"Why are you going there?" was the usual response when we told anyone we were spending a week in Wakimachi. It's not exactly on the tourist trail and most people we spoke to in Japan hadn't even heard of it.
But Wakimachi, a small town surrounded by mountains in Tokushima Prefecture, is full of historical buildings, traditional restaurants and friendly locals. It's a great base to explore the surrounding countryside and get a glimpse into life in small-town Japan.
We spent our days cycling around town, laughing with locals over yakitori and huddling next to kerosene heaters at night (we learnt the hard way just how cold traditional Japanese buildings can get in the winter).
There's not much information about Wakimachi online (or at least not in English), and so we relied on this cute hand-drawn map from our host for the week:
Nodokeya is a guesthouse in a big traditional building, complete with a cafe, manga room and courtyard. It's right off the Udatsu Street (the nicest part of town) and the perfect spot to explore the area. Even if you don't stay here, the third floor cafe is a lively hangout for guests and locals, and a great way to get to know people in the area.
Wakimachi's main attraction is the Udatsu Street, which is lined with 200-year-old merchant houses from the Edo and Meji periods. The buildings are now little shops and restaurants (one of which serves up the delicious rice cake soup below), and some of the private homes are open to the public.
The theatre in the middle of town puts on various shows and events. The week were visited there was a free traditional Japanese dance performance on that was a big hit with the seniors in town.
The best way to get around town, and beyond, is to hire a bike, which you can do for free at the tourist office on the Udatsu Street (English isn't spoken, but the process is easy enough).
The Yoshino river that runs along the edge of town is the perfect place to watch the sunset or go for a walk.
Our favourite day in Wakimachi was spent cycling along the path next to the river through a few neighbouring towns. It goes on for miles and miles, through valleys and rural villages.
Where to eat
For a small town, Wakimachi has a lot of restaurants, and it's a great place to try traditional Japanese dishes at cheaper prices than the big cities.
- Funatoto was our favourite spot in Wakimachi, I think we were there every morning. A coffee shop that also sells locally made products and puts on music nights, it's a nice space with friendly staff.
- Maruza Chikuan has a great value set lunch for only ¥750, including tonkatsu, salads, tofu, rice and miso.
- Tomato (across the street from Maruza Chikuan) is an izakaya that serves a wide selection of traditional dishes like yakitori, sashimi and Japanese salads. They also serve chicken sashimi, if you're braver than us!
- Sakura is a traditional restaurant only open on Fridays. There's a set lunch for 20 covers and then they close, so get down there early so you don’t miss out (like we did). It looked incredible.
- Miyu specialises in fried foods, think yakitori and okonomiyaki. The atmosphere is rowdy, the regulars are friendly and the food is delicious.
You can find the location of these spots on the map above.
There's not too much out there on Wakimachi, so do feel free to get in touch if you're headed to this area and would like any more info!