Wide open spaces and Edo tradition.
From the moment you step off the train, you find yourself transported to the Edo era, Chiba style. With its drapes and old-school look, the station façade is the beginning of an enchanting visit to the city of water just 45 minutes from Narita International Airport.
Canals dot the small but robust place in Katori city, and the nearby rivers make for perfect cycle vistas. The area is rich in culture and history, and well known for its Grand Float festivals, as well as Katori Jingu shrine. Sawara is also featured on the Japan Heritage list, a compilation of culturally relevant areas put together by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The quaint area is just on the cusp of becoming popular with international visitors, so now’s as good a time as any to investigate for yourself.
The Grand Festival of Sawara and Suigo Sawara Iris Festivals are a particular draw. The former usually takes place in mid-July at the Yasaka shrine and mid-October at the Suwa shrine and has been a celebration packed with carvings, floats, figurines and music for some 300 years.
The latter festival is all month long in June and is resplendent with 1.5 million blooming irises from four hundred different species. It’s located at the Suigo Sawara Ayame Park. Boats take visitors on a leisurely cruise on the waterways within the park. Traditional wedding ceremonies are popular during the month-long event and shuttle buses run from the JR Sawara station.
Just as rewarding is a visit to the Katori Jingu (open 365 days a year) which was founded over 2 millennia ago. Look for the ornate carvings on the roofing in this serene setting which is said, locally, to provide a feeling of rejuvenation to all who visit.
A welcome repose then, for work-weary travelers. You’ll find them gazing in awe at the ancient and sacred trees surrounding the structures. The trees are over a thousand years old. Something to be said for that reviving spirit, it seems.
Cycle and see the city
There’s plenty of photo opportunities of the avian wildlife and tranquil waterways. So, take that leisurely cycle along the Tone River and beyond. Don’t worry about congestion as there are cycle routes that can go for miles without seeing anyone. If you’ve not yet cycled in Japan, this is an easy route to commence with. You can rent your bikes from the Suigo Sawara Association’s Station Front Tourist Information Center.
Closer to town, and inevitably busier, the streets will echo to the sounds of tourists and food sellers as they gather around the delightful Preservation District. This is known as the Edo Masari which means “superior to Edo.” The district is akin to a living museum, with local stores participating to maintain the late Edo to early Showa vibe. If you see a plaque on the storefront, it will showcase the bygone era with its products and ambiance.
Another highlight you’ll find is Toyo Bridge (also called Jaa-Jaa Bridge) over the Ono river in midtown. Formerly used to transport water to the rice paddy fields, it’s now popular due to the sounds it makes when the water is released. This occurs every 30 minutes. One way to see the townscape is to take a tourist boat from here. During those cold winters, get a boat with a Kotatsu (Japanese heated table) which will keep the limbs snug.