Ouchi-juku is not one of the most famous sites in Japan but it is well worth the detour if you are travelling through Tohoku. On your way to this little town you will cut across a typical rural landscape. Rice fields reflect the clouds in the sky with the shiny green of the growing plants. The mountains covered with thick forests frame the flat lands contributing to the feeling of remoteness.
If you are coming by train as I did, get off at Yunokami Onsen station. The old wooden building has a thatched roof. Two ladies work at the counter and at the ever-present souvenir shop. They are so busy to chit-chat that they almost don't notice people waiting in line. Outside kids play on the street without a worry in the world. Nearby, travellers are relaxing in a free foot bath while waiting for the train.
A fancy vintage bus covers the distance from the station to the village from spring to fall and takes around twenty minutes. On arrival you will have to walk up a narrow road for a hundred meters, turn right and you will find yourself in the past.
Ouchi-juku was an important and flourishing post town. During the Edo period it played an important role in connecting the city of Aizu Wakamatsu with Imaichi in the Tochigi Prefecture. The main, and practically only street is made of hard clay. Each of the forty or so wooden houses are covered with a traditional thatched roof. On both sides of the road a clear stream runs into a narrow ditch. Every fifty meters you can find a crate of bottles immersed in the running water to keep them cold.
The little shops and restaurants frame the view creating a lovely atmosphere. Here kids play and run in the open fields, trying to catch bugs and butterflies with a net. Locals sit in the sun chatting, while Old ladies sit in the shade smiling when greeting the clients. The tourists and children eat ice cream resting in the old patios. The sun shines and the flowers decorate the front of every house. Every few hours the shopkeepers literally water the roadway to prevent the dust from blowing. Everything seems to have stopped a hundred years ago.
At the far end of the village a steep staircase guide you to a temple on a hill overlooking the village. On the top you will a find a small temple facing a wide panoramic view covering the whole place. Once back down, follow the small gravel path that goes toward the mountains. On the right you will notice a stand of trees and a torii gate. Here, hidden from sight, you will find an old temple. The whitened wood is covered by wormwood's holes and the structure shows its old age.
The only sounds are the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees. Everything in this town is at a slower pace with its peaceful and warm atmosphere Ouchi-Juku will surely leave you a beautiful memory.
Tip: If you like tempura, head over to Tamakawaya. Fresh seasonal vegetables are transformed into delicious and crunchy sensations. It was one of the tastier tempura I had in Japan. The view from the veranda on the surrounding mountains and rice fields is a bonus.