Katori is situated in the northeastern part of Chiba Prefecture and is 15 km northeast of Narita International Airport and 67 km from Tokyo. It has a population of about 80,000 and covers an area of 262 km2. Located near the Tone River, which has a nostalgic atmosphere unique to riverside districts, Katori is abundant in water and greenery. With agriculture as its core industry, Katori City is one of the most prominent farming areas in Chiba Prefecture. Katori is also well known as the home of Inoh Tadataka (1745-1818), the man who created the first complete map of Japan. Additionally, many historic sites, as well as elements of traditional culture, still remain in the city, highlighting the rich history of Katori.
More than 2,000 years ago, people gathered around the Sea of Katori (Katorinoumi), an ancient inlet that flowed into the vast ocean, in search of fish and shellfish in the coastal regions and food in the mountains. They set up a shrine to pray for protection against natural disasters that threatened their livelihood and built a spiritually rich and peaceful society. This community eventually developed into what we know today as Katori City, with Sawara at its center.
In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the military ruler of Edo (present-day Tokyo), began a major public works project to prevent the frequent flooding of the Tone River. This was accomplished by changing its course so that it would flow into the Pacific Ocean at Choshi, instead of at its original outlet in Tokyo Bay. This project was completed in the mid-Edo period (1603-1867), 64 years after its start.
After the Tone River was diverted, connecting Katori with Edo, Sawara began to flourish and became known as the “kitchen of Edo.” Sawara became a leading distribution base and ambitious merchants traveled there from as far as the western Kansai region, fueling the rapid development of Sawara. It became so prosperous, that there is even an old humorous poem that reads, “Come see Sawara if you want to see Edo, as it is far better than Edo.”
Additionally, Sawara became a hub for water excursions. Kioroshi Chabune, a boat ride service on the Tone River used for visiting Katori Jingū Shrine, Kashima Jingū Shrine, and Ikisu Jingū Shrine, the three most renowned shrines in Kanto, also became incredibly popular, with 17,000 people using its service annually. However, this service came to an end after the 1832 eruption of Mt. Asama caused sediment to accumulate in the Tone River.
Yet, despite its remarkable prosperity, water transportation gradually declined in Sawara, as an increasing number of people began to use automobiles in the early Showa period (1926-1989). Although a new boat ride service touring Sawara, Itako, and Kashima was popular, the completion of Suigo-Ōhashi Bridge in 1936, which crosses the Tone River and connects Chiba Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture, further paved the way to the era of motorization, leading to the demise of water excursions.
However, Sawara has continued to prosper as a well-known year-round tourist destination. The Sawara Grand Festival, which originated from Sawara’s water culture during the Edo period, has since become much more deeply rooted in the local residents. It is now one of the main tourist attractions. Suigo Sawara Ayame Park, which opened in 1969 in conjunction with the land development of Shinshima district, is famous for its Iris Festival, which is held every June. In the 1990s, local officials and residents began to work together to promote tourism in an effort to revitalize the local communities. As a first step, they cleaned up the Ono River, which runs through Sawara’s Historical District, and successfully restored old merchant houses as valuable historic facilities. As a result, the magnificent scenery of Sawara’s Historical District has been designated by the national government as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
Historically and culturally rich, Sawara has the nostalgic atmosphere of a prosperous town that was pivotal to Edo’s success. With so much to see, do, and experience in Sawara, we encourage you to check our city out. We look forward to your visit!
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