Gojōban Yashiki Samurai Residences in Matsusaka, Japan

Matsusaka is a city that excels at hiding its treasures. Its “city center” is a haphazard collection of abandoned buildings from the 1980s, yet two steps away are the manicured hedges of the largest existing samurai residence complex from the Edo period.

These residences were home to samurai warriors of the Kishu Domain who guarded Matsusaka Castle at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). Unusually for such a site, the descendants of the samurai continue to live here to this day, and it has received national designation as an Important Cultural Property. One of the houses is open for free to the public.

The nearby historic home of the Hasegawa family, who amassed wealth in the 17th century through the trade of Matsusaka cotton, is also open to visitors for a small fee. If you’ve ever seen jokes made about “jimonos” (jean-kimonos), chances are they’re actually kimonos made from Matsusaka cotton—naturally dyed indigo threads hand-woven into fashionable designs ahead of its time. The fabric looks like blue denim at first glance, but it actually precedes the invention of denim by more than two centuries. Visitors can enjoy a simple tea ceremony, and even try weaving Matsusaka cotton on the weekends.

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