A trip to Ōzu can easily be combined with one to the appealing small town of UCHIKO (内子), ten minutes by express train north along the Yosan line. Uchiko was once an important centre for the production of Japanese wax (moku-rō), made from the crushed berries of the sumac tree. The wax is still used in candles, polishes, crayons, cosmetics, food and even computer disks. The wealth generated by the industry has left Uchiko with many fine houses preserved in the picturesque Yōkaichi (八日市) district of the town, where craftsmen can still be seen making candles by hand.
The best place to start your tour of Uchiko – which is easily explored on foot – is at the handsomely restored kabuki theatre Uchiko-za (内子座; Tues–Sun 9am–4.30pm; ¥300; t 0893/44-2840), which lies around 500m northeast of the train station. Performances are held once or twice a week at the theatre, which was built in 1916 to celebrate the accession of the Emperor Taisho; during the day you can wander around the auditorium and stage.
Closer to Yōkaichi, at Akinai-to-Kurashi Hakubutsukan, is the Museum of Commercial and Domestic Life (商いと暮らし博物館; daily 9am–4.30pm; ¥200), set in a charmingly converted merchant’s house, and with mechanical talking dummies that help show the daily life of a shopkeeper during the Taishō era (1912–26). The mannequins, which are electronically activated to start speaking, include a moaning pharmacist in the upstairs storeroom.
Just before heading northwest uphill into the Yōkaichi district, take a detour towards the Oda-gawa to admire the venerable Takahashi Residence (高橋邸; daily except Tues 9am–4.30pm; free), the birthplace of Takahashi Ryutaro, a politician and founder of the Asahi Beer company. The elegant two-storey building with castle-like stone walls has a lovely garden, which you can admire from the café inside.
Return to Yōkaichi, walking uphill past touristy shops selling souvenirs and tea, to reach the Machiya Shiryōkan (町家資料館; daily 9am–4.30pm; free), dating from 1793 and restored as a typical merchant’s townhouse. Further along, on the left after the kink in the road, are two of Uchiko’s most photographed buildings: the Ōmura Residence (大村家), the Edo-era home of a dyehouse merchant, and neighbouring Hon-Haga Residence (本芳我邸; daily except Thurs 9am–4.30pm; free), home of the main family behind Uchiko’s wax industry. This is more elaborate than the other houses, with ornate gables, a facade decorated with intricate plaster sculptures, and a small, attractive garden. Next on the right is another grand house once belonging to the Hon-Haga family, the Kami Haga Residence (上芳我邸; daily 9am–4.30pm; ¥400). Its size and elegant interior decoration give a good indication of how wealthy they must have been. Unlike most of the other buildings along the street, the plaster walls are a golden sand colour, and there’s a spacious courtyard surrounded by exhibition halls. If you plan to enter all the buildings and museums around town, a small saving can be made by purchasing the ¥700 combination ticket from Uchiko-za, the Kami Haga Residence or the Museum of Commercial and Domestic Life.