The small single-car train crosses the Japanese countryside, the rice fields, and then is surrounded by mountains. Pass a station with a cat stationmaste and stop at a small thatched station.
A short bus ride and you find yourself in the Edo period, on the Aizu Nishi-Kaido that connects Aizu to Nikko and then to the ancoent capital Edo. On the sides of the dusty road, were wooden houses with thatched roofs are ready to welcome the traveler with a bowl of steaming negisoba, to be eaten with spring onion. A couple of hours are enough to visit Ouchijuku and at sunset, when the sliding doors of the restaurants and shops close, the parking lot empties and the last bus leaves for the station, Ouchijuku welcomes the traveler who here seeks rest just like it happened in the past.
Ouchijuku is a small village often visited as an excursion by Aizu Wakamatsu, which still appears as it did 300 years ago, when it was a busy post town crossed by Daimyo and Samurai who moved between the capital and their territories in northern Japan. Today, as then, there are restaurants and shops selling local products here, although of course, the products sold have changed according to the period.
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Most of these traditional houses are still inhabited and in three of them (one currently under renovation) it is also possible to overnight.
Spending the night in one of these traditional buildings, enjoying local delicacies with a homemade taste, with the starry sky outside the window and the sound that awakens the countryside at dawn, is an experience so far from the traffic and lights of Tokyo and it is impossible not to wonder how in Japan the constant balancing of contrasts manages to create perfect magic, able to tie your heart double-stranded.
What to see in Ouchijuku
Ouchijuku can be easily visited in half a day, and the main attraction is walking on the ancient Aizu Nishi Kaido, surrounded by traditional houses and immersed in a past Japan.
Sake lovers can taste and buy a local sake at the distillery at the beginning of the street, while around the middle of the village you can visit the Honjin, the old main inn where the Daimyos were housed, now converted into a museum that collects furnishings used in the region during the Edo period.
For a splendid view of the thatched roof houses and the whole village of Ouchijuku, walk to the end of the street, where steps will lead you to a temple and to the viewpoint surrounded by greenery. I am sure you will get excited and watching the comings and goings of people on the Nishi Kaido, you will really feel like you have traveled in time.
Although it is a small village, Ouchijuku is crowded with tourists all year round, thanks also to the bucolic landscape that surrounds it and makes it a perfect postcard in any season, so if you want to enjoy its magical atmosphere with tranquility, you I recommend you stop and stay overnight in one of its traditional houses.
The three minshuku Iseya, Honke Ogiya and Yamagataya (currently not available for overnight stays) have just a couple of rooms each and must be booked by contacting them directly, through my consultancy and travel design service I can also help you by assisting you for this type of bookings.
The minshuku are a sort of Japanese b&b: a family environment where you can experience the traditional rooms with futons and tatami mats, with the bathroom outside the room and the ofuro tub. Meals are home cooked, with fresh and genuine ingredients, always following the style of traditional Japanese cuisine. In short, they are the most familiar version of the luxurious ryokan.
We stayed at Iseya, which during the day is also a nice cafe, and in addition to the peace that has given us to fall asleep seeing an intense starry sky from the window and waking up with sounds of the countryside in midsummer, we have very much appreciated the delicious cuisine and the freshness of ingredients, all from the fields around Ouchijuku. An experience that I can only recommend!
The story of Ouchijuku’s negi soba
The symbol dish, as well as almost the only one you will find, of Ouchijuku is negisoba, or soba that must be eaten using a green onion instead of chopsticks.
It seems that in the Edo period, the lord of Aizu was returning from a village in Nagano prefecture, and during the break in Ouchijuku one of the servants of the Takato clan of Nagano who was traveling with him, was seen eating soba with chopped daikon on top and accompanied by a spring onion (negi). The servant explained that it was a local custom of his area of origin and this dish spread in the Aizu area with the name of “Takato Soba“.
Later, the Misawaya restaurant in Ouchijuku came up with the idea of using spring onion instead of chopsticks, so that it was eaten as the soba were swallowed, rather than just adding it as a condiment and since then it has become the symbolic dish of Ouchijuku!
How to get to Ouchijuku
To get to the village of Ouchijuku you will necessarily have to take a taxi or the shuttle bus (cost 1,000 Yen round trip, notify them when you get on if you are staying in Ouchijuku) for about 20 minutes from Yunokami Onsen station, which is one of the most cute station of Japan with a free ashiyu (foot onsen) and a thatched roof!
Yunokami Onsen station is on the Aizu Railwail line (therefore not covered by the Japan Rail Pass) and can be reached in 35 minutes from Aizu Wakamatsu, 1,050 Yen, or about 2.5 hours from Nikko, via Yunishigawa Onsen for 2,740 Yen.
Check my YouTube Video to feel more of this magic atmosphere:
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