With Isabella Bird — Part 2: On the Road to Tsugawa
British explorer and writer Isabella Bird arrived in Japan in 1878, a mere 10 years after the country opened its doors to the West. Accompanied by just one young man who served as both her interpreter and attendant, she traveled deep into the hinterland. Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is her highly praised travelogue of that journey. It is a valuable record written from the perspective of a devout Christian endowed with critical thinking, which smashed the fairytale image of Japan that had spread in Western countries. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, US writer Benjamin Boas traces Bird's footsteps, looking for vestiges of the Japan of 150 years ago. Starting from Kinugawa Onsen, he makes his way to the Aizu region and then to the town of Tsugawa, in Niigata Prefecture.

Ouchi-juku (Historic Post Town)

Like a time capsule from the Edo period, the thatched-roof buildings in this former post town remain virtually untouched since the days when Isabella Bird stayed there.

Aizu Hariko (Local Papier-mâché Folk Craft)

This traditional folk craft dating back to the Edo period is known for its iconic akabeko (toy cows), which are believed to bring good luck, especially for new-born babies.

Tsugawa (River Port Town)

This town was formerly a hub for goods shipped by boat to and from the Sea of Japan coast. It is also the place of origin for a traditional architectural style known as gangi, using wooden boards under the eaves of the houses to prevent snow from coming in.


From Tokyo, trains to Kinugawa Onsen take about three hours. To reach the Aizu area and Tsugawa, you can use the local train or bus services.