Matsusaka Town Walk - a History of Business and Culture

Matsusaka Town Walk - a History of Business and Culture

Spend anywhere from half a day to a full day exploring the many historical and interesting spots right around Matsusaka Station. Try your hand at weaving with a loom. Sample world-famous Matsusaka Beef products. Learn how local families became successful merchants due to the endless flow of foot traffic to Ise Shrine.

I arrived at Matsusaka Station mid Saturday morning, knowing only that this area was famous for its beef products. I was soon to learn much more! My first stop was the Tourist Information Center, located right in front of Matsusaka Station. When you come out of the station, you’ll see it on the right, less than half a minute away.

None of the staff there speak English, but they have an informative pamphlet in English as well as other languages, so you should be able to navigate your way around town. The staff are friendly and it takes only a few minutes to fill out a form to rent a bicycle. It costs 500 yen but you also need to leave a 500 yen deposit. I recommend renting an electric assist bicycle. They are very easy to use.

Following the recommendation of the staff, I first headed to the Matsusaka City Tourist Information Center, to watch a video overview of Matsusaka’s history. Constructed in 2018, you will find the same English literature here, but there is always a staff member on hand who can speak English.

On the first floor there is a large map, displaying the highlights of the area. You can use interactive touch-screen maps that allow you to pinch and zoom “smartphone style” to explore the town. And there is also a diorama giving you a bird’s eye view to help you understand the layout of the town and prepare for the day.

On the 2nd floor a 15 minute video gives an informative introduction to the town and its history. The video is in Japanese, but has English subtitles, and I thought it was definitely the best way to start my tour. The video is shown every half hour.

There’s no set order in which you have tocheck out the places around town, but I’ll introduce some of the moreinteresting places I went.

Birthplace of the Mitsui Family

Birthplace of the Mitsui Family
Unfortunately, this site is not open to visitors. Mitsui Takatoshi, the great merchant who laid the foundation for the Mitsui Group was born here in Matsusaka. This location is a memorial to the beginning of the family. Just to the right of the entrance gate, you can find a sign with more information about the Mitsui Family.

Former Ozu Residence (Matsusaka Merchant Museum)

Former Ozu Residence (Matsusaka Merchant Museum)
This is the mansion of Ozu Seizaemon, a highly successful merchant who sold paper and cotton in Edo (now called Tokyo). Judging from the simple appearance, it comes as a surprise that there are two storehouses in the unexpectedly large mansion. The life of this man as someone who had opened a store in Edo was praised by those around him. This building has been designated as a tangible cultural property by Mie Prefecture.

It’s a surprisingly large house that was formerly home to over 30 people. It’s a maze of rooms and stairs and is a wonderful place if you want to play hide and seek! Now it is home to many artifacts and historical pieces and it’s a great place to get information about the family that used to live here.

This is also home to the only “Manryo Bako” in Japan. The more common “senryo bako” could hold up to 1000 “koban”, a kind of money made from gold. The “Manryo Bako” could hold much more as you can see in this photo. In today’s money, it would hold about US$15 million! This box was made about 200 years ago.

There are English pamphlets available here,but I recommend having a guide for a better experience.
Time needed: about 15 to 20 minutes

Remains of Motoori Norinaga’s Residence

Remains of Motoori Norinaga’s Residence
This is the original site of Motoori Norinaga’s residence, also called “Suzu-no-ya.” The house has been relocated next to the Motoori Norinaga Memorial Museum. Here you can see Norinaga’s beloved garden pines, the residence’s foundation, and a stone monument. When Norinaga was alive, Matsusaka merchant homes stood side by side around his residence. Come take a break here and feel as if you are transported 200 years back through time to the Matsusaka of old.
Time needed: less than 5 minutes

Former Hasegawa Residence

Former Hasegawa Residence
I highly recommend coming here with someone who can speak Japanese as there is no foreign language support at all. You can explore without a guide, but you will likely have many unanswered questions.
Originally the Hasegawa Family owned only one house. (See picture.) But as they became more successful, they bought the two houses on their left and the two on their right.
The walls surrounding the house and yard were fitted with a small roof-like top, called “udatsu” and was a sign of great success in business. It served no purpose other than to say, “I’m rich.” Even today, the expression “udatsu ga agatta,” which translates roughly to ‘the udatsu has been built’ means that someone has been very successful in their business endeavors.

One exciting point about this place is that you can experience weaving with the instruction of an experienced weaver. This is the same cloth that has been made here for at least 500 years! This was the best part of the visit for me.

One of the “kura” or storerooms has been converted into a small museum with various artifacts on display.

The beautiful garden in the back is a testament to their wealth to have had such a spacious and beautiful garden as part of their private residence!

There was one section of the extended house that was only for the head of the household. Here, careful detail was given to the woodwork and sliding doors, which were laid with gold leaf. There were four rooms connected to each other to create a long, spacious, and gorgeous area to receive guests, who entered via a separate entrance from the road. Looking through the rooms, you have a grand view of several sliding doors with the beautiful garden acting as a backdrop.

To fully enjoy this location, you should plan on 20 to 30 minutes plus 2 to 3 minutes for each person participating in the weaving experience.

Former Residence of Harada Jiro

Former Residence of Harada Jiro

Compared to some of the other places, it’s a rather simple looking house, but one interesting point was that out in the yard you can see where the moat of the Matsusaka Castle used to be. It extended all the way to the Harada family backyard!

Surely a great rarity at the time, Harada Jiro studied English. You can even see in his notebook where he had written in cursive “Odd truth in great esteem.” This was likely an early example of Japanese being translated directly, but having slightly less meaning than the original Japanese.

For me, the most impressive place was Mr. Harada’s study. The windows are an excellent example of the simplicity and elegance of classical Japanese designs. At the time, Mr. Harada could see Matsusaka Castle from this room.

Time needed: about 10 to 15 minutes

Tourist attractions covered by this article