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Shinjo Village, Maniwa District, Okayama Prefecture

Series: Japan Insight

Japan In-depth

Beautiful cherry trees in an old post town, where samurai processions passed throughAlex Arthur Kerr (USA)

Inns where samurai used to stay 400 year ago
Shinjo in the mountains of Okayama prefecture is a village with a charm of its own, that offers plenty to see within easy reach: the historical townscape, cherry trees in blossom, mountain streams and waterfalls, forests and woods, and many other things as well. It is an old post town on the border between Okayama and Tottori prefecture. 400 years ago, the feudal lords of Izumo province at the western end of Japan’s main island used to stop here on their triennial processions to and from the capital of Edo (which is now Tokyo). Buildings in the traditional style have been carefully preserved along the main street, including some of the inns where the feudal lords used to stay with their large retinue of samurai.
The main street is also lined with 137 cherry trees that were planted to celebrate Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and consequently, the street is known as Gaisen-zakura Dori, or “Triumphal Cherry Street.” The 100-year-old trunks and branches have beautiful shapes and are covered with moss in a way unlike anywhere else. When they are in full bloom in the spring, they form a gorgeous “cherry blossom tunnel” that you can walk through. In addition, the sound of the water running alongside the street is also considered particularly pleasant, and has been selected as one of the “Top Hundred Sounds of Japan.”
Japan’s most beautiful village, featured on three different “Top 100” lists
Besides having one of Japan’s top 100 sounds, Shinjo has many other attractions, including two other natural features in town that have been elected to be among Japan’s “Top 100.”
Shinjo lies in the mountains, and the rice paddy with the highest altitude in the whole country is found here. However, despite the high elevation, the terrain is very gentle.
A little bit away from the main street is a large beech grove with a path called Yurikago-no-Komichi (“Cradle Lane”) where you can hear the brook murmur and the songbirds twitter. It is very popular for “forest therapy, ” peaceful walks through the woods for the purpose of rehabilitation. There is also a pretty waterfall nearby, and local villagers offer eco-tours through the protected wetlands.
This path is located at the foot of Mt. Kenashi-yama, where the beech forest has been selected as one of Japan’s “Top 100 Forest Sources of Water,” and the lovely scent of the beech and the dogtooth violet flowers present one of Japan’s “Top Hundred Most Fragrant Landscapes.”
As a place of a multitude of historical and natural attractions, Shinjo is also a member of the “Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Japan.” It certainly has all the qualifications.

From JR Shin-Osaka station, take the Shinkansen to JR Okayama station (50 min.), then continue to via Niimi to Chugoku-Katsuyama station (2 hrs), and then by bus from Chugoku-Katsuyama station (40 min.).
Related sites:
http://www.alex-kerr.com/www_index.html (English)
http://www.chiiori.org/jp/ (Japanese)
Alex Arthur Kerr
Born in Maryland, U.S.A. in 1952; Majored in Japanese Studies in Yale University; Studied in Keio University; Did Chinese Studies in the University of Oxford; Published Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzo, pub: Shinchosha, Japan, 1993 (its English version Lost Japan, pub: Lonely Planet Co., Australia, 1996); The book became popular and was awarded with the Shincho Literature Prize. Besides writing books and articles such as “Inu to Oni” Shirarezaru Nihon no Shozo (“Dog and Demons” Portrait of an Unknown Japan), Kodansha; he is now actively involved in consulting business as a scholar in Eastern culture for public projects such as machiya (Japanese traditional wooden houses) restoration project in Kyoto.