Sawara （佐原） is one of the Kantō Region's "date daytrip" towns. Though nowhere near in the same league as Kamakura and Kawagoe in terms of abekku action, a former transhipment point near the mouth of the great Tonegawa boasts a precious and charming collection of Edo, Meiji and Taishō buildings clustered along the willow-lined Onogawa, a narrow navigable waterway.
Sawara looks like a movie set. Indeed, it has been frequently used as the backdrop for television dramas and commercials. Visit the Seijō tsukudani store to see stills from some of the major productions filmed here.
The attitude in town seems laid back, almost sleepy. Most stores were not open until 11. From the looks of the spot, it did not seem like they would stay open much past 4:30.
The town is home to a number of venerable sake breweries, some of which offer informal tours. Many just invite the passerby to walk in.
This openness extends to the owners of historical private homes. Many residents leave their gates and even their dirt-floored genkan areas open so that tourists can come in and have a look. As long as visitors do not cross the bamboo barriers or disturb the residents, they seem to be free to take pictures and view the gardens and architectural details.
(Watch out you do not brush up against the homes with the carbonized wood sidings - you will decorate your backsides with charcoal scrawls)
Sawara has a rather unusual favorite son. Unlike many places, he is neither a warrior, an industrialist nor a poet. Inō Tadataka (1745-1818) was taken in as a 17 year old young man to be the heir of a sake and rice business (the original Inō house is still standing, behind the willows on the left by the bridge in the above photo). For 33 years he labored in his adopted parent's shop, a pillar of the community. At the ripe old age of 50, however, he figured he had given enough of his life to the shop, put on his zōri and went to Edo to learn the latest advances in astronomy, cartography and mathematics. After five years of study, he set off with his Dutch surveying instruments to walk the length and breadth of Japan, producing, over the last 18 years of his life, the first map of the coastline of Japan based on European surveying methods.
One should never think oneself too old to change or make a difference, I guess.