Hachioji: The Capital Of ‘mulberry’ Now A Fascinating Destination

HACHIOJI: The capital of ‘mulberry’ now a fascinating destination"You’re kidding, right? In Japanese, silkworms are counted 'ittou,' 'nittou,' 'santou' … and not 'ippiki,' 'nihiki,' 'sanbiki'?”
I was assured that that was the way it was by a guy at the Kinuno-michi Shiryokan (Silk Road resource center) in Hachioji. How interesting, I thought, because I always associated "tou" with large animals. It seems that the reason for this might have to do with silkworms being cultivated, or raised for human consumption and therefore counted like livestock.

Large-scale farming in the mountainous Hachioji area was hard to do in the old days, and as people had to make a living, many found additional means of income by raising silkworms and making thread, fabric and kimono. Hachioji, at one time, was known as Kuwa no Miyako, the capital of mulberry.

In the Edo Period (1603-1867), Hachioji was originally one of the many post stations along Koshu Kaido, a route that started at Nihonbashi and followed roughly the same journey as today’s Route 20.

Because Hachioji was on a major road, people would stop for a rest and do some shopping. Entrepreneurial citizens set up businesses catering to travelers, silk merchants set up a network of outlets, and Hachioji became a bustling place.

After the port of Yokohama opened in 1859, Hachioji could be reached on foot in a day. Records show that Yarimizu in Hachioji became known even overseas as one of the places to procure quality silk products. Part of the original Silk Road, a highway connecting Hachioji and Yokohama, is still intact and makes for a pleasant walk through nature.

There’s another kind of silk--of the tofu variety, in Hachioji that I really like. A visit to Tofuya-Ukai is always a treat. The restaurant, with its gorgeous Japanese garden, makes it the epitome of what people imagine Japan to look like.

Around this time of year, I highly recommend the "nabe" course with its delicate silken tofu served in the pot. They make their own tofu using water from a deep well on their premises.

Every day at 5 o’clock in the evening, throughout my neighborhood, the "Yuyake Koyake" melody blasts from loudspeakers set up on poles all over the ward. The lyrics were written by Ukou Nakamura, who was born in Hachioji in 1897.

Along Jinba Kaido in the hills of Hachioji is Yuyake Koyake Fureai no Sato, which houses a museum in honor of the songwriter as well as a restaurant, hotel, a public bath, barbecue and camping facilities, a gallery and a small farm with a couple of small horses.

A nostalgic old-fashioned “bonnet bus” with velvet-like seats and wooden floors that serviced this area years ago, can be seen as well. Oh, I almost forgot, the departure melody for JR trains at Hachioji Station is the "Yuyake Koyake" song.

For you drivers out there, did you know that the only Michi no Eki in Tokyo is in Hachioji? Yup, that’s right! Hachioji Takiyama is the roadside station where you can buy local food stuff and crafts.

Hachioji with its major roadways and silk was intimately linked to places within Japan and beyond. Birthplace of one of Japan’s most iconic folk songs, the traditional setting of children going home at dusk after a day playing outside lives within us through the "Yuyake Koyake" song.

These are the things I thought of as I ate silken tofu nabe after picking up some locally made souvenirs at the Michi no Eki in Hachioji.