Although many know about Yuki’s famous silk “Yuki-tsumugi” (結城紬), a more everyday object seen throughout the town is often overlooked. These, of course, are the various traditional storehouses scattered about the town.
It is said that these storehouses, or kura (蔵), first made an appearance in Japan as early as the Yayoi period (300BC-300AD) in the form of simple, log cabin-style buildings. Due to the fact that the wooden kura were vulnerable to fire the building materials evolved throughout the years to include more durable materials such as plaster and stone. The use of the kura also varied across the years. During the Edo period, store-type storehouses, or mise-gura (見世蔵) also became widely built, with a storage section connected to the store built in the same style. Regular storehouses built only for storage, called dozō (土蔵), were also built during this time period.
The storehouses in Yuki that stand out most are the store-style storehouses, or mise-gura. Different that other parts of Japan, the mise-gura in Yuki were mostly built between the early Meiji period until the Taishō period. Currently there are 31 mise-gura that have not be renovated currently in use in Yuki today, although there are a higher number that have been renovated inside or that have been abandoned. Of these 31, 20 are still being used daily, and 13 have been registered as cultural property (those registered have bronze plaques posted in front of them).
There are four main characteristics that set the Yuki storehouses apart from others in Japan. Due to the great care of those who utilized the storehouses throughout the years, they are in excellent condition and well-preserved. Since Yuki was spared of any large fire, many of the buildings remain in their original states. While most storehouses have black plaster on the outer walls, the Yuki storehouses are unique by having white plaster. Finally, the Yuki storehouses rarely use the outward-opening windows on the second floor that can usually be seen on the storehouses.
One of the great features in Yuki is that you can visit the small visitor center located near the center of town and participate in a guided storehouse tour. Many of the storehouses are still functional today, and if you are lucky you can take a mini tour a miso factory or sake brewery on the way. Our guide was very insightful and knew a lot about the history of each individual buildings. He was also quite knowledgeable of the various temples and shrines on the tour, giving an extra insight into the rich history of the town.
Although many of the storehouses are still occupied today, during special festivals and events throughout the year, many owners open their doors to the public. Especially during the doll festival during the spring, many of the buildings offer a beautiful display of traditional Japanese dolls, as well as various handmade arts and crafts. Some also sell and display kimono made from the well-known Yuki silk, made right in the very same neighborhood.
I would recommend visiting Yuki to see these unique storehouses to anyone who is interested in history or architecture. They are quite a sight to behold!