Wandering around old Japanese towns is very fulfilling. You can usually get a nice feeling of nostalgia and experience of what life was like living here in small town Japan hundreds of years ago.
Kurashiki is a famous old canal town which prospered from about the year 1600 at the beginning of the Edo period. Kurashiki sits on the Kurashiki river system. This river system was very important to the town as it enabled transportation of the rice grown in the region to be sent to customers further out than would be possible on a cart.
Kurashiki kura (warehouses) line the canal. Today many old kura have been transformed into shops, cafes and museums. One notable merchant residence is the Ohashi samurai/merchant house.
Researching a little further it seems a high ranking samurai, whose name is not known, originally served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, after the defeat of the Toyotomi in Osaka in 1615 this samurai fled to Kyoto and made his home near the Gojyo Ohashi. He subsequently changed his name to Ohashi meaning big bridge as a means to escape the Tokugawa who were out to kill any former Toyotomi supporters.
Ohashi survived, he and his family eventually settled in Kurashiki in 1705. Ohashi developed both rice fields and salt farms in the Kurashiki region and became very successful businessmen.
The Ohashi merchant house stands out from other merchant houses as it is very similar to that of a high ranking samurai family. The whole estate is walled off and there is a main gate which is similar to a samurai residence which would have housed a number of guards. One reason for this is that the Ohashi family residence was also a bank, so one would assume, held a lot of cash. Armed security guards would have roamed the residence detering any thieves. You can still see see the hooks used to hold yari (spears) and small containers used to store lanterns on the walls.
Once past the gatehouse you enter a courtyard which has a lovely little garden. To the right is an old warehouse that is now a mini museum showing some great history of the Ohashi family. Entering the main house, it is easy to see that this residence was owned by wealthy merchants. There is a big kitchen space which would have provided breakfast, lunch and tea for family members and staff. There is also a kind of reception area where a lot of business would have taken place without having people actually entering the main parts of the house. Some European furniture sits on carpet. Only rich and high society families had the money and access to buying such luxuries.
Ohashi residence is one of the oldest, best and historically accurate merchant/samurai residences I have ever been to. It is nice to step back in time and see what old Japan would have been like. Definitely recommend it to anyone who is travelling to Japan.
Photos and words by Stuart.