloom.
The Takaten shrine is relatively unknown. It is nestled in the forest about 200 m south of the Kanpukuji temple. The temple grounds were empty…
Exploring Sawara by bike
Cycling is the most convenient way to go around Sawara. In fact, the attractions are far away and public transport is not very practical. Since the Katori region is located on a plain, it’s flat and easy to cycle.
Bicycle rentals are available at the information desk near JR Sawara station. The rental price is ¥300 per bike for a day.
Sawara is accessible by train from Tokyo, Chiba and Narita. From Narita, take the JR Narita-sen line to Matsugishi (松岸駅) or Chofu (銚子駅). It’s a local train that runs every hour. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes to Sawara station.
Boso No Mura
Boso no Mura is located 28 km from Sawara. It is an open-air museum that reproduces a local village typical of the Edo period. A must-visit for all historic Japan lovers. For more information, see the article dedicated to Boso no Mura