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Tue, Oct 13, 2015 Kameyama, Mie
Living in the present, preserving the past
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Kameyama lies in the north of Mie Prefecture. In the past, it had great strategic importance, as it lay on the Tokaido, the main highway connecting eastern and western Japan. Three old post towns are located within the city, and visitors can find many reminders of the past. The post town of Seki-juku has still about 200 houses dating back over a century, lining the road for some two kilometers. In Kameyama-juku, the culture of the samurai warriors is still kept alive. And Sakashita-juku was located just before the old highway entered Suzuka Pass, one of the most difficult sections on the route. On this edition of Journeys in Japan, Estella Mak explores these post towns, where the past has been preserved to the present day.
Sekijuku Hatago Tamaya Historical Museum
Sekijuku Hatago Tamaya Historical Museum
This building was once a popular lodging known as the "Tamaya", where travelers stayed if they were passing through Seki-juku along the Tokaido highway. It been renovated into a museum where visitors can see what life was like in the old days. The museum can arrange guided tours around the old post town. Reservations must be made by phone at least one week in advance
Hours: 9 am – 4:30 pm
Closed: Monday
Entrance charge: 300 yen
444-1 Sekicho Nakamachi, Kameyama City, Mie Pref. 519-1112;
Tel:+81(0)595-96-0468
Fukawaya
Fukawaya
This shop has been making traditional Japanese confections for 370 years. Known as Sekinoto, the sweets were even delivered to the Emperor's palace in Kyoto.
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm
Closed: Thursday
387 Sekicho Nakamachi, Kameyama City, Mie Pref. 519-1112
tel: +81(0)595-96-0008
Jikonka
Jikonka
This shop sells artisan ceramics, hand-made clothing, woodwork and antiques.
Hours: 11 am – 5 pm
Closed: Wednesday and Thursday
596 Sekicho Nakamachi, Kameyama City, Mie Pref. 519-1112
tel: +81(0)595-96-3339
Ishigaki-ya
Ishigaki-ya
This guesthouse occupies a refurbished traditional timber townhouse built 120 years ago. At present, this is the only accommodation in the Seki-juku district.
Lodging: 3,500 yen per night for shared room; meals not included.
(2,500 yen for guests bringing sleeping bags)
445 Sekicho Nakamachi, Kameyama City, Mie Pref. 519-1112
tel: +81(0)595-96-3680
Jizo-in Temple
Jizo-in Temple
This temple is a landmark of Seki. It has three halls that are designated as national important cultural properties.
Visitors wishing to see inside the main hall are required to make reservations in advance.
Entrance: 500 yen.
1173-2 Sekicho Shinjo, Kameyama City, Mie Pref. 519-1111
tel: +81(0)595-96-0018
Access
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By car from Tokyo, take the Tomei Expressway towards Nagoya. and then change to the Isewangan Expressway at the Toyoda intersection. At the Yokkaichi intersection, change to the Higashi-Meihan Expressway and get off at Kameyama (total driving about 6 hours).
By train from Tokyo, take the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya. From there it's a one-hour ride to Kameyama on the JR Kansai Line (total travel time about 3 hours). To Seki, it's another 6-minute ride from Kameyama Station.
Travel Log

Traveler: Estella Mak > More Info

Nationality:Canadian

Occupation:Reporter, interpreter

Length of residence in Japan:20 years

Reason of coming to Japan: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and Japanese culture has always been part of my life. After studying the language in Canada, I wanted to learn more about people, food and culture of Japan.

I was excited to visit Kameyama and the Tokaido, the old highway that used to run between Tokyo and Kyoto. I was curious to see what was left after hundreds of years. The answer was: more than I expected.

Seki-juku has beautiful old houses lining both sides of the narrow street. It looks a bit like a movie set and felt like traveling back to the Edo Era. I've visited other old towns in Japan, but have never seen so many traditional houses on such a long street. With the mountains and big sky providing a perfect backdrop. I fell in love with this peaceful town. Thanks to the local people, these houses are still well preserved today. As I explored, I admired the architecture and the many historic spots, such as a former inn that has been restored so you can see what it was like in the old days.

Local confectioner Aki Hattori works hard to keep the traditions of Seki-juku alive, including his own specialty sweets. I was delighted to try his sweet rice cakes, which have been enjoyed for more than 300 hundred years. And I am very grateful to him for guiding me around. He told me about the history of Seki-juku, while showing off the architecture and the distinct features of the old buildings.

People in Seki-juku believe the best way to preserve their traditions is to continue living in the original houses, as part of their daily lives. They don't want their hometown to be overwhelmed with tourists and souvenir shops. By converting their old houses into modern businesses — such as a bank, a dry cleaner's, a grocery store or a café — they are adopting the new, while preserving the old.

I also visited the post towns of Kameyama-juku and Sakashita-juku. It was impressive to see that their traditions are also being preserved. Master swordsman Tsutomu Kobayashi has devoted over 35 years to keeping alive traditional swordsmanship for future generations.

In Sakashita-juku, I heard the powerful singing of the Suzuka Mago-uta by a local preservation society. One of the singers was 94 and has been singing for more than 30 years! She still performs with full spirit. Even though the old buildings have vanished, the people are keen to preserve their culture.

At my guesthouse, many people told me Seki-juku is a place they want to come back to over again, sometimes even just after a few weeks — and I'm beginning to feel the same. People there live with tranquility, a love of the past, hospitality and the freedom to just let time flow.

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