Sasayama, Hyogo: History, Cafes, And Strolling Through A Castle Town

Please try to imagine this scene: traditional wooden Japanese houses standing side-by-side, while the tallest building you can see anywhere around you is the old castle. This is the shape of a Japanese city 400 years ago.

From around the corner come a samurai and a woman, both clad in kimono, the sounds of their wooden sandals echoing off the road… If you would like to enjoy the sights and sounds of old, Sasayama in Hyogo prefecture is the place for you. This city, Tamba Sasayama, with a history spanning back over 400 years, is a recognized Japan Heritage site.

About Tamba Sasayama

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Sasayama, which is located slightly to the east of central Hyogo prefecture, was formerly called Tamba no Kuni, and was a spot that travelers had to pass through when heading to the capital of Japan at the time, Kyoto.

In the 16th century, Sasayama Castle was built here under orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun of the time. The oshoin (*1) of Sasayama Castle is very similar to that of Nijo Castle in Kyoto; it is very rare to see examples of such luxurious castles being built outside of Kyoto itself.

*1 Oshoin: a type of architecture used in the construction of upper class mansions or castles.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

In 2015, the entire city of Sasayama, including its architecture, regional songs, and overall culture was recognized as a national heritage site of Japan.

Simply stepping into the streets of Sasayama will have you wondering if you have headed out on a journey back through time.

Put on a Kimono and Stroll Back Through Time

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

If you would like to relish the historical atmosphere of Sasayama on a deeper level, then there is nothing better than strolling through the city in traditional garb of your own. By putting on a kimono and traveling about through the city, you will better be able to feel the history of the area, and will feel more at ease blending into the historical air around you.

Sasayama’s Only Kimono Rental Shop: Hanabishi

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート
【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

Hanabishi, which is located in an old private home in the jokamachi, or castle town area of Sasayama city, is the only kimono rental shop in the area. While not a large shop, they have a great selection of kimono and all the necessary facilities to change into a complete kimono outfit from head to toe. Once you enter the shop, look about on the first floor and choose the kimono and obi that you like most, as well as the best hair ornaments, bag and zori sandals to complete your look, then head to the second floor, with the staff who will help you to transform into your kimono look!

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

Once you are in your kimono in this tatami-floored room, they will also help you to arrange your hair and do some simple make-up as well. There is one important thing you should probably ask them before you head out on your journey. How to use the restroom while wearing a kimono can be difficult if you have never worn one before. Don’t forget to ask.

They will watch your clothes and any valuables you might wish to leave behind while on your stroll for free, but if you wish to also leave your luggage with them there is a 500 yen charge. You’re all set! Now, let’s take a look at some of the must-see spots Sasayama has to offer.

Sasayama Kimono Rental Shop: Hanabishi
Hyogo, Sasayama, Nikaimachi 12-2

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Nikaimachi 12-2
Business Time :9:00-18:00
Accepted Credit Cards :Not Available
Languages :Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages :English, Chinese
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Kasugajinjamae bus stop, it’s right there
Price :from 4000 yen up
Telephone number :070-555-6850
Website: Hanabishi (Japanese, Chinese) http://www.sasayama-kimono.com/

1. The Heart of Sasayama: Sasayama Castle Ruins

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who took control of Japan at its more turbulent time, sought to curtail the scattered power of the warlords and bring about a system of central government, by instituting the tenkabushin system. The tenkabushin was an order of public works wherein the feudal lords of other regions were required to send both money and resources to the central government, thus limiting their own financial power. Because of this, castles in various areas were built or restored, and it is because of it that Sasayama Castle was created.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Sasayama Castle was designed by the master architect of Japanese castles Todo Takatora himself. This castle was a perfect fortress for war, completely prepared to withstand battles as fierce as the Seige of Osaka Castle. Within the grounds of the Sasayama Castle ruins, you will find the tenshudai, a stonewall pedestal upon which the castle tower would have stood, if it had been completed. After the age of civil wars in Japan, the ground where the castle tower would have stood was leveled and played a central role in the politics of the time instead.

