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If you’ve ever longed to go back to an old Japan, where samurai stayed at old ramshackle inns and merchants filled the air with the scent of food, then some of these traditional streets will be right up your alley. We take you to five of Japan’s most-loved streets, from well-worn paths in secluded valleys to bustling pilgrimage routes in scenic villages, all with an amazing history and atmosphere. Let’s take a stroll together and see what they have to offer.

三重県伊勢市 「おはらい町」  Oharai-machi, Ise City, Mie Prefecture

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First, we visit a unique purification town in Mie Prefecture. Sitting at the entrance to Ise Jingū, the most sacred Shinto shrine in all of Japan, Oharai-machi earns its name from the Shinto purification ritual known as oharai, performed here for pilgrims before entering the torī gate entrance at the end of the main street.

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During the Edo period (1603-1868), up to four million people visited this shrine every year, making this one of the most busy streets in Japan.

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Today, it retains a lot of the old merchant spirit, with sake cellars, centuries-old sweet stores, and traditional street-cart vendors.

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Traditional wooden buildings on the street use the same Tsumairi gable architectural style that’s also used in Japanese religious buildings.

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Behind the beautiful 800 metre (497 mile) stone-paved street is a picturesque river.

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See just how bustling this special street is in the video below:

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長野県南木曽町「妻籠宿」 Tsumago-juku, Nagiso Town, Nagano Prefecture

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Nestled in the mountains of Nagano, this former post-town was the 42nd of 69 stops on the Nakasendo, one of two main travelling routes connecting Kyoto with Edo (modern-day Tokyo).

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It runs through the beautiful Kiso Valley and is situated on the east bank of the Araragi-gawa (Orchid River).

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This was the first area in Japan to be selected as an important Historic Buildings Preservation District, back in 1976.

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Feudal lords and their entourages travelled through the town at least once a year, and its beautiful atmosphere remains today.

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If you visit in April, you can see a beautiful sakura cherry blossom tree in bloom beside the Tourist Information Centre.

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If you visit in winter, when the town is blanketed in snow, you can sense the ghosts of travellers in the eerie stillness.

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To get more of a glimpse into winter life here in this sleepy town, check out this beautiful video shot on the Red One:

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岐阜県白川村「白川郷」  Shirakawa-go, Shirakawa Village, Gifu Prefecture

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This is one of Japan’s famous world-heritage towns, with huge gassho-zukuri (thatched, gable roof) houses. As a lot of the village is closed to visiting vehicles, streets here are more like idyllic paths.

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The Ogimachi district of Shirakawa-go is known as the village of the A-frames. Forming a unique landscape together with the surrounding scenery, the settlement here was evaluated and selected as an important Historic Buildings Preservation District in 1976.

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In 1995, the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and nearby Gokayama were registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Many people recommend visiting the town in winter, when the unique traditional landscape is specially lit up at night.

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Visit the winter wonderland and take a peek inside a gassho house:

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岡山県倉敷市「倉敷美観地区」  Kurashiki-bikanchiku, Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture 

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Kurashiki city, an old town that flourished during the Edo period, has been designated as an area of special beauty and carefully preserved since 1969. With picturesque streets on either side of a long canal, people referred to it as the “Venice of the Orient”.

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The town has a history as a centre for rice distribution. The name Kurashiki is actually related to the word storehouse, and you can still see many of these white storehouses lined up along the street.

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The historical quarter, filled with traditional stores and restaurants, is a popular sightseeing spot.

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There are many small museums, cafes and boutiques to visit. Near the canal you can find the oldest western art museum in Japan, the Ohara Museum of Art. Stop by to see one of Monet’s Water Lilies, purchased directly from Monet almost a century ago.

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Take a look at the beautiful streetscape as you take a boat-trip on the canal:

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沖縄県竹富町  Taketomi-cho, Taketomi Island, Okinawa Prefecture

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Taketomi Island is in the Yaeyama island chain, 300 km south-west of Okinawa’s main island. Taketomi town is well-known for distinctive rows of traditional red-roofed houses, built using an architectural style that dates back to a time when the islands were a separate entity to Japan and ruled by the Ryūkyū Kingdom.

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The streetscape here is one of Japan’s most unique, with roads of white sand surrounded by stone walls. There’s even a water buffalo that will take you through town.

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The town of Taketomi has been designated as an important area of preserved historic buildings.

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Hear the unique music of Okinawa and take a look at the gorgeous turquoise waters. And see how many people a water buffalo can pull:

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Streetscapes. They can sometimes be taken for granted as a means to a destination but when we stop to take a look they can certainly surprise us. Which one was your favourite?

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Source: Line Corporation