Have you ever traveled to Nakasendō road or any of the post town stations along the way?
There are beautiful, ancient, and picturesque trails in Nakasendo中山道 where you will feel nostalgic, especially in the Kisoji area (Gifu & Nagano). These trekking routes between the post towns are where you can enjoy scenic mountain hikes.
In this blog, I visited and was introduced to some of the Kisoji road post towns in Aug 2021. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
What is Nakasendo and Kisoji?
The route in red is Nakasendō and light blue is Tōkaidō. (The black color is Kōshūkaidō, by the way)
The Nakasendō (中山道, Central Mountain Route) was built during Edo period (1603 – 1867 ), and one of the two that connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto in Japan. There were 69 post-town stations between Tokyo and Kyoto, crossing through Saitama, Gunma, Nagano, Gifu and Shiga prefectures, with a total distance of about 534 km (332 mi).
Many of the post towns were once gone or abandoned, but during the Showa period (1926–1989), a number of them were restored and preserved back to their former glory with the help of the local people. Today, they have become popular tourist spots.
Unlike the coastal Tōkaidō 東海道 (東 = east, 海 = sea, 道 = road), the Nakasendō traveled inland as it shows in Kanji (中 = middle, 山 = mountain, 道 = road)” It is said that Nakasendō was favored by female travelers back then as it didn’t require a river crossing.
Kisoji (木曽路, Kiso road) is a part of Nakasendō from Magome to Niekawa, and there are 11 post towns located in the mountainous area of Kiso.
Nakatsugawa-juku (中津川宿, Nakatsugawa-juku) is the 45th of the 69 stations of the Nakasendō, located in Nakatsugawa city, Gifu prefecture. In this post town, there are many historical artifacts that remain today like a haiku (Japanese poem) stone monument written by Matsuo Bashō, a legendary poet in Japan.
~ This post town is not one of 11 Kisoji post towns, but we stopped by. 🙂
People are very friendly here. We met a charming old lady who talked to us and guided about Nakatsugawa-juku. She was so lovely!
By the way, the lady with a hat is my friend.
Click here for Nakatsugawa-juku map
Magome-juku is built along a hillside with its beautifully arranged stone-paved streets that run for about 600 meters. The view is remarkable and breathtaking.
This town is also known as the birthplace of the famous Japanese poet/novelist, Shimazaki Toson. In fact, this post town was used as the setting in Toson’s novel. If you’re interested in Japanese literature, you may want to enter the Shimazaki Toson museum located in the middle of the post-town, near the tourist information booth. You’ll see the entrance of the museum in the video.
The photo above is of the upper entrance to Magome-juku. From here, you can walk along the road to the next post-town, Tumago-juku, which is about 7.7km away.
Click here for Magome-juku map
Tsumago-juku is the 42nd of the 69 post towns in Nakasendō. This is located in Nagiso Town, Kiso District, Nagano Prefecture. This post town was the first preserved old town in Japan and retains the authentic appearance of a typical historic post town. The local people of Tsumago still live their day-to-day lives in this town while continuing to maintain the old Edo period townscape so it can be passed down to future generations.
Click here for Tsumago-juku map
Suhara-juku is not a large size post town, but have charming scenery with Mizufune 水船, water boat. Fresh water runs through the post town and in front of the houses, where wooden boat-shaped water tanks are placed. They use the water for cooling the road, watering the plants, as well as cooling and washing fruits and vegetables.
On our second day on this Kisoji trip, we stayed over at the Minshuku Suhara 民宿すはら in Suhara-juku post town. This Japanese inn was built around 150 years ago and has a great old-world ambience that can be felt throughout the house. The photo below shows the entrance.
Inside the inn, an old weaving machine and utensils are kept in good condition. They gave us all a very nostalgic feeling.
I did a Live tour inside the Minshuku Suhara. Please enjoy the video 🙂
Click here to see Suhara-juku map.
Fukushima-juku is not a large post town, but it was very cozy and well-maintained.
A great view of the grid in the resting area. There was also a nice restaurant, bar, museum and two free parking lots for tourists.
Click here to see Fukushima-juku map
Narai-juku is the largest post town in Kisoji, spanning about 1km in length.
There are many shops along the street like soba restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, inns, etc.
Narai-juku was the wealthiest post town of the Kiso Valley and was often referred to as “Narai of a thousand houses.”
There is a nice tatami-mat floor soba restaurant too. Inside were tables available for customers with pets 🐶.
↑ Shizume Shrine 鎮神社 located at the end of Narai-juku.
“Shizume 鎮” means “to calm down or find relief.” The origin of this shrine dates back to 1618 when a plague was ravaging the town and in order to “calm it down”, a God was invited from Chiba which is now enshrined there.
Very close to Narai-juku is a beautiful arched bridge called Narai Kiso-no-Ohashi Bridge. The bridge was constructed using 300-year-old cypress (hinoki 檜 in Japanese) wood. Please enjoy this video of me crossing it with Tommy🐶
The photo on the left is a local snack called Gohemochi 五平餅. It’s a grilled mochi covered with miso and chestnut paste. I also had a very nice glass of toarco toraja coffee to go with a Meiji-era inspired curry (They called it “reproduction curry 復刻カレー” in Japanese) at Cafe Miyama near the roadside station of Narai-juku.
Click here to see Narai-juku map
This post-town visit was very fun!
Once this Covid pandemic has eased up, you may want to visit Kisoji and walk along the scenic post-towns there. If you love nature and trekking, Kisoji Nakasendo is the ideal place to spend your days. There are old but cozy lodges along the way too.
Thank you so much for reading until the end. I hope this post has been helpful.
Beside the post towns I visited this time, there are six more post towns in Kisoji.
You can find more info about Kisoji here (Kisoji.com).