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Sakura: A Retro Samurai Town Near Narita Airport

Sakura: A Retro Samurai Town Near Narita Airport
Chiara
Chiara
Updated

Just 20 minutes on the train from Narita Airport and an hour away from Tokyo Station, the historical city of Sakura is an ideal spot to stay overnight before an early morning flight, or as an easy sightseeing destination to explore during a long layover.

This former castle town in Chiba Prefecture offers a good introduction to Japanese history and culture, as it was once deeply allied with the Tokugawa clan, who founded the shogunate that ruled over Japan from 1600 until 1867. While the wooden castle no longer stands, there are still remnants of the Sakura Domain’s samurai culture all over town. The last ruler of the domain, Lord Hotta, was a progressive and forward-thinking man for his time, and during the Meiji period Sakura became a major center for studying Western technology, in particular medicine.

What to see in Sakura (6,000 JPY (55 USD))

Once in Sakura, your first stop should be at one of the Tourist Information centers which are located close to Keisei Sakura Station and JR Sakura Station. There, you can pick up a helpful English map, use the free Wi-Fi and even rent a bicycle for the day, which makes it extra easy to get around.

After orienting yourself, get to know the city’s samurai heritage at Bukeyashiki Dori, a street lined with five beautifully reconstructed traditional homes which once belonged to different ranks of samurai. Three of the houses are open to the public, allowing visitors to peek into the elegant and spare rooms, protected by thick thatched roofs, and check out displays of armor. At Kawara House you can try on a heavy samurai helmet, and wander around the orderly food garden.

Keisei Sakura Station Tourist Information Desk

Address: 8-7 Sakae-cho, Sakura, Chiba (Inside Sakura City Tourism Association)

Opening hours: 08:30 - 17:00 (daily, closed during New Years holidays)

JR Sakura Station Tourist Information Center

Address: 169-17 Mutsuzaki, Sakura, Chiba

Opening hours: 09:00 - 17:00 (daily, closed during New Years holidays)

Samurai Houses

Address: 57 Miyakojimachi, Sakura, Chiba

Website: Samurai Houses

Opening hours: 09:00 - 17:00 (daily, last entrance is at 16:30). Closed on Mondays (or Tuesdays if a public holiday falls on a Monday), and during New Years between December 28 - January 4.

Source: Sakura City

Nearby is Hiyodorizaka Slope, the old road samurais used to get to the castle. The slope is covered with hundreds of bamboo trees, bearing a striking resemblance to the Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto. However, this grove is much less crowded than the one in Kyoto, so you can enjoy a little private photoshoot among the tall green plants.

Hiyodorizaka Slope

Address: 5-23 Jonaicho Sakura City Chiba

Access: 15-minute walk from JR Sakura Station, 20-minute walk from Keisei Sakura station

Website: Hiyodorizaka

Like my outfit in this picture? For those of you who would like to delve deeper into Sakura’s samurai culture, the local tourism association has something for you. They organize a unique way to experience the history of Sakura, in the traditional dress which would’ve been worn by warriors centuries ago. They dress you in a traditional kimono and hakama split pants and accompany you on a tour of the most important historic sights in town. The hakama are surprisingly comfortable and fit perfectly with the retro atmosphere.

Sakura City Chiba Samurai Dress Up & Walk About Tour

Website:

Price: 6,000 JPY (55 USD)

A 15-minute walk (or quick bike ride away) is Sakura Castle Park. Although the castle itself was torn down when the feudal system was abolished during the Meiji Restoration, it is still a pleasant place to wander among the deep old moats, which now protect wildlife and ancient trees. The park is a particularly popular destination during the spring: in April sakura cherry trees bloom around the grounds, and in June thousands of irises create a carpet of purple flowers.

Sakura Castle Park

Address: Jonai-cho, Sakura, Chiba

Website: Sakura Castle Park

The park also houses the National Museum of Japanese History. A lot of people think that history museums are boring and dry, but this little gem may just change your mind. Also known as the Rekihaku, this is the only museum in Japan dedicated to comprehensive research about the country’s history and culture. From the very beginning of Japanese civilization to recent food and beauty trends, there is truly something for everyone. My personal favorite exhibits were in Galleries 4,5 and 6, which are dedicated to everyday life in Japan, rituals, folklore and life in the post-war era.

National Museum of Japanese History

Address: 117 Jonai-cho, Sakura, Chiba

Website: National Museum of Japanese History

Opening hours: March–September: 9:30–17:00, October–February: 9:30–16:30, Botanical Garden of Everyday Life: 9:30–16:30 (last entry is 30 minutes before closing) Closed on Mondays (or Tuesdays if a public holiday falls on a Monday), and during New Years between December 27 - January 4.

Price: 600 JPY (5.5 USD) general admission, 250 JPY (3.60 USD) for university students, free admission for high school students and below.