History-rich Appearance: Oshoin

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

The Oshoin is the central building of Sasayama Castle. Not only is it located on a spacious plain, but the exquisite appearance and golden interior are very similar to that of the Ninomaru Goten at Nijo Castle in Kyoto. It isn’t hard to see the height of the position that Sasayama Castle held from here. The only difference is that, rather than the roof being gold, it is painted with lacquer instead. From here you can really feel the simple yet elegant artistry behind the Oshoin well.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Unfortunately, because of a fire in 1944, the original Oshoin was completely destroyed; the present structure is a reconstruction, built in 2000. A great number of historical documents were consulted in minute detail, which enabled modern workers to rebuild Oshoin, enabling it to retain its original beauty.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

In Sasayama City, buildings taller than Sasayama Castle are not permitted in order to preserve the beautiful view of the castle as it stands against the sky. From its existing tower down to its jokamachi, or castle town, Sasayama Castle is not only ranked among the 100 Famous Castles of Japan, but is also recognized as being one of the Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan as well. Every April a cherry blossom festival is held here, when the trees are in full bloom – there are 1000 sakura trees surrounding the castle. There are many people that sing songs here while viewing the cherry trees, which give this castle a fun, lively atmosphere every year.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート
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Sasayama Castle Oshoin
Hyogo, Sasayama, Kitashinmachi 2-3

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Kitashinmachi 2-3
Business Time: 9:00-17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
Fixed holidays: Mondays (if a national holiday, closed the next day); Dec.25th-Jan.1st
Languages: Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages :English
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Nikaimachi bus stop, then walk for 5 minutes
Price: Adults 400 yen, high school/university age 200 yen, elementary/jhs age 100 yen
Telephone number :079-552-4500
Website :Sasayama Castle Oshoin (Japanese) http://www.withsasayama.jp/REKIBUN/osyoin_top.htm

2. Wandering in the Castle Town: Old-style House Cafes

After walking through the spacious grounds of the castle, you may find your legs getting a bit tired. It’s time to find a good place where you can not only rest your legs a bit but also satisfy your stomach and rejuvenate. Down in the Sasayama castle town, you will find many different shops housed in renovated old homes, including shops selling souvenirs and regional specialty products like Tamba-yaki pottery, as well as many interesting little cafes as well.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

I visited Iwazabo Tamba Kotori, an old private house turned cafe located about a ten-minute walk to the southwest away from Sasayama Castle. This is one of the most popular cafes in the area.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

Iwazabo Tamba Kotori was built in a renovated mansion where samurai once lived. One of the charms of this cafe is that, while making full advantage of the original structure, more warmth was added to its interior through the decorations chosen by the young shopkeeper.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート
【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

In fact, the shopkeeper’s father is a Tamba-yaki pottery artist, and his work is extensively displayed throughout the cafe. Not only that, but his work is also used as the teaware and other flatware in the cafe too.

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート

Although this cafe is wholly Japanese in appearance, they offer a rare type of Chinese rock tea (a black tea) and homemade sweets as refreshments. Both their biscuits and sweets, which are all made using carefully selected ingredients, are also sold here, and there are many people who come back again and again because of how great they taste.

2
Iwazabo Tamba Kotori
Hyogo, Sasayama, Nishishinmachi 18

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Nishishinmachi 18
Business Time: 11:00-18:00
Fixed holidays: Wednesdays and Thursdays
Accepted Credit Cards: Not Available
Languages :Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages: Japanese
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Nikaimachi bus stop, then pass through the Sasayama Castle site on the south side of the moat. It’s about a 10 minute walk.
Telephone number: 079-556-5630
Website :Iwazabo Tamba Kotori (Japanese) http://kotori-gancha.com/

3. Samurai Residences and Aoyama Historical Village

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Now that we have satisfied our stomachs and rested our legs, it’s time to head off to our next stop! Near Iwazabo Tamba Kotori you will find a group of preserved samurai residences, known as the Samurai Residence Anma Family Historical Archive Hall. Here you can catch a glimpse into the daily life of Japan’s warrior class.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

This is also an excellent photography spot, made even more fantastic when wearing a kimono. It almost feels as though you are taking photos of the past, thanks to the well-preserved historical air of this building.

3-1
Samurai Residence Anma Family Historical Archive Hall
Hyogo, Sasayama, Nishishinmachi 95

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Nishishinmachi 95
Business Time: 9:00-17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
Fixed holidays: Mondays (if a national holiday, closed the next day); Dec.25th-Jan.1st
Languages: Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages :English
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Nikaimachi bus stop, then walk for 15 minutes
Price: Adults 200 yen, high school/university age 100 yen, elementary/jhs age 50 yen
Telephone number: 079-552-6933
Website :Samurai Residence Anma Family Historical Archive Hall (Japanese) http://www.withsasayama.jp/REKIBUN/anma_top.htm

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Aoyama Historical Museum is located in a villa that was owned by the Aoyama family, who once ruled Sasayama, that was converted into a history museum. Here you will find scores of books about the Aoyama family as well as the Tamba Sasayama Dekanshokan, a hall where the history of the first Japan Heritage site is explored.

