They catered to the people who went up and down the highway between Edo and Kyoto. Actually, there are a couple of better places where you can see such a townscape from the same era. But what differentiates Arimatsu from the rest is that some of the merchants there can trace back their origin several hundred years and still earn their bread from the same trade as their ancestors did.
The town is alive as it was centuries ago.
One good example is the House of Takeda. According to the current master of the house, the founder started the business in 1610, about four hundred years ago. He invented the tie-dye method which created unique circular patterns on the fabric and sold the products to the wayfarers on Tokaido Road.
It turned out to be a huge hit. They shipped the dyed fabric even to Edo. The town flourished. Although there has been ups and downs since then, the House of Takeda still trade the fabric dyed with the traditional method along with other modern products.
The house stands on the same ground as the original one, although the current one is “only” two hundred and thirty years old. The original house was lost in the fire which engulfed the whole town in late 18th century.
It is sided with a combination of even wooden lattice work and black plastered wall, and adorned by a pine tree, which is a staple of traditional Japanese garden. The roof is covered with traditional dark grey Japanese tiles. It also boasts a small but beautiful annex dedicated to Japanese tea ceremony. The tearoom has been used to entertain the guests, the most prominent of which was Shogun Iyemochi Tokugawa, who ruled Japan just before the Meiji Restoration in late 19th century.
Strolling down the main street of Arimatsu, which stretches about eight hundred meters or half a mile, you will encounter many houses with similar traditional design. Some have been converted to a modern boutique or a café, but some still serves as a venue for the family business like a rice merchant or a hardware store.
Since Arimatsu used to be one of the fifty-three post-towns on Tokaido Road, it appeared on the famous serial woodblock prints work “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” created by Hiroshige, one of the great Ukiyo-e masters in mid-19th century. When you reach the western end of the main street, you come across an almost identical townscape to Hiroshige’s original work.
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