Kitsuki Samurai Houses

Japan City Guides: The Samurai Houses of Kitsuki

The Samurai Houses of Kitsuki 杵築武家屋敷

Jake Davies

Kitsuki, a small town on the southern edge of the Kunisaki Peninsula in northern Kyushu, is the home of what is often called the smallest castle in Japan. Kitsuki is also the location of a well preserved samurai district with many of the samurai houses open to the public.

The layout of the town does not follow the normal arrangement of castle surrounded by samurai district. surrounded by merchant district, and is therefore considered unique in Japan. Kitsuki Castle is situated on a high point where the river enters the bay.

Guardhouse and lantern at the entrance to the samurai quarter on Kitadai.
Guardhouse and lantern at the entrance to the samurai quarter on Kitadai
Street of samurai houses on Kitadai, Oita, Japan.
Street of samurai houses on Kitadai

Samurai Houses of Kitsuki Location

Down below and to the north is the area that now comprises the town's center with bus station, tourist information office, and plenty of parking. From Kitsuki Castle two long, narrow hills run west to east, in places the slopes almost vertical, creating virtual escarpments, and it was on top of these that the samurai districts were placed, looking down on the narrow space between, where the merchants quarter was sandwiched in.

Of these two hills, the northern one, Kitadai, is where the best collection of samurai houses can be found. From the castle area a long stone-paved slope, Kanjobanosaka, leads up to the top of Kitadai.

From the downtown area to the north or from the merchant area to the south other steeper slopes lead up. Now a single reconstructed guardhouse stands though there were originally five controlling access to the quarter. With their irregular mud plastered walls lining the road it is somewhat reminiscent of the more famous samurai district in Hagi. The feeling of stepping back in time is enhanced by the complete lack of power lines or overhead cables that all too often mar historic districts in Japan.

Ohara Residence, Oita, Japan.
Ohara Residence Garden, Kunisaki, Kyushu
Ohara Residence, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.
Ohara Residence, Kitsuki

Ohara Residence

The biggest and grandest of the houses open to the public is the Ohara Residence, with a thatched roof and large gate house it is suitably impressive as befitting the highest ranked retainers of the local Matsudaira Daimyo. The rooms are all traditionally sparse, though there are a few artifacts, a sword, wall hangings, small table with food, flower arrangements etc.

The large kitchen often has a smoky cooking fire going to further suggest the house is still lived in. What is special about the Ohara house though, is the garden. Many samurai houses had gardens, often quite small and of the "view" style, meant to be enjoyed by sitting in the house and looking out, but the garden at the Ohara house is large and of the "stroll" variety, meant to be walked through. Like many Japanese gardens it is particularly beautiful in the autumn for its leaves.

Open from 9am to 5pm, closed over the New Year. Entrance 200 yen.

Nomi House, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.
Nomi House Entrance, Kitsuki

Nomi House

Almost next door to the Ohara House is the Nomi House. While not quite as grand as the former, and without a nice garden, it is still a pleasant house to look around with the added benefit of a small cafe within serving tea, coffee, and snacks. Another plus is that entry to the house is free.

Open from 9am to 5pm, closed over the New Year.

Nomi House, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.
Nomi House, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu

Isoya House

The Isoya House is another large and grand house that belonged to Kato Yogoemon. The daimyo from the castle used to stop and rest here. Like the Ohara house there are a scattering of artifacts throughout the house as well as another nice, large garden. Isoya House is also home to a small museum displaying artworks, mostly ink paintings, suiboku-ga.

Open from 9am to 5pm, closed over the New Year. Entrance 200 yen.

Isoya Residence, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.
View of the garden from inside the Isoya Residence, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu

Sano Residence

At the other end of the road is the Sano Residence. Constructed in the early 18th century the Sano Residence is believed to be the oldest wooden building still standing in Kitsuki, though it's actually not much to look at. Inside, though, is another matter as the Sano family were long established as doctors and the interior of the house is filed with materials and literature concerned with their profession.

Open from 9am to 5pm, closed over the New Year. Entrance 100 yen.

There is a combined entrance ticket for 800 yen that will get you in to all the samurai houses as well as the castle and the Historical Museum, which displays cultural artifacts and a float from the annual Tenjin Matsuri, which takes place on July 25.

Nomi House, Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.
Garden at Isoya Residence

Kitsuki Access

Kitsuki Station on the Nippo Main Line between Kokura city in Kitakyushu and Kagoshima is 5km outside Kitsuki town. From the station there are taxis to the castle and samurai district.

If coming by car exit the highway at Kitsuki IC. Kitsuki is close to Oita Airport (25-30 minutes) by car. Kitsuki Station is 14 minutes by Sonic Express from Beppu.

There are buses running between Oita Airport and Oita and back. To Kitsuki Bus Terminal which is in the town center the bus takes 30 minutes. The bus continues to Beppu (50 minutes) and Oita Station.

Interior of the Ohara Residence, Japan.
Interior of the Ohara Residence

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