Last Updated: Sep 10, 2023
Today, I’d like to introduce you to a part of Hiroshima Prefecture that not many tourists know about. Known as Takehara (lit. “Bamboo Field”), this locale was an important port town on the Seto Inland Sea during the Edo period (1603–1868). The homely hamlet specialized in the production of both sake and salt and has a history that reaches back hundreds of years to when it was a subsidiary of Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine. Today, you can still see many of the old houses that belonged to Takehara’s affluent merchants. Thanks to these structures, the town has earned itself the nickname the “Little Kyoto” of Aki, the former name for Hiroshima Prefecture.
Unlike with the eternally popular Miyajima and the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima City, Takehara is a place that is still located far off of the beaten path. Thus, if you visit Takehara, you’re likely to be one of the only non-Japanese travelers there that day. Thanks to this, you can experience strolling around the streets of Takehara without the need to deal with the annoying crowds that you might find at comparable destinations elsewhere in Japan. If you’ve ever been to Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture, Takehara has a very similar vibe but without the normal throngs of people that you tend to find at these kinds of historic sites.
All things considered, Takehara is a great add-on to any travel itinerary that takes you to eastern parts of Hiroshima. While many people only ever explore the mainstays of the prefecture, there is so much more to Hiroshima than most international visitors to Japan know. Especially if you’re planning on and outing to feed the rabbits of Okunoshima (trust me, it’s way better and far cheaper than traditional therapy), Takehara is something that you should not miss out on before continuing on to wherever else you’re going in Japan.
How to Get There
All things considered, there are quite a number of ways to get to Takehara and my recommendation really depends on how you approach the town. For example, if you’re coming from the western half of Hiroshima, you’ll want to either take the JR Kure Line over or instead hop a highway bus to Takehara. Alternatively, if you’re approaching from the east, you’ll want to take a train down from Mihara Station (a ride that affords some truly epic views of the Seto Inland Sea). In either case, refer to a service such as Jorudan to help calculate what’s the best way for you, the reader, to reach Takehara Station.
Assuming that the timing works out for you (and that the experience is even still on offer) I suggest that you take JR West’s etSETOra luxury train from Hiroshima Station. Pictured above, this train runs on the aforementioned JR Kure Line and will take you over to Takehara Station in approximately two hours or so. En route, you’ll be able to sample some local sake, learn about craftsmanship in Hiroshima and relax with some truly spectacular scenery. After pulling into Takehara Station, you’ll be treated to lunch and then will get to enjoy a guided tour of Takehara’s historic areas.
Unfortunately, I have no foresight as to how long the etSETOra tour is going to be available. While I’ll try to keep this article updated in the future, the current page only lists dates up until the end of 2023. If you’re visiting Japan after that, you’re on your own for now when it comes to the etSETOra. While you won’t be able to savor any sake (at least unless you bring some booze yourself) and will be on your own when it comes to exploring the townscape, the option of taking a local train over to Takehara will still be on the menu indefinitely so don’t write this amazing coastal town off just because you can’t take the etSETOra!
Regardless of how you get there, you’ll need to walk on over to where all of the top attractions are located in the center of Takehara. This can basically be done in just a few minutes if you know where you’re going. Just note that while Takehara’s townscape is indeed considered to be an important historical area, it is also a residential one. I shouldn’t need to state this for readers of this blog but please do mind your manners and keep your voices at a suitable level as you waltz your way over.
Though you’ll find the posh NIPPONIA HOTEL and a few other options for hot spring-equipped accommodations in and around Takehara, I suggest that you make it only a day trip. Simply put, the logistics of staying in Takehara don’t combine well with most itineraries. Rather than have to start the next day in Takehara, you’d do better to wake up wherever you’re planning to see next.
What to See in Takehara
Just like with many of the other similar spots that are scattered around Japan, a trip to Takehara should not be thought of merely as a pilgrimage to one or two sites. Instead, it is truly the journey that is the destination here. While there are indeed a number of spots of interest, the real draw here is simply the historic vibe of the township. As you meander about the quiet streets, you’ll be hit with just how much of Takehara’s history has been preserved through the modern era. In fact, I’d wager that you’ll be hard pressed to tell whether or not you’ve slipped back in time to a bygone era.
