Uchiko (内 子 町) is located in Ehime prefecture, in the west of the island. The town was prosperous at the end of the 19th century thanks to its production of very good quality white wax. This economic boom allowed wealthy local merchants to build beautiful properties, whose heritage is still visible throughout the town.
The historic district of Yokaichi
The built heritage is therefore strongly linked to the town’s industrial history. In its heyday Uchiko was known throughout Japan for the quality of its vegetable wax, used for example to make candles.
Its reputation even spread abroad thanks to the Honhaga family, who presented their products at the Paris World Fair of 1900. Manufacturers and merchants were able to make vast profits from the wax and have their sumptuous residences built.
In 1982, the historic district of Yokaichi was classified as an “important preservation district for groups of traditional buildings”. This legacy of the Meiji era has been maintained to this day.
Ninety Meiji-era buildings extend along the main street. Visitors will be able to spot architectural details typical of the construction period, such as wooden movable walls and namako walls with their white grid pattern. Some houses are open to the public, but most are inhabited so the interiors aren’t accessible.
Kamihaga Residence and Wax Museum
The Kamihaga Residence in the historic district is one of the buildings open to the public. The estate of this wealthy family (one of the most influential in Uchiko) includes a sumptuous Meiji period home and former workshop, converted into a wax industry museum.
The family home is a very fine example of how the bourgeoisie lived in the early 20th century. It combines large washitsu (Japanese-style) rooms and traditional tatami flooring with Western elements.
Uchiko-za (内 子 座) kabuki theatre is a source of pride for local people. Built in 1916 for performances of kabuki (dance-drama) and bunraku (puppet shows), the theatre was almost demolished because of poor audiences. But. thanks to the mobilization of local associations, it was preserved and reopened in 1985 after extensive renovation work.
It now forms part of the very limited list of the archipelago’s 25 traditional theatres. Uchiko-za can still accommodate some 650 spectators at a performance. In addition, visitors can discover the secret hatches typical of kabuki scenes.
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