In 2015, Sasayama City succeeded in their application to become a Japan Heritage site, by submitting the local folk music passed down through generations in combination with the documentation of the area as found at Tamba Sasayama Dekanshokan.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

The dekanshokan hall was inspired by the folk songs of the Sasayama area dating back to the Edo era. As the farmers, who had to work so hard throughout the year were permitted only this day to rest, they are said to have passed this time by having fun, relaxing and singing all day long. By chance, during the Meiji era, a number of students from Sasayama came to the University of Tokyo to study, and it is said that this habit spread throughout Japan as a result.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Sasayama Castle, Sasayama’s special products, culture, technology are incorporated in the lyrics of these songs. By listening to these songs, you can understand what life was like at that time, and really feel the history of the area too.

These songs that made their way across Japan have been inherited by subsequent generations, and now the Tamba Sasayama Dekansho Festival is held at the Sasayama Castle ruins on August 15th and 16th every year.

3-2
Aoyama Historical Museum
Hyogo, Sasayama, Kitashinmachi #48

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Kitashinmachi #48
Business Time: 9:00-17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
Fixed holidays: Mondays (if a national holiday, closed the next day); Dec.25th-Jan.1st
Languages :Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages: –
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Nikaimachi bus stop, then walk for 5 minutes
Price: Adults 300 yen, high school/university age 200 yen, elementary/jhs age 100 yen
Telephone number: 079-552-0056
Website: Aoyama Historical Museum (Japanese)

4. Get a Little Tipsy in the Jokamachi: Houmeishu Horoyoi Jokakura

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

After listening to the history of Sasayama, it’s time to taste some of its history too! Houmeishu Horoyoi Jokakura is a sake brewery founded 220 years ago during the Edo era, that still retains its original architecture. Here you can not only appreciate the architecture, but also understand the wisdom behind it and the process of brewing sake too.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

You can also sample Sasayama sake here. Don’t be shy, give as many types as you like a try and see if you find one that suits your tastes perfectly!

4
Houmeishu Horoyoi Jokakura
Hyogo, Sasayama, Gofukumachi 46

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Gofukumachi 46
Business Time: 9:30-17:00
Fixed holidays: Closed every Tuesday ** There are also times when field trips are not available at the brewery. Consult their website in advance to confirm availability.
Accepted Credit Cards: Not Available
Languages: Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages :-
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the bus for 15 minutes and get off at the Gofukumachi bus stop, it’s right there
Telephone number: 079-552-6338
Website :Houmeishu Horoyoi Jokakura (Japanese) http://www.houmei.com/new-shop.htm

5. Take Another Trip Through Time: Kawaramachi Mercantile Houses District

After enjoying Sasayama ‘s local sake, let’s go for a walk through time once again, and visit the Kawaramachi Mercantile Houses District!

【篠山のんびり旅】篠山城、古民家カフェ、城下町散策を楽しむモデルルート
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Located to the east of Sasayama Castle, this street runs about 500m long and has traditional houses from the Edo era running along both sides.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

‘Tsumairi’ is the term for this type of architecture; while the same Japanese character ‘tsuma’ also means wife, in architectural terms it means gable, and is a Japanese traditional architectural style where the main entrance is on the gabled sides of the building.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Historical districts in Sasayama are heavily protected, which means that this traditional townscape is very well preserved. Once you step foot onto the street you will once again feel as though you have traveled back in time.

Everywhere you look there are traditional buildings with their beautiful white plaster walls and timber. The small shops here, frozen in time as they are, almost seems to be playing hide and seek, just waiting for you to discover them!

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

One of the shops that catches your eye right away is Hakutoya, which sells various cute items. Built in a 200 year old former private home, the shopkeeper is a lovely woman from Kobe. She was immediately drawn to this old Japanese style home, so much so that she commutes about three hours a day to come to work here.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策
【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Items from all around the world are sold in this shop. Things from Europe, America, Africa, and handicrafts from all across Japan are sold here. It goes without saying that Tamba-yaki pottery from Sasayama is also sold here too.

One of the items most recommended by the shopkeeper is this coffee cup which has a cute swallow design painted on it. The soft colors and simple design combined with the delicate image of the swallow and camellia flowers are wonderfully arranged and quite eye-catching.

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

This shop, with its amazing collection of miscellaneous goods that somehow match its historical architecture is a must see spot when you visit Sasayama!

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

After you have shopped about here, please don’t forget to take photos of the streets and buildings themselves to commemorate your trip by! The sheer attention to detail and level of conservation performed in this area is sure to impress even the strictest history buff – I guarantee it!

The combination of the setting sun, kimono, paving stones and old homes is simply stunning and likely to make your social media go crazy with likes once you post a picture or two. No one in their right mind would give up a chance to photograph and keep a piece of a place like this in their memories!

