Translated by Hilary Keyes
Jokamachi (Castle Town) - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by MATCHA
Jōkamachi are towns built around a castle which has defined the history of the region, such as Himeji and Nagoya. These historical cities are a great way to experience the Japanese culture!
Jokamachi is the term used to describe the towns throughout Japan that sprung up around castles. From the Sengoku era to the Edo era, each region had their own daimyō, (ruling feudal lord) who had their own castle that these towns developed around.
What Sets Jokamachi Apart?
Jokamachi played a large role in the defense of the castle, so various defensive structures can still be found throughout these towns. Moats, earthen embankments, stone walls, houses built with no gaps between them, blind alleys and more are all meant to confuse enemies and defend the castle from attacks.
Another line of defense were the buke-machi, the areas with warrior residences, kept closest to the castle. Past those, you'd the houses of traders and merchants, followed by temples and so on. Each ring outward represented the social status and occupation of the people that lived in it. The town of Gofukumachi (呉服町) in Fukuoka prefecture is a remnant of these times, as it was a prosperous dry-goods and fabric district.
Thanks to the number of these jōkamachi, and their layout, the majority of the buildings that remain today were once warrior's residences that look remarkably similar to how they did in the Edo era. Because of this, many of these cities are called Little Kyoto. Because their deep sense of history is preserved through festivals and longstanding customs, living in the "daimyo's home territory" is held as a source of pride. These areas are known for their dignified atmosphere.
Scenery Marked by the Traces of History
Image from Run Through The End Of The Edo Era In Retro Fushimi & Ryōma Shopping Streets (Japanese)
If you want to experience the atmosphere of old Japan, there's no better place than the ancient capital, Kyoto. Near Fushimi Castle and Nijo Castle you can find many popular attractions where you can truly enjoy the historical atmosphere.
Hyogo prefecture's Himeji city is home to Shirasagijo, or Himeji Castle, and is perhaps the most famous of the remaining jokamachi. Throughout the 400 years since it was constructed, this precious castle has been continually repaired and lovingly preserved so that it stands proudly over the city even now.
In Kanazawa city, Ishikawa prefecture, traces of the affluence and glory of this castle town may still be seen in their magnificent gardens, of which Kenrokuen ranks as one of the top three most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. It escaped the fire-bombings of World War II and still retains the appearance it had when it was a samurai's residence.
Other well-known jokamachi are Osaka, Nagoya and Sendai. Nearly all of the modern metropolises were castle towns at one time. Little Kyotos can be found in Kamo city (Niigata), Obama (Fukui), Tatsuno (Hyogo), Onomichi (Hiroshima) and others.
The charms of jokamachi are not only found in their castles and warriors' residences; traditional crafts, sake breweries food culture as well as other longstanding customs are preserved in these areas, making castle towns the best place to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and its continuous inheritance. Moreover, there are schools, museums and archives in these areas where you can find the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in their history.
These castle towns have a different feel to them than other cities in Japan. If you would like to experience the slow passage of time as you enjoy sightseeing and delicious local foods, you should head to one of the castle towns that have been mentioned here.