If you are visiting Kakunodate, do not rush straight to Bukeyashiki Street (famous Samurai House Street). Be sure to make a stop in the unique Nishinomiya Clan Ancestral Museum. It is quieter than the main tourist attractions and it is surrounded by a stunning garden. The main house and five warehouses, which were built in the early 1900s, have now been restored, bringing back the luxury of the Taisho era.
The place has a mysterious feel. The entrance is from a small side street and the residence is hidden among big maple trees and hydrangea flowers. It looks like a secret garden, with colorful butterflies and singing cicadas. As soon as you step inside, you experience serene tranquility, admiring this old house blending into the beauty of nature.
The main tatami room is called Omoya (main house) and was built in the mid-Meiji era. What strikes visitors first about this tatami room is its classic design and the big sliding doors that open out to the garden. You can step inside, sit on comfortable straw mats and have tea or a meal enjoying garden view.
There are a few historical warehouses situated next to the main room. Kitagara (Northern warehouse), built in 1919 is now a restaurant where people can feel the nostalgia of the Taisho era. It serves mostly local dishes. It is definitely recommended to try these local specialties as most of them cannot be found anywhere outside of Kakunodate. Komegura (Rice granary), built in 1910 has been remodelled into a souvenir shop. Its impressively large wooden beams make the spacious interior truly unique. It offers a wide range of local souvenirs. Maple woodwork, traditional clothing, and hand made zori (Japanese sandals) are sold in the shop. If you are lucky, you can even see how some of them are made. Bunkogura (Archive warehouse) is the oldest warehouse, built in 1894. It holds an exhibition of the Nishinomiya family's belongings. The other two warehouses are Maegura (Front warehouse) -- used for exhibitions and meetings -- and Gakkogura (Pickles warehouse) for storing pickles, which are very popular in this region
The Nishinomiya Clan Ancestral Museum is open from 10am to 5pm and there is no entrance fee. It is around ten minutes walk from Kakunodate Train Station, you can also get there with a local bus. The best way to get to Kakunodate is by train. I used my JR East Pass for Tohoku area and the ride from central Tokyo to Kakunodate Station took only 3 hours. There are about ten connections a day, which makes planning the trip very comfortable. Trains are spacious and very comfortable.