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Post Towns of the Kisoji on the Nakasendo

Driving distance between major sites in Kisoji

Moving distance chart by car in Kisoji.
 “Kisoji starts from here in a southward direction”.(*1)
This marker announces that “The Kisoji runs southward from here”.  For those coming from the old Edo (present-day Tokyo) direction, the Kisoji area begins here.  Visitors walking along the Kisoji will suddenly find themselves entering a deep ravine and a valley that stretches the length of the Kiso River.
This marker indicates that “The Kisoji runs northward from here”.  For those coming from the Kyoto direction, the Kisoji starts from this point.  The mountain path gradually becomes steeper, giving the sensation of ascending into a mountainous area.
 “Kisoji starts from here in a northward direction”
*Travel times are approximate and are based upon an average travel speed of 30~40 km per hour.

An old post road called the Nakasendo once ran between Kyoto and present-day Tokyo.  The Kisoji is a part of that road, passing through deep valleys, threading and twisting its way around steep forested mountains.  Picturesque post towns full of historical charm are strung out along the road and the Kisofukushima area features several of them.

In 1600, following the Battle of Sekigahara, the Tokugawa Shogunate (government) developed a network of roads that stretched nationwide.  A year later a horse traffic system was implemented and the year after that, post towns were established along the Nakasendo.

There were five such routes (the Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshudochu, Nikkodochu, and the Okushudochu), each marked at regular intervals with milestones.  All five originated in Edo’s (now Tokyo’s) Nihonbashi, and the first milestone for each route was located there.

After the establishment of these routes, a road commissioner was appointed in 1659 to oversee their repair and maintenance.  He was also charged with bridge construction and the setting up of river crossing facilities, milestone markers, labor and horse rental services and more.  He also administered post towns and checkpoints for strict control of travel along the roads.

These systems were originally intended to give priority to officials and those transporting government supplies.  However, the routes also vastly improved the journeys of ordinary people and the distribution of all kinds of goods and services.  This, in turn, advanced communication significantly and promoted inter-regional cultural exchange.

From its starting point in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi, the Nakasendo passes through the former provinces of Northern Musashi, Ueno, Shinano, Mino and many others before merging with the Tokaido at the Kusatsu Post Town (of Oumi) before continuing on to Kyoto.

In ancient times, the road was called the “Kiso Route” because it passed through Kiso.  Its alternate name, Nakasendo (中仙道, “Central Mountain Highway”) was given because it passed through the center of the country.  However, in 1710 the Edo Administration issued a directive making “Nakasendo” (中山道) its official and only legitimate name.

The Tokaido and the Nakasendo were the two routes that connected Edo and Kyoto, although the Tokaido had more traffic and larger post towns during the Edo Period.  It had 53 post towns and was about 494 meters long, whereas the Nakasendo had 67 post towns and was about 546 meters long.  Because it was laid out over more mountainous terrain, the Nakasendo journey was much more challenging for both humans and horses.  Therefore, when regional feudal lords (daimyo) had to travel to Edo for their biennial obligatory residence, only a quarter as many used the Nakasendo as the Tokaido.  However, the Nakasendo, in particular, was used to transport the famous Uji tea from Kyoto for the Shogun and by