Homes of merchants who relied on the water transportation business that linked Sawara to Edo still remain along the 500-meter stretch of the Ono River, which flows into the Tone River, and along Katori Street, which intersects the Ono River. These buildings include the former home of Inoh Tadataka (1745-1818), which was built in 1793 and is a National Historic Site, as well as eight cultural assets designated by Chiba Prefecture consisting of 13 buildings. In 1996, this area became the first nationally designated Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in Kanto.
This district’s landscape is unique in that it reflects the changing times from the late Edo period (1603-1867) to the early Showa period (1926-1989). Moreover, many of the businesses operating in these building today are businesses that have been passed down for generations since the Edo period. Because of these distinguishing characteristics, this district is highly praised as a “living townscape.”
Onogawa to Sawara no Machinami o Kangaeru Kai, a nonprofit group that “considers the landscape of the Ono River and Sawara,” has devoted itself to protecting the historical facilities in Sawara’s Historical District. This group has installed descriptive signs for each of the historic buildings there, which range from traditional warehouse-like buildings used by merchants to Western-style brick structures, to help visitors enjoy the splendid townscape.
Toyo Bridge is a small bridge that crosses the Ono River near Inoh Tadataka’s (1745-1818) Former Residence. This bridge is a rare type of bridge in that it once doubled as an irrigation channel, supplying water from the upper reaches of the Ono River to the rice paddies below where JR Sawara Station now stands. When water was needed during the rice planting season, the bottom center and both sides of the bridge were boarded up so that it could carry water across the river through a conduit inside the bridge. When water was not needed, the boards were removed and the bridge would discharge the water into the Ono River. The water spilling into the river would create “ja ja” (noisy) sounds, giving Toyo Bridge the nickname “Ja Ja Bridge.” Although Toyo Bridge was previously remodeled, it has been replaced with a new bridge that reproduces its original appearance. Toyo Bridge is loved by many local people and has now become a tourist attraction.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), Sawara prospered as a distribution base, funneling goods from all areas of Japan into Edo (present-day Tokyo). As the distribution business grew, Kawasaki Bank opened a branch in Sawara in 1880. Eight years later, the Sawara Branch became Kawasaki Bank’s official headquarters. Then, in 1943, the building became the Sawara Branch of Mitsubishi Bank. In 1989, the building was donated to Katori City.
The Sawara Mitsubishi Building that stands today is a two-story Western-style brick building that was built in 1914. Inside, there is corridor on the second floor and an atrium. In 1991, it was designated as a Tangible Cultural Property by Chiba Prefecture. The Sawara Mitsubishi Building is located 15 minute by foot from JR Sawara Station.
In Sawara, many private shops and homes built in the Edo period (1603-1867) have carefully preserved their traditional hina dolls and various tools for many generations. In 1988, a merchant home in Sawara began exhibiting its dolls and tools. Around the same time, the Inoh Tadataka Museum also began displaying the Inoh family’s dolls. Many shops and homes followed suit and by 2004, as many as 28 private shops and homes were exhibiting historic items. Today, there are 45 exhibition facilities throughout Sawara, which are collectively known as the Sawara Neighborhood Museum (sawara machigurumi hakubutsukan).
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