Wakimachi Udatsu Townscape

Wakimachi Udatsu Townscape 脇町うだつ

Jake Davies

Located on the north bank of the Yoshino River in Tokushima Prefecture, and now part of Mima city (美馬市), the former castle town of Wakimachi is home to a picturesque street of historic buildings that evoke the time, centuries ago, when it was a thriving merchant center of the region. There were merchants trading in many different products, but many of them made their wealth with indigo.

The main street of Wakimachi, filled with Edo Period architecture, Shikoku, Japan.
The main street of Wakimachi, filled with Edo Period architecture
Wakimachi udatsu, Shikoku, Japan.
Udatsu are the wall extensions built to prevent fire from travelling to adjacent buildings but often built as symbols of wealth

Known as Aizome in Japanese, this blue dye is virtually synonymous with Japanese fabric and dyeing though we would know it primarily as the color of jeans. It is a dye particularly suitable for cotton, and after silk became forbidden for the lower classes in the 16th century it was replaced by cotton and indigo became much sought after.

It was grown in many places in Japan, but the quality of Tokushima indigo became the benchmark and it dominated the market. About 20 percent of the economy of the Tokushima Domain (Sanuki) was provided by indigo, and the merchants of Wakimachi took their cut of that.

Stretching along almost half a kilometer of the town's main street, enough of the Edo and Meiji Period buildings remain that it was registered as an Important Preservation  District of Historic Buildings and is also listed in the top 100 streets in Japan.

It is often referred to as an "Udatsu" street or townscape because of the architectural feature called udatsu which are upper wall extensions that protrude out from beneath the eaves.

Made of earth and covered in plaster their function was to act as a fire-break to stop flames leaping from one building to another during a fire, however they became symbols of wealth and merchants would compete with their neighbors to erect grander and more ornate udatsu in a game of one-upmanship.

The Yoshida Family House.
The Yoshida Family House. Wealthy indigo merchants, the house is open to the public Prefecture
In the Yoshida House a tableau of Edo Period Japanese indigo merchant doing his accounts on an abacus, Shikoku, Japan.
Wakimachi Gekijo, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku

Many of the old buildings on the street are now private homes, a few are empty, but others have been converted to gift-shops, cafes, restaurants, and one is a ryokan.

The Yoshida Family Home, built in 1792, is open to the public. With 5 buildings arranged around a courtyard, it includes a shop, a small garden, a scale model of the street as well as period furniture and artefacts as well as occasional art exhibits.

Wakimachi Udatsu Street, Shikoku, Japan.
Wakimachi Udatsu Street, Wakimachi, Tokushima Prefecture
Wakimachi Udatsu Townscape, Shikoku, Japan.
Wakimachi Udatsu Townscape, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku

Access

Yoshida-ke Jutaku
53 Oaza Wakimachi
Mima-shi
Tokushima 779-3610
Tel: 0883 53 0960

Open from 9am to 5pm, closed over the New Year.
Entry 510 yen for adults, 250 yen for kids. This ticket also gives free entry to the nearby Wakimachi Theater.

Also nearby is the Former Nagaoka House, an old farmhouse open to the public for free.

Wakimachi Udatsu Street is about 3 kilometers from Anabuki Station on the JR Tokushima Line, 40 minutes by Limited Express from Tokushima Station (1,370 yen) or an hour or 70 minutes by local train (850 yen). The Japan Rail Pass is valid on JR lines.


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