Yakage Honjin is the inn on the town’s main street where feudal lords would stay while on their journey to Edo (the capital of Japan). Now a museum, it is a magnificent collection of rooms and buildings which perfectly illustrate the prosperity of the Edo era.
At any given time throughout the year,Yakage Town would have had to accommodate all of the members of a lord’s entourage, which could number well over 600 people and include dozens of horses.
The Honjin would have been where the lord and his closest personal assistants stayed while the other members of his procession would have been lodged elsewhere in the town center. In fact, there were sixty-seven houses conscripted for this purpose.
Essentially, the front of the estate was designated for use by a visiting lord who would have entered through a separate private entrance. When visiting, a wooden plaque (paper was later used) was set against a wall to signify who was currently staying at the inn. A stay could have been a few days or a few hours as lords did not always remain for the entire night.
There were some lords who preferred to stay in the section of the estate with a view of the Oda River that is referred to as the “vacation house”. The lord of the Hagi Domain in Shimane in particular liked to go fishing on the river and be able to eat his catch right away.
Inside the main section of the inn you can appreciate the attention to detail as each area was painstakingly designed to consider the sunlight, function and formality of the space, using nature as the inspiration for the motifs strategically placed in each room.
One such example is the wooden frame above the entrance to the feudal lords resting room where grapes, which symbolized the hope of having many children, are carved in stencil form along with squirrels, mice and butterflies. At the right time of day, the sunlight shines through and casts shadowy reflections of the designs on the ceiling.
The room next to the lord’s chambers has both a view of an inner garden and mountain that was designed after a similar well-known vista in Kyoto.
Although the Honjin is actually a privately owned estate that was the residence of the Ishii family, its status as a historic site has meant that public funds were granted for restoration and preservation.
After use as an inn for visiting lords was no longer required the estate continued to be used as a sake (rice wine) brewery through the Showa era. This was one of the main sources of the family’s income for hundreds of years. The implements used is the sake-making process are on display the Honjin’s warehouse.
The rear of the estate provides a look into the life of its owners as it was their living space. There you will see the kitchen and the connected servant’s quarters. There is a courtyard beyond this section, serving as a further reminder of the opulence that the Honjin’s residents and visitors once enjoyed.
About the Area
Yakage is is often referred to as a “post town”, meaning it was one of the designated stops on the road to Edo (the former name of today’s Tokyo). During the feudal era, regional lords from around Japan were required to make the trip to pay homage to the country’s central ruler.
Lords from West Japan would have traveled along a set route with the halfway point to Edo being Osaka. In Yakage, the Daimyo or lord, attended by his retinue, would have acquired food and lodging for a reserved period of time.
Access: From Okayama Station, take the Hakubi Line to Kiyone Station. Transfer to the Ibara Line and get off at Yakage Station (About 50 minutes total travel time).
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