Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Merchants of Kurashiki

Living in the fast paced world of modern Japan, it’s often difficult to imagine what towns and villages might have been like in more simple times. However, Jules and I had a little taste of it when we visited the historic city of Kurashiki, which lies to the west of Osaka. We were on our return journey from Naoshima Island when we decided to investigate the old merchant quarter, which is highly regarded for it’s seventeenth century wooden shops and warehouses (Kurashika actually translates as ‘town of storehouses’).

After a short walk from the station, we turned into a series of narrow laneways, which made us feel as though we were stepping back in time. The area suddenly took on the appearance of a village scene from the Edo period (1603-1867). Electrical poles had disappeared and the architecture of the buildings took on a much more recognisable Japanese style. The gently flowing canal that ran through the centre of the area further enhanced the atmosphere of the old town. Lined with weeping willows, set amongst the autumn colours and with white swans paddling along, it all looked very picturesque. As we stood on one of the arched stone bridges, we could see a small canal boat slowly making its way along the waterway being punted by a boatman in a traditional outfit. This was much as you imagine it might have looked hundreds of years ago, however this time he was carrying tourists rather than merchants or produce. As we admired the scene and as if on queue, a bride and groom arrive to having their wedding photos taken while wearing traditional wedding attire. We thought that it couldn’t get much more authentic than this.

Close by there was a grand neo-classic building that appeared to be oddly out of place and this was somewhat of a bonus for us, as it turned out to be the Ohara Art Museum, which holds one of Japans finest permanent collections of western art. We spend a couple of hours leisurely wandering around the numerous buildings that compile the museum and we left very impressed. In many ways it offered more than some of the museums we had seen on Naoshima, with an excellent cross-section of significant modern and traditional styles. Back on the streets, the tourist numbers had definitely increased with the arrival of a number of tourist buses, although there still appeared to be very few westerners. We seemed to have attracted some attention as a number of people stopped to ask where we are from and to generally practice their English language.

We certainly felt a warm and welcoming atmosphere in Kurashiki (much as it is throughout Japan) and we were really pleased that we had taken the time to stop on our way back to Osaka. However, there was just one more place to visit before we headed home and that was the outlet shopping centre that Jules had spied near the railway station. These were merchants of the more contemporary kind, but she is never one to miss a bargain no matter where we are.

No comments:

Post a Comment