The Choshi Electric Railway (Choshi Dentetsu), a small local railway line which runs through Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture, has been operating for nearly one hundred years. It is sometimes called the “backbone of Choshi tourism,” for it offers you the chance to visit the towns along its line where interesting activities await you, including strolling through the small fishing village of Tokawa, for example.
Tokawa is the last stop along the CER, and it takes about 20 minutes from Choshi, the starting point. The wooden building of Tokawa Station is an original structure constructed in 1923, although it has undergone several repairs. The building has such an old, quaint air that it could be an interesting photo spot for some people, as could the old, abandoned CER passenger car exhibited beside it. If you walk from the station to the south, descending a gentle slope, this quiet fishing town is before your eyes.
The town of Tokawa was created in 1661 under the leadership of a man named Sakiyama Jiroemon, who constructed the Tokawa port at the same time. Jiroemon came up to the Choshi area in 1656 from his native Kii Province at the time, which largely overlaps today’s Wakayama Prefecture. After making his mark by introducing a new sardine-fishing method called makaseami, which had been alien to local villagers at that time, he moved to the Tokawa area and started constructing the port and town there.
When the construction was finished in 1661, the town was laid out in an orderly grid pattern, and the port was so formidable that it would continue to be used in its original form until the mid-20th century. Then, he immediately summoned people from Kii Province, and, over time, the town developed into a community with over one thousand households. Walking down the streets of Tokawa today, you will notice that the grid pattern still remains.
If you visit the Tokawa ‘Mini’ Folk Museum located near Tokawa Station, you can learn a lot more about the past and present of Tokawa Town. It exhibits valuable items, including age-old fishing tools, historical residential records and photographs, and shells and fossils collected at the nearby coast and cliffs. The last time I visited there, the curator enthusiastically told me about the founding and history of Tokawa Town.
I asked her if, in the 17th century, Jiroemon had really constructed the town from scratch.
“Yes, this land used to be unused. It was owned by a farmer living in a nearby village. His descendants are still living there, growing cabbage. Anyway, he was not able to do farming here. With large bedrocks in the earth, the land was not suitable for farming. But on the other hand, there was plenty of water. That is what it was like when Jiroemon arrived.
“Did Jiroemon and his people purchase the land from the farmer, or just rent it?”
“It was basically on loan, with a few exceptions, like one of my own ancestors, who actually bought some of the land. Anyway, Jiroemon knew they could get a lot of sardines from the ocean. So, after catching sardines, they would boil them, take out some oil and scum, and would make a kind of fertilizer out of them. The farmer received it from them as a land fee and used it for his farming. So most of our ancestors didn’t pay any rental fee to the farmer.”
After spending some time around the Tokawa harbor, you can take a 20-minute or so walk along the coast, to the southeast, which takes you to Nagasakibana, which is a small headland stretching out into the Pacific Ocean (there are other Nagasakibanas in other prefectures, but this one is in Chiba Prefecture). It is a rather desolate area, where a 21-meter chimney-like tower (not a lighthouse) stands forlornly among rocks.
You seldom see sightseers around here. At the tip of the headland, you are surrounded by the rolling sea on three sides and may be overcome by a feeling that you might be the only person left on a deserted island. This place is known among anglers as a fine rock-fishing spot.
Stepping into the inland, exploring the small fishing village of Nagasakibana could also be an interesting experience. Compared with the town of Tokawa, where you can occasionally find a few tourists, it seems to me that Nagasakibana Town is more quiet and rustic (partly at least).
Both Tokawa and Nagasakibana are interesting locations to visit. They might not be overly exciting as sightseeing spots, but they could make you feel relaxed in the quiet, nostalgic atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of large cities. And if you want to enjoy these places fully, I recommend you to get a tour guide who is familiar with these areas, because otherwise, it might be a little difficult for you to find some signs from the old days buried under the guise of new modern-style housings.
To go to Tokawa Town, take the Sobu Line from Tokyo Station toward the east, and you will reach the JR Choshi Station in about two hours. Then, buy a ticket of the Choshi Electric Railway bound for Tokawa.
Photographs: taken at the fishing villages of Tokawa and Nagasakibana,
by Koji Ikuma, with Fuji X-T1 and Xenon 25mmF1.4
Fifth photo (two photos of landscapes of past Tokawa Town) and sixth photo (two photos of the exhibition of the museum) from the top; Courtesy of the Tokawa ‘Mini’ Folk Museum.