The Sawara district was once at the height of prosperity, even so that an old humorous poem reads, "Come see Sawara if you want to see Edo (present-day Tokyo), as it is far better than Edo." Sawara was known as "the small Edo in the Hokuso region," and there still remain many traces of what the old commercial area used to look like. Along the 500-meter stretch by the Onogawa River, which flows into the Tonegawa River, there remain many houses of merchants who thrived on water transportation linking the region and Edo. Those merchant homes also dot the 400-meter-long area along the Katori main road, which crosses the river. Such groups of buildings include the former home of Inoh Tadataka (1745-1818), which was built in 1793 and is a government-designated historic site, as well as 8 Chiba Prefecture-recognized cultural properties that consist of 13 buildings. In 1996, Sawara was chosen by the central government as the first important preservation district for groups of traditional buildings in the Kanto region. The characteristics of the important traditional building preservation district in Sawara are that its landscape reflects the changing times from the late Edo Period (1603-1867) to the early Showa Era (1926-1989), and that many of the existing old buildings are still used by people who have taken over their family businesses from past generations. Because of these features, the view of Sawara is highly praised as a "living landscape." Onogawa to Sawara no Machinami o Kangaeru Kai, a nonprofit group "to consider the landscape of the Onogawa River and Sawara," has devoted itself to protecting the historical facilities in the important traditional building preservation zone. Historic buildings there, ranging from traditional warehouse-like facilities used by merchants to Western-style brick structures, have descriptive signs installed by the group to help visitors to Sawara enjoy the splendid townscape. In addition, a boat ride service has recently become available on the Onogawa River. The new service has already gained popularity, partly because passengers can look up at the elegant landscape of the riverside area behind the willows lining the river.

Toyohashi is a small bridge over the Onogawa River. Toyohashi was once used as an irrigation channel to supply water through a conduit inside the bridge. It used to provide water for rice paddies below where JR Sawara Station now stands. The bridge-type waterway, which is situated near the home of Inoh Tadataka (1745-1818) and crosses the Onogawa River, was built to carry water from the upper reaches of the river to the region. Toyohashi was a rare type of bridge in that it carried water across a river. When water was needed during the rice planting season, Toyohashi provided water to the rice fields by covering its bottom center and both sides with boards. If water was not needed, the bridge discharged water into the Onogawa River by removing those boards. Because Toyohashi made "ja ja" (noisy) sounds when releasing water, it was called the "Ja Ja Bridge" and loved by many local people. Although Toyohashi was previously remodeled, it has been replaced with a new one to reproduce its former appearance. Toyohashi has now become the source of attraction for many tourists.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), many goods, such as rice, gathered in Sawara from all areas of Japan, starting with Tohoku (northeast of Japan). By creating sake, miso and soy sauce from rice and providing such processed goods through waterways to Edo, the major consuming area of the time, Sawara earned the nickname of "Edo masari" (Superior to Edo). The prosperity of Sawara remained outstanding in Chiba Prefecture, until more people came to use railways to transport cargoes instead of boats and ships. In 1880, Kawasaki Bank opened its Sawara branch, as the distribution business grew in the nation. The Sawara branch became Kawasaki Bank's official branch office 8 years later. The building currently remaining in Sawara was one built in 1914. The branch office became the Sawara branch of Mitsubishi Bank in 1943, and was donated by Mitsubishi Bank to Katori City in 1989. Made of bricks, the two-story, Western-style building has an atrium inside and there is a corridor on the second floor. The facility was designated a tangible cultural property by Chiba Prefecture in 1991. The Sawara Mitsubishi building is a 15-minute walk from JR Sawara Station.

In Sawara, traditional "hina" dolls and various old tools have long been carefully stored at private shops and houses that almost maintain their original appearance dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1867). Around 1988, a merchant home in Sawara began exhibiting hina dolls and old tools, and the "hina dolls of the Inoh family" have gone on display at the Inoh Tadataka Museum. Many shops have since followed suit, and as many as 28 private homes and stores started exhibiting historic items in 2004. They are known collectively as the Sawara Machigurumi Hakubutsukan (Sawara town-wide museum). There are currently a total of 45 such exhibition facilities throughout Sawara.