Sawara and Inō Tadataka

It’s interesting to see how according to my Lonely Planet guide there is very little of interest in or around Narita or within the Chiba Prefecture, beside the temple down the road.   So far though I have found heaps of interesting places all within an hour drive of Narita.

Today we decided to check out a small town called Sawara, about 45 minutes drive from Narita. A sleepy backwater centered around the towns canal, lined with beautiful weeping willows and old wooden merchant houses. Due to it being the ‘holiday day’ in Sawara (On Wednesdays most businesses are closed) it was really quiet, which was refreshing after having seen so many things with avalanges of tourists hovering around.

The area around the canal reminds me of an Oriental Amsterdam, quant houses, small shops selling a variety of intriguing and unusual items, weeping willow branches kissing the water, and pretty things to be seen everywhere.

This though is not the most interesting thing about Sawara. Inō Tadataka is, the man who created the first map of Japan. Born in 1745  Tadataka was adopted at the age of 17 by the wealthy Inō family and ran and expanded for 32 years their sake brewing and rice trading concerns. At the age of 49 Tadataka retired and set of to Edo (what is now Tokyo).
He became a pupil of the astronomer Takahashi Yoshitoki and learned western astronomy, geography and mathematics. After 5 years of study, at the age of 54 Tadataka gained permission from the Shogunate to fund a survey of Japan. In the remaining 17 years of his life he walked the lenght and breadth of Japan, mapping the coast line and some of the interior of all of Japans island. In this period he apparently spend 3736 days taking measurements and traveled 34,913 kilometers.

His Magnus Opus, a 1:216,000 scale map of the entire coastline of Japan, remained unfinished at his death in 1818, and was finished by his surveying team in 1821. This was the very first complete map of Japan.
Not a small feat if you think that his only mode of transport was either by foot, horse or carriage, even considering that Japan isn’t an awfully big country it was an immense job. The map is also very accurate, when his map is compared to a map made recently, it’s also amazingly accurate, with a few deviation due to longitude issues, but this wasn’t rare as longitude calculations where not perfected at the time.

This is the man himself, in a statue at the museum named after him.

Truly pleasing when you arrive somewhere and such a little gem is discovered, and a little sad that few tourist will know about him when the worlds most read guidebook (are they still?) doesn’t mention him and Sawara.

So for all of you who might one day land on these beautiful shores…..Sawara

Tiny stone house along the canal


railing along canal has a pretty inlay of fish, and a bronze fish statue


Two lamp post decorated with a cutout siloutte of one of the Sawara floats. Twice a year, in spring and in autumn, Sawara has a 300 year old festival in which 24 floats parade down the city. Next week there will be one in Narita so I will tell you more about them then.

One of the odd things is that at times within a row of very pretty houses you can find one thats completely dilapated, or vice versa


Old merchant house with private “yacht”. This is an old Shoyu (Soy sauce) Brewery, with the jars they put the shoyu in still outside

Two old biddies who ‘drive’ (do you drive a boat?) a sappabune (flat bottomed boat)down the canal. We took a trip on them and it was fun to see the houses from the canal.


Our ‘old biddy’ a very friendly lady who kept saying “kawai!” and point at The Smurg.

Boat and irises. The whole side of the canal is covered in a blanket of flowers.


Jājābashi Bridge. Every 30 minutes a waterfall fall into the canal. Water is taken from the Tono river to surrounding farms and some is released into the canal

Hats layin on the side of the canal


Unusual window decoration on one of the ancient merchant houses


Really love how this wall is made of pieces of tree with humps and bumps


And that’s all for today. Unfortunately we had to get back to Narita so that the other half could get himself to work.
Definitely a place to go back to also because I want to see the aquatic botanical garden



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