Awa-Ikeda is surrounded almost entirely by mountains. It may seem isolated at first considering its distance from major cities, but this town center is packed full of ancient, historic buildings and is booming with the hustle and bustle of its inhabitants. The diverse, rich history and culture of this town will certainly take you by surprise.
Traveling north from Awa-Ikeda station, you’ll run into an area colloquially known as “Udatsu Street,” where wealthy merchants once thrived. A common old saying in Japanese is “to not have an udatsu raised,” an udatsu being a winged wall structure on a traditional-style Japanese house. It acts as both a divider between houses and a means of preventing fires from spreading. In that time, a family without an udatsu could been seen as desolate. They were a grand display of wealth and status. Only the wealthiest could afford to have the most elaborate udatsu. The sheer amount of buildings with udatsu in Awa-Ikeda shows the prosperity and affluence of the area. What could have caused Awa-Ikeda to become one of the most prosperous town centers in the region?
The Tobacco Industry in Awa-Ikeda
From the Edo period to the Meiji era, Awa-Ikeda had been a major producer of tobacco leaves in Japan. Their success lies in their high-quality leaves, known as “awa leaves,” which are watered using the fresh water from the nearby Yoshino River. This had led them to be a major supplier throughout the country at the time.
Consequently, the expensive houses lining Udatsu Street were the very same houses of these thriving tobacco merchants.
Tobacco Museum (Former Manabe Residence)
Once a house belonging to the former Manabe clan, it now serves as a tobacco museum. The house still retains its iconic udatsu and is a popular historical attraction.
There are approximately 200 documents, diagrams, and posters detailing the production of tobacco leaves as well as the equipment used. Here you can learn about the industry that had sustained Awa-Ikeda for many years. While the industry itself may be declining, the ancient tradition of “tobacco folk dancing” still lives on.
The Legend of the Heike Clan
Awa-Ikeda’s history goes back even further to the Heian period by means of The Legend of the Heike Clan. At the end of the Heian period during the Genpei War, Taira no Kunimori of the Heike clan was defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune. He fled with Emperor Antoku and 30 others. The legend states they climbed the Sanuki Mountains and crossed Yoshino River into Iya Valley.
Awa-Ikeda is home to a vast amount of history and culture. There are still many other fragments of history waiting to be found. Take your time and enjoy the rich culture of Awa-Ikeda.