The museum offers lots of interactive exhibits and allows visitors to take photos, which is unusual. The artistic displays and dioramas make for some cool photo ops, particularly when shot in monochrome!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in sakura and also compare the prices with airbnbs in sakura

A little further afield

If you have extra time or are a big fan of nature, rent a bike from the Tourist Information Desk near Keisei Sakura Station and follow the provided map to Sakura Furusato Square. As you pedal along country roads lined with bright green rice fields, you will see a big windmill in the distance which was built to commemorate 400 years of friendship between Japan and the Netherlands. In April the parks hosts the Sakura Tulip Festival, when over 700,000 tulips turn the fields into a colorful ocean of blossoms. Sunflowers bloom in July, while in October countless pink and purple cosmos sway in the autumn breeze.

Sakura Furusato Square

Address: 2714 Usuita, Sakura, Chiba

Website: Sakura Furusato Square

Opening hours: 24 hours

Source: Sakura City

Be sure to try the local ice cream, made with fresh milk from a nearby dairy and Sakura’s renowned green tea!

History buffs will want to head in the opposite direction to see the splendid Former Residence and Garden of Lord Hotta, the last lord of the Sakura Domain. Completed in 1890, it was built in the style of upper-class samurai homes of the earlier Meiji period. The residence is carefully preserved, with elegant artistic details like cloisonné’ door pulls and sliding screen paintings, and surrounded by a manicured garden that combines Japanese and Western elements.

Former Residence and Garden of Lord Hotta

Address: 274 Kaburagimachi, Sakura, Chiba

Opening hours: 09:30 - 16:30 (daily, last entrance is at 16:00). Closed on Mondays (or Tuesdays if a public holiday falls on a Monday), and during New Years between December 28 - January 4.

Website: Former Residence and Garden of Lord Hotta

See our full list of recommended Hotels in sakura and also compare the prices with airbnbs in sakura

What to eat in Sakura

Exploring Sakura’s samurai homes and parks is sure to work up an appetite, and there are a selection of cute restaurants to choose from. If you are visiting on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, head over to Chagato Shinmei, just 10 minutes by foot from Keisei Sakura Station. The cafe is housed in a 100-year old traditional Japanese house that has been in the same family for five generations. Settle on the tatami floors with a cup of tea while the owner whips up tasty, healthy macrobiotic meals and desserts, making this a great spot for vegetarians and vegan visitors. Their homemade Shinmei ice cream is made from tofu and soy milk, a delightful fusion of Western and Japanese cuisine.

Chagoto Shinmei

Address: 1200-1 Kaburagi-machi, Sakura, Chiba, 285-0025, Japan

Opening hours: Friday - Sunday (Closed in July and August) 11:00 - 18:00

Website: Chagoto Shinmei

Much like nearby Narita, one of Sakura’s local specialties is grilled eel, and there are several restaurants like Kashimaen and Kawabataen that have perfected this dish. For an afternoon snack stop by Chasuishin, a lovely retro teahouse that serve Japanese sweets and Sakura-style green tea.

Kashimaen

Address: 197 Tamachi, Sakura, Chiba

Kawabataen

Address: 2712-3 Usuita, Sakura, Chiba

Chasuishin

Address: 192 Shinmachi, Sakura, Chiba

See our full list of recommended Hotels in sakura and also compare the prices with airbnbs in sakura

Where to stay (from USD 27)

Source: Booking.com

Thanks to its proximity to Narita Airport, Sakura is a good spot to spend the night if you have an early flight, as trying to get from Tokyo to Narita Airport in time for a morning flight can be quite stressful. Backpackers and budget travelers will be charmed by Omotenashi Lab, a homey hostel and co-working space ensconced in a renovated townhouse. If you prefer a more private experience, the Sakura Daiichi Hotel is conveniently located near JR Sakura Station, which has regular trains to the airport.

Sakura Daiichi Hotel

Address: 1-13-1, Osakidai, Sakura-shi, Chiba Prefecture

Star Rating: 4 Star

See our full list of recommended Hotels in sakura and also compare the prices with airbnbs in sakura

Local gift tips

Looking for a few gifts to take home? You can easily slip a couple colorful (and airtight) envelopes of seasonal tea into your luggage, or pick up a box of sweets made with Chiba Prefecture’s most famous crop: peanuts!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in sakura and also compare the prices with airbnbs in sakura

How to get to Sakura from Narita and Tokyo

Most of Sakura’s sights can easily be reached by foot or bike from both JR Sakura Station and Keisei Sakura Station, with regular trains that take you directly to Narita Airport in under 30 minutes.

Getting to Sakura from central Tokyo is also easy. One particularly stress-free option is to hop on the Sobu Line Rapid train towards Narita Airport from Tokyo Station, which will get you to Sakura Station in about one hour.

This article is sponsored by Sakura City

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Writer, editor and mezzo soprano based in Tokyo.

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