As noted, there are many places to explore in Takehara and the majority of them can be found along a street called Honmachi-dori. Below, I’ll detail the ones that I would recommend that you swing by but as mentioned above, it’s the beautifully conserved port town itself that is the real allure in Takehara. As always, I’ll provide a link to a Google Map to help you figure out where things are located. Though simply laid out, the endless array of similarly-styled historic buildings can be a bit confusing, especially if you wander down a side street.
- Saiho-ji Temple Complex
While there are a number of small temples in Takehara, none are more worth visiting than Saiho-ji. Perched up upon a hill, the compound can be accessed via a short flight of stairs. The grounds are home to a hall called Fumeikaku that affords a panoramic view of all of Takehara. The spot was also included in the anime Tamayura meaning that it is something of a pilgrimage for fans of the series.
- Taketsuru Brewery
Found not too far from Saiho-ji, the family that ran this sake brewery eventually gave birth to Taketsuru Matsutaka. Something of a visionary, this insightful man broke with tradition and went on to become the so-called “Father of Japanese Whiskey.” After leaving his birthplace, he headed north to Hokkaido and established the famous Nikka Whisky Distillery. If you’re a fan, you absolutely need to swing by and pay your respects!
- Matsusaka Residence
Along with the Yoshii Residence, the oldest surviving domicile in Takehara, the Matsusaka Residence is also worth checking out. While these two aren’t the only surviving family homes in Takehara, they are incredibly emblematic of what the town would have looked like during the days of yesteryear. Since you can enter an explore the inside, it’s highly worth a few minutes of your time.
- Takehara Historical Museum
Located halfway down Honmachi-dori, the Takehara Historical Museum is housed within a building that dates from the Meiji period (1868–1912). Inside, you’ll learn all about the town of Takehara and its history as a mercantile center. Entry will set you back only 200 yen but due to the little English, it’s only suggested if you have a Japanese speaker in your group. Even if you don’t go inside though, you can still enjoy a statue of Taketsuru Masataka and his wife outside.
- Okakae Jizo Statue
If you’re feeling lucky, you’ll want to come by here. Allegedly, if you pick up the large stone near this statue of Jizo, there’s a solid chance that your wish will come true. According to the legend, if the rock feels lighter than expected, the gods will smile on you. Of course, the reverse is also true by definition so be careful…
- Fujii Brewery
Along with salt, one of the things that Takehara is known for is its Japanese sake. These days, the best place to sample some in Takehara is none other than the Fujii Brewery. Situated a little ways off of the main street of Honmachi-dori, Fujii Brewery makes for a great last stop before heading back to Takehara Station.
Lastly, be sure to keep your eyes out for the iconic Takehara lattice craftsmanship when strolling about. Each home is said to have its own unique take, thus giving you something to look forward to when exploring. The variety of designs include spectacular panel lattice art that looks like it was cut out of a piece of paper as well as transverse lattice with many interesting patterns. These works are all examples of the wealth that Takehara had as a city on the Seto Inland Sea and add to the historic vibe.
Other Nearby Attractions
If you’re going to go to Takehara, I also highly suggest that you also budget for enough time to visit Okunoshima. Often referred to internationally just as the “Rabbit Island,” Okunoshima is an isle that actually falls under the jurisdiction of Takehara City. To get there, you’ll need to take a short ferry ride out to the isle. Unfortunately, you’ll need to opt out of the later part of the etSETOra tour to do so but assuming you can convince your Japanese guides to let you do so, it’s totally worth it.
Nearby to Takehara is also the Tadanoumi port as well as the likes of Onomichi. Especially in the case of Onomichi, these additions also combine very well with Takehara and are where I would recommend one plan on overnighting if you are heading to Takehara. As with Okunoshima though, alterations to the set itinerary for the etSETOra tour package are going to cause some complications so it might be better to go it alone if you want to see more of the towns on the Seto Inland Sea.
Finally for those heading back to Hiroshima Station, know that the former Kure Naval District is also something that you could potentially consider before or after Takehara. Here, you’ll find the Yamato Museum (Kure Maritime Museum) which is a great attraction for anyone who is a fan of World War II history. The facility contains a 1/10 scale model of the battleship Yamato, the flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet in World War II and the largest vessel of its kind ever to be built
Until next time travelers…