The Samurai town in the North
Perhaps one of the best experiences I have had in Japan was being part of this Samurai Walk in Kakunodate. Something as simple as dressing up in a Kimono (although it was not easy to dress up) and walking around the town, made you feel like being back 300 years in time. The town itself has kept its traditional feel of course with some shops to buy souvenirs from the area, such as tea leave pouches made from the cherry blossom bark which can cost up to 20,000Yen and more. The town itself is very easy to access. There is a train station with which a JR Train comes from Akita station. It is a simple 10-15minute walk towards the centre of the town. Once we arrived at the town we had to change into Kimonos. The girls, looking the prettiest take the longest due to the amount of layers they have to put on. In the end all the men agreed it was worth the wait. The most surprising part of wearing a kimono is how comfortable it actually is for walking, especially the sandals. We were all dressed in our amazing Kimonos and began our Samurai-life experience.
The feel of the Samurai
Walking around the city definitely felt surreal. All along the road were tree leaves with different colour gradients that made the walk to the heart of Kakunodate much more enjoyable. Each season brings a different feel to the town, this time was the colourful autumn that brighten our day. Our destination was one of the oldest and wealthiest samurai house at the time. Once we entered the house we did not want to leave. The notion of being dressed as samurai, in a samurai house of a samurai town adds to amazing feel of the place. The house contains a numerous amount of objects, clothing (armour) and weapons, used by samurai families at the time, scattered around the different areas of the house. In autumn with the change of colour from the leaves, the garden looked spectacular with the sunlight. The size of this huge garden adds to how impressive it would have been to have lived during the samurai period having the wealth this particular family did.
Traditional cherry blossom bark craft
Lastly we headed to learn one of the cities art’s, cherry blossom bark crafting. Our Shishio (Master craftsman) first explained how they obtained the bark and processed it to be ready to use. Each of us had a pre-set design we could choose to make however, adding your own creativity was possible. We drew the layout on a clear paper and used black tracing paper to copy the design on the bark. Once we had all the designs ready the fun began. Crafting showed us the high level of skills required to make the simplest forms of art. We could use several tools to cut from the bark: scissors, utility knife or the traditional chisel knife. Once we cut the pieces the Shishio showed us how to glue the bark to the wood plate. By wetting the bark, placing it on the plate and with a burning iron heat the bark until it is stuck on the plate. This repeated process until our designs were complete. We were lucky enough to join this unique adventure around the town. Many of the local products were made using this kind of bark. As we learned how difficult it was to make something simple, we began to understand why many products were priced above the normal expecting price. After everyone concluded their own work of art we began our walk back to change to our regular clothes which did not feel as thrilling.
Written by Alan Roberto T