2016年11月06日

9月 蔵のまち、喜多方にちいさな秋を訪ねて【英訳】-- Kitakata, the city of warehouses.

Aizu boasts in northern historical trade capital,

Kitakata, the city of warehouses.


September 2016

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Kitakata City, located in the northern Aizu basin, hosts 14 storehouse buildings, including climbing kilns scattered around the city that have been designated as Japan’s “heritage of industrial modernization”. In recent years, “industrial heritage” has been a topic of the World Heritage Sites. “Industrial heritage” is a project Japan has been working on for 10 years to tackle conservation and application of local revitalization to be used as a new asset. It works with buildings from the late Edo Period to the pre-war period that had many remnants of factories and coal mines.

Kitakata once flourished as a town connecting Yonezawa and Aizu Castle with the Yonezawa Route. Due to its high-quality rice and plentiful water resources, many breweries for liquor, miso, and soy sauce were developed. The breweries were highly resistant to the outside air temperature, and they eventually came to be used as homes, becoming a symbol of the wealth of merchants. In Kitakata, building a warehouse is proof of one becoming a man, and there are currently more than 4,000 warehouses lined up in the city.

First, drive for 15 minutes after existing the Aizu Kawahigashi IC. Then dine at Oguni Farm Sarusuberikan near Oguni-numa. It is known for the beautiful view overlooking Kitakata City.

The altitude is approximately 500m. The restaurant is located in Shishizawa Ward overlooking the Aizu Basin among tranquil fields on a one-way street. The restaurant is proud of the fact that they hand-make the soba noodles every morning using buckwheat flour from the local area that’s 100% buckwheat. Go ahead and order the “five sobas” (1,150 yen, comes with kozuyu soup) and “arareten bukkake soba” (1,000 yen). The gorgeous view is paired with soba noodles that are so smooth it’s hard to believe they are 100% buckwheat.

The property is huge, and one can see pony, goat, and rabbit sheds. A relaxing, farm-like atmosphere is present. The Oguni Farm Sarusuberikan is a hidden spot in Kitakata that boasts great food and wonderful scenery all year that lets you forget the busy world.

On the way back, drive by Oguni-numa. Drive for about 30 mins along the mountain roads that gradually become narrower, which may cause some anxiety. Arrive at the Kanazawa Pass that overlooks the marsh known for its mysterious beauty. The marsh was formed approximately 500,000 years ago by volcanic activity and one of the lakes in the plateau exceeds 1,000m in altitude.

One may find walking paths in the marsh designated as a natural treasure. There are walking paths through the marsh that is designated as a natural monument to the Oguni-numa marsh plant community, including day lilies. It serves as a vivid reminder of the beauty of the summer. 

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Mitsuya Brick Warehouses carries the atmosphere of abroad.

The pride of people protects the traditional technique of climbing kilns.


Next is the Mitsuya Brick Warehouses located in a small town outside the city, which is known for its uniquely designed red bricks of the warehouse reminiscent of the European countryside. It is a private residence, and there are currently people living there. However, part of the “Wakana House” is open to the public for a fee (200 yen per adult). When We approached the people living in the main building, they politely showed me around the premises of the warehouse.

The red bricks used in the Mitsuya warehouses were completely made in local kilns. The design of the warehouses, including the shape of the windows and the finish of the eaves, varies by each house. The particularly large storehouse that was previously used for farming was designated as an industrial heritage in 2007 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Going up to the second floor over the stairway chest, one finds a spacious, quiet tatami room filled with beautiful furniture, ancient tools, and old ceramics.

Currently, the 10th generation of the Wakana family is still farming and selling rice, vegetables, grapes, etc. On the premises is a miso warehouse build in the Taisho Era and still being used to this day. The miso produced from hand-grown and handmade rice is not quite as salty but has strong umami. They say that there are many regular customers who order every year. Incidentally, in one corner of the village, there is a popular ramen restaurant, “Red Brick” in the same brick warehouse. Please use it as a landmark when trying to find the site. 

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From there, right in front of your eyes in the Iwatsuki Ward is a large abandoned wooden school building. The building is called “Iwatsuki Musoukan” and is currently used as a lifelong learning facility. If you ask someone at the community center next door, you can also see inside the school. Inside there is an old, nostalgic smell and reminding me of my precious childhood memories.

The Mitsuya climbing kilns that were certified as industrial heritages are nearby. This area has high-quality red soil and large amounts of firewood and has thus produced large quantities between the Meiji and Taisho Eras. They were used as building material for Kitakata’s warehouses. The day We visited they were closed, but I found someone and asked if I could look around, he said it was fine. They also happened to be preparing for the kama-ire (placing the ceramic inside the kiln in), something only done once a year.

The climbing kiln has a width of 5.1m and a depth of 18m. It has 10 steps of stairs and is currently the only remnant firing traditional bricks in Japan. Just as in the snow country, the bricks created here are fired up once unglazed then glazed afterward and fired up again in the kiln to prevent frost damage. The brown glass bricks We saw at the Wakana Family’s place comes to mind.

In order to protect the technology of the kilns, there are volunteers that ignite the kilns each year in the fall as part of a ceremony. Average citizens may also take part in this process if they apply ahead of time (see here for details). 

We thanked the staff member who stopped his work to explain the process to me and bought a yakkoboushi as a souvenir (500 yen).

When firing bricks, a thumb-size clod of soil is placed between the bricks so that the bricks do not fall over. Once this soil’s job is done, they paint a cute face on it and with words; it is enjoyed as a good luck doll for students taken entry examinations, the elderly, etc. 

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How refreshing the hot spring in early autumn.

A relaxing season of vistas and frolicsome abundance.


