If you follow the Asuwa River east from Fukui City, eventually you will come to the point where the Ichijodani River joins the main watercourse. Travel south along this smaller river and you will enter a quiet valley town rich in both history and culture.
The Asakura Family Ruins are the collective remains of a castle town and surrounding area ruled by the Asakura Family Daimyos (Warring Lords) for 103 years over 5 generations during the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period - roughly 1467 to 1567).
The ruins of the Asakura family and Ichijodani are designated as Special Historical Sites, Special Places of Scenic Beauty, and Important National Properties. Only four other sites in Japan have received this level of designation and honor.
Ichijodani, the castle town ruled by the Asakura Family, had a population in excess of 10,000 people. The living quarters of the residents varied in size depending on social status. But while there may have been a significant variation in comfort, each residence had its own well, unlike the shared wells of both Edo and Kyoto. You can enter each of the restored buildings to see the difference between classes and careers, examples include the residences of samurai warriors, textile craftsmen, farmers, and the village headsman.
As the capital of Kyoto was torn apart by a civil war, many of the capital's elite fled Kyoto and settled in Ichijodani. Buddhist scriptures, educational manuscripts, ink stones, inkwells, dolls, boats, dice, and shogi pieces have been excavated, pointing to a well educated populace that enjoyed the recreational arts. Inside the recreated samurai residence, there are also Asakaura samurai armor sets on display. The Asakura clan was a samurai family originating from Hyogo Prefecture. The Ichijodani branch was lead by Takakage Asakura, who became the official Shugo (military governor) of Echizen, entitling him as a Sengoku Daimyo (warlord). His family controlled the area for five generations until they were defeated by Oda Nobunaga in his pursuit to unify Japan.
Five generations of warlords ruled Ichijodani from 1470 to 1573; Takakage Asakura, Ujikage Asakura, Sadakaga Asakura, Takakage Asakura (II), and Yoshikaga Asakura. They were defeated in 1573 in the Battle of Tonezaka by Oda Nobunaga who later burned the town of Ichijodani to the ground.
When the Asakura family residence and mansion were set ablaze, the fire quickly spread to the castle town and surrounding area, burning for three days and three nights, effectively bringing the town's 103 year history to a close. After the town and mansion were burned and abandoned, they remained untouched and buried for nearly 400 years. Site excavation began in 1967. The Asakura family residence, samurai housing, and castle town have been excavated in almost perfect condition, making it the only ruins of its kind in Japan.
If you climb the small hill above the Asakura family residence, you will come across the Yudono Stone Garden. It was nationally designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty. More than fifteen gardens have been found within Ichijodani. These ruins contain Japan's largest number of gardens discovered, affirming the affluence of the area and its inhabitants.
Leaving the family residence and following the river south, you will find the Asakura shrine and stone statue of Jizo. Over 3,000 stone Buddhas and statues including Amida Buddha, Jizo (guardian deity of children), Kannon (Goddess of Mercy), and Gorinto (five-story gravestones) have been found in and around Ichijodani.
If you fully explore the entire area of Ichijodani’s more than 20 historic locations, ruins, and sites, it can easily be turned into a full day’s trip. If you simply want to see the restored castle town and Asakura residence, it will take about 2 hours. If you hike up to the top of Ichijozan Mountain, you can look at the un-restored remains of the mountain fortress, the site of the Asakura family’s last stand. Along the way you can also visit Magaibutsu (a Buddah carved onto a rock) and Hachiman Jinja shrine. Other sites of interest include, but are not limited to, Ichijo Waterfall, Kamikido and Shimokido (the upper and lower castle gate sites), and the Asakura Family Site History Museum, which is a five minute walk from Ichijodani train station.
For a small fee, about 500 yen, you can experience dressing up in the period attire of samurais, nobles, princesses, or townspeople in the restored castle town. This service is open year-round and children’s sizes are also available.
Every year towards the end of August, the Echizen Asakura Sengoku Festival and Thousand Light Night are the main attractions of the area. There is a battle reenactment during the day and candle illumination in the evening. This year (2018) the event will be held on Sat, Aug 25 and Sun, Aug 26. Visit the event page on the website for pictures of and information about the event.
Each spring, usually starting around April 10th, the numerous sakura trees are illuminated in the evening from 7 pm to 9 pm. This event spans over ten days but if it rains, that day's evening event will be cancelled.
There are other events scheduled throughout the year, but only the events above are annual. Examples of events include sakura viewing parties, music festivals, dance contests, craft fairs, and more. You can check the website for info about the other events.
The site is open every day except for holidays but may close temporarily for exhibition rearrangements and maintenance.
9 am - 5 pm (last entrance is at 4:30)
100 yen for the history museum
230 yen for the history museum and restored townscape
Without a car, Ichijodani can be reached by train via Ichijodani station. From there, it is about a 30 minute walk to the main ruins and restored castle town but only a ten minute walk to the lower castle gate site. During the summer, you may be able to rent bikes from the locals but this is only a volunteer service so hours and prices are not set.