Sponsored by Oita Prefecture/Tourism Oita
When we think of Japanese fighters, two words pop to mind: Ninjas and Samurai. Well now is your chance to re-live that great childhood fantasy by taking a peak into the living, breathing world of Samurai culture. Wander around their perfectly in-tact houses, peer down the stoned streets in which they used to roam and try on some Samurai amour for yourself. Kitsuki City holds within in walls the unique opportunity to see the life of the Samurai and it’s not something you want to miss.
The perfectly, round shaped tufty trees, the spotless streets and perhaps one of the only places in Japan to have the power lines underground, make Kitsuki a traditional, serine paradise, packed full of exquisite simplicity and beauty.
The area holds not only beauty but also the great and interesting history of real Samurai warriors around the areas of Suyanosaka and Shioyanosaka slopes. Such slopes have become an icon of the area, in the way they slope up at either side of the main, commercial district lying between, creating what looks like an open book filled with the pages of Samurai history, the kind of which is said to be the only one of its kind in Japan.
Suyanosaka (Vinegar shop’s slope)
Suyanosaka translates as the ‘vinegar shop’s slope’, so named because there used to be a vinegar shop at the bottom. The slope is iconic, pristine and shaded partly with the foliage of hanging trees from house gardens. The cobbled walkway is bordered with traditional, beautiful and charming houses, which match perfectly to the greys of the cobblestones. Each house is absolutely flawless and the atmosphere gets more and more peaceful the further and further away you get from the sound of cars and traffic. This is the perfect place to wear a kimono, and luckily these can be rented and dressed for you conveniently from stores nearby on the commercial street. It would not only make for stunning photos, but it would also be a magical, one in a lifetime experience that is only available in Japan. So, I would highly recommend it.
Towards the top of this slope are the Minami-dai Samurai residences, kitsuki castle town historical museum and a spectacular viewing point. The viewing point is a small walk further uphill but taking in the breathtaking view of the tops of archaic roofs, distant glistening sea and the beaming kitsuki castle is absolutely worth it.
On the other side of this open book town is the most iconic slope in Kitsiki, Shioyanosaka slope. With charming, jaunty cobbles, monuments marking the top and a unique view of the entirely of the two slope, it is incredibly photogenic, but it does not come without it’s own, unique and interesting history.
The slope is in fact wider at the top than it is at the bottom. This is because, in the Edo period, the upper area of the slope was used when the samurai were preparing for battle. It also made it easier for them to attack, since they had a lot of space, and easier for them to defend at the bottom, since it gave the enemy less space.
Located on this side of the open booked castle town is what is dubbed by many as the best of the old samurai residences, the Ohara’s residence. Features like its traditional thatched roof, grand exterior and elegant matching Japanese garden gives this house its incredible touristic status, but this is not the only Samurai house available for viewing on this side of the commercial district. So why not take a stroll down Kita-dai to explore more Samurai residences, many of which are available to view for free.
Unfortunately, the main iconic areas of Suyanosaka and Shioyanosaka are located just under an hours walk straight from the station. And, if you like walking, this could well be a nice stroll to take considering the beauty of the area. Otherwise, you can take a Kitsuki kanko bus or Oita Kotsu bus to the area, from Kitsuki station bound for kitsuki bus terminal and get off at Kitsuki kusho-mae bus stop, though these buses are fairly sparse, or easily take a taxi from the station (around ¥1,500 each way). Luckily, my taxi driver spoke perfect English and continued to tell me all about the area I was visiting. He even got out the car to get me a map. The Samurai residences are also conveniently located near the tourist information center, so it might be worth visiting there first to get maps and some English information, but be wary that the place shuts at around 5pm.
Take a stroll
It takes about one hour to stroll around the beauty of these residences, though I would not be surprised if you wanted to soak in more of the calm Kitsuki atmosphere. Strolling around the authentic remaining samurai districts is best done in a Kimono. In fact, it is so popular that the district even has a “Kimono thanks giving day”, held every third Saturday of every month. On this day, you can enjoy special privileges such as a cherry on your cake simply by wearing a kimono.
With it’s elegant style and traditional feel, this place could be likened to a smaller version of Kyoto but with the massive advantage of being far less touristy and therefore feeling a lot more like an authentic experience.