The sunset gently wraps up a busy day. Try the footbath on the lodge upon the river and gaze at the stream before getting up. The wind blowing up from the surface of the water carries the refreshing scent of autumn.

We selected recommended local Sake for tonight as well to go along with a meal anticipating the season of abundance. Today you can view Noh theater across the river from inside the bath, a very elegant room. There’s no way not to enjoy this entertainment. 

After taking a break, head to the Tennei Onsen. The hot spring has a rustic private bath with large floor space that is well suited for groups and those with children. From the large window visitors one can see the lit-up river right in front of their eyes. Turn off the bathroom light and experience the fantastic view emerging in the dark. 

Colorful local vegetables make a new appearance at the breakfast buffet, as well as a return of the “maboroshi no Kitakata ramen” that I requested.

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Time passes with an overwhelming sense of presence

and feel the character of the daihainden (prayer house) and storehouses.


There is one place We absolutely recommend when visiting the Kitakata area. It is the nagatoko in the Shingu Kumano Shrine. The nagatoko that is said to have been constructed from the Heian to early Kamakura Eras, has no partitions or fittings and is a daihanden made with a Shinden-zukuri style. It is also designated as one of Japan’s important cultural properties.

Pay the entrance fee at the shrine office (300 yen per adult) and start by looking around the building. Pounded by rain that came in through the creaks, the worship hall is wrapped rigidly. On the side stands a large ginko that’s 800 years old, in just the position to protect the sacred place. In the corner there is a treasure house, the “Mokuzou Monju Bosatsu Kishi Statue”, and other cultural assets that tell the history of the origin of this temple. 

We went back to the city and headed to the “Kai Residences” that serve as a symbol of Kitakata and are must-see spots. The buildings were created in the Taisho Period and were known as splendid buildings that were based off of warehouses.You can see the extravagant lifestyle of those that made a fortune in the brewing and spinning industries. The descendants currently live in the building and tourists are only offered during certain parts of the year. When they are open, an on-site volunteer guide will explain the exhibitions.

Pay the admission fee at the entrance (adults 400 yen) and follow the route inside for the tour. It took seven years to complete this 93m2 storehouse masterpiece. Shihoumasa cypresses, red sandalwood, ebony, yakusugi, tagayasan, and other select trees are generously used. At present, there is a storehouse operating on the street selling souvenirs. There is one large zelkova cut out and made into a rare helical “hanging stairway”. Even now it permeates a robust sense of presence.

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People are towns. Towns are people.

Meet the treasure of hospitality in the land of joy.


We stopped by “Yamanaka Senbei Honpo”, and tried the shichirin handbaking rice crackers experience (500 yen, comes with rice crackers souvenir). Anshoji Temple is close by and it’s a rare temple because the former main hall was rebuilt after a large fire as a warning. It was thus rebuilt with the walls covered with mud to be strongly fire-resistant. In Kitakata, from the post office, to credit unions, to public restrooms, one can find buildings that employ the design of the warehouses everywhere. It makes me feel how conscious the people who protected the cityscape was.

 The “Horse-Drawn Carriage Station” also functions as a waiting spot for sightseeing horse-drawn carriage rides. The “Horse-Drawn Carriage Station” was on “Odazuki Street”, a place where many warehouses from the Middle Meiji Era remain. Currently, the horse-drawn carriage rides are unfortunately no longer running. In a corner of the restaurant “Kurayashiki Azumasa” on the other side of the street, one can go in the “Urushi Art Museum” for free and see one of the carriages. They also sell souvenirs inside, including a large selectin of ordinary lacquerware to artwork handcrafted by craftsman, which is good for the eyes. In the Taisho Era, the Matsuzaki warehouses were said to be the largest rice grain dealer in Fukushima. Their shops were rebuilt with magnificent construction. The handmade soba noodles made with 100% buckwheat flour and the dengaku are wonderful items.

There are many places to play around in the city of Kitakata including great scenery and amazing food. In addition, when We met the Aizu locals I felt the pride and emotion they had for the hometown. We was met with kind hospitality and interesting talks with the enthusiastic locals.

On the way home, We saw a sentimental autumn sunset with some dragonflies flying gleefully, a nostalgic world of song. Rice heads arrange a golden stage and wait with their heads down for the fields will to be dyed.



Special Edition (Introduction to Kitakata Ramen)

Kitakata ramen is one of Japan’s top three types of ramen. Its noodles are thick, flat, crinkled and are made using large amounts of water. They’re paired with a light soy sauce broth. Various styles of restaurants have appeared recently. We listed several restaurants here for reference.


Abe Shokudou

A well-known restaurant the locals frequent as well. Traditional Chinese soba with a soy sauce based made from tonkotsu or dried sardines (650 yen).

Address: 4506, Midori-cho, Kitakata-shi, Fukushima

Tel: 0241-22-2004

Business hours: 7:30-15:00*As long as the broth lasts

Closed Wednesdays (open when Wednesday is a national holiday)

Parking lot available

http://www.ramenkai.com/list/detail.php?i=15

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Shanghai

The owner studied ramen in China and set up shop in 1948. They recommend chashu noodles (800 yen).

Address: Aza 2-4650, Kitakata-shi, Fukushima

Tel: 0241-22-0563

Business hours: 9:30-16:00*Dec-Mar 10:30-15:00

Closed Thursdays

Parking lot available

http://www.ramenkai.com/list/detail.php?i=43

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Shiokawaya

The sign menu lists sea ramen (650 yen), a clear salt based soup made from clam. The chashu uses Egoma Pork.

Address: Aza 1-4544, Kitakata-shi, Fukushima

Tel: 0241-24-2520

Business hours: 11:00-14:0018:00-22:00

Closed Mondays (when Monday is a national holiday open and closed on following Tuesday)

Parking lot available

http://mediateshiokawa.jp/

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