5
Kawaramachi Mercantile Houses District
Hyogo, Sasayama, Kawaramachi

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Kawaramachi
Business Time :Depends on the shop
Fixed holidays :Depends on the shop
Accepted Credit Cards :Not Available
Languages :Japanese
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Hon Sasayama bus stop, it’s right there
Website: Kawaramachi Mercantile Houses District (Japanese) http://tourism.sasayama.jp/2015/01/post-447.html

6. Sasayama Senbon Torii: Oujiyama Inari Shrine

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

This Inari Shrine is located quite close to the Kawaramachi Mercantile Houses District.
From the entrance to the main shrine building there are countless bright vermilion torii gates lining the pathway of Oujiyama Inari Shrine, which is also known as Makekirai Inari. According to legend, during the Edo era eight sumo took their wrestling names from this Inari shrine in Sasayama and went on to win many consecutive victories, which has lead to this shrine being a popular power spot to this day.

Kimono and torii go so well together, so please don’t forget to take a commemorative photo by the torii as well!

6
Oujiyama Inari Shrine
Hyogo, Sasayama, Kawaramachi 92

Address :Hyogo, Sasayama, Kawaramachi 92
Languages: Japanese
Access :From JR Sasayamaguchi Station, take the Shinki Green Bus bound for Sasayama Eigyosho and get off at the Kyoguchibashi bus stop, then walk for 15 minutes
Religion: Shinto
Telephone number: 0795-52-0655
Website :Oujiyama Inari Shrine (Japanese) http://www.makekirai.com/

A Must Eat Dish! Tamba-Sasayama’s Famous Dish: Botan Nabe

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

In addition to the famous and delicious Tamba kuromame, there is another dish that you should really try when visiting the area: botan nabe.

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

Botan nabe is a hot pot style dish made with wild boar meat. Sasayama is surrounded on all four sides by mountains and has a huge population of wild boar, which are hunted for food. The term botan nabe, ‘botan’ meaning peony in Japanese, is said to refer to the arrangement of the meat in the shape of the flower when placed in the pot to cook; that it looks as though the petals of the flower are opening as it cooks. Another possible origin of this name is believed to come from hanafuda, a traditional Japanese card game where flower patterns are matched to one another.

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅
【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

This is the botan nabe served at Iwaya, one of Sasayama’s most popular restaurants. With its thatched roof and sunken hearth, this refined restaurant is the place to go to enjoy botan nabe amid the sounds and scents of the dish boiling steadily away over a charcoal fire.

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅
【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

Although fresh boar meat looks to have a lot of fat in it, it isn’t oily in the slightest. The meat, which has been boiled in a miso stock, has a soft chewiness to it, and a delicious taste that is somewhat different to that of other meats.

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

Here they serve Tamba-Sasayama koshi-hikari rice and seasonal vegetables that are raised by the shopkeepers themselves. The fresh natural taste of the dishes served here is what keeps the customers coming back for more.

【篠山モデルコース】800年の伝統をもつ丹波焼を体験し、古民家に泊まり、窯元を自転車で巡る旅

After savoring the wild boar, it’s time to add a fresh egg to the remaining stock, then pour it over your dish of rice to create tamago-nose gohan (flavored egg on rice). The combination of the rich stock, egg and rice gives the perfect finish to this amazing dish.

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Botan-Nabe at Iwaya
Hyogo, Sasayama, Hiuchiwan 495-1

Address: Hyogo, Sasayama, Hiuchiwan 495-1
Business Time :From 11:00 (last order 20:00)
Fixed holidays :April-Sept. every Thursday, Oct.-March no fixed closures other than Dec. 31st-Jan. 1st
Accepted Credit Cards: Not Available
Languages: Japanese
Menu/Pamphlets in Other Languages :English, Chinese
Access :Take a taxi for 20 minutes from Aino Station
Price :From 3900 yen. Botan nabe is available from Nov.-March, reservations are required in advance.
Telephone number :079-552-0702 or 079-552-4071
Website :Iwaya (Japanese) http://www.iwaya-yosaku.com/

In Conclusion

【篠山漫遊】和服、城跡、古民家 400年の城下町散策

Once you change back into your regular clothing from the kimono your journey through time and space is over. But, luckily, during your trip back through the city you will still be able to see many old Japanese buildings, so it’s not quite over just yet.

Sasayama is a rare place where you can fall back in time and stroll through the Japan of 400 years ago. You may find that your steps become lighter as you wander about, and you will probably find that you are thirsty for more and more knowledge about Sasayama the more you explore. If you would like to submerge yourself in the history and traditions of Japan, I definitely recommend a trip to Sasayama!