Jokamachi or Japan’s Castle Town
In Search of the Samurai Spirit
Military heritage in Japanese cities
Nostalgia for the good old Edo times
Jokamachi (城下町), literally ““town below the castle” or “castle town” refers to a type of urban structures in Japan in which the city surrounds a feudal lord’s castle.
Dating back to the Sengoku period (1467-1568) and the Edo period (1603 – 1868), Jokamachi functions both as a military base represented by the castle and an administrative and commercial city. Inhabited mostly by samurai, but also by craftsmen and merchants, the castle town was divided in areas according to the social status, the highest class being located closest to the castle.
In the Edo period, Jokamachi served less as a military base but more as a political and economic capital for the Bakufu (government) and Han (domains).
Nowadays, more than half of Japan cities with a population of over 100,000 are former Jokamachi. And thanks to the number of these Jokamachi, the majority of the buildings that remain today were once samurai’s residences that look remarkably similar to how they did in the Edo era.
If you want to experience the atmosphere of old Japan, there’s no better place than Kyoto or Kanazawa, but there are several other very beautiful historic medieval cities with old streets and old preserved residences to visit.
- Hagi (Yamaguchi) is an impeccably preserved example of a feudal Japanese town.
- Tsuwano (Shimane), known as the “Little Kyoto of the San-in Region”, nestled in a steep, unspoilt valley in the mountains of Shimane.
- Izushi (Hyogo), famous for its beautiful streets, in a mountain valley in northern Hyogo Prefecture.
- Omihachiman (Shiga), a mall castle town intersected by idyllic canals, that flourished as a transportation hub on Lake Biwa.
- Kakunodate, with samurai district homes that have been preserved in a marvelously unspoiled state.