Sawara is a picturesque, historic canal town in the Chiba Prefecture, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. It is a nationally designated Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings, featuring 92 historic machiya (traditional townhouse).
In the Edo period (1603-1868), Sawara flourished as a major supplier of rice and commodities. With advances in water transportation on the Tone River, Sawara continued to develop as a center of transportation, trade, and culture. In its small district, there are numerous well-preserved traditional residences, merchant shops, and warehouses from the Edo Period. Its extensive and beautiful traditional cityscape, known as "Little Edo," and rich living heritage traditions of the popular summer festival, Sawara-no-Taisai Natsu Matsuri, have been recognized at the local and national level in Japan.
On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake struck the northeast coast of Japan, which damaged, destroyed, and threatened centuries of cultural heritage and history that were deeply woven into the everyday life of Sawara and appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of people who visit every year. The 2012 World Monuments Watch listed Sawara among the heritage sites damaged by the earthquake to help raise international attention and funds to repair damaged heritage sites because local resources were greatly depleted by the disaster.
Preserving the cityscape rejuvenates a community
With funding from American Express, World Monuments Fund worked with the Ono River and Sawara Cityscape Preservation Association to support the restoration of seven of the most historic machiya. Each of the machiya are owned by different families and contain designated historic interiors as well as façades. The successful project, which was completed in 2014, not only helped preserve the cityscape but also contributed to the rejuvenation of community life and culture. Sawara’s famed summer festival is again held annually and most of the historic buildings have been restored. The district is now as vibrant as it was before the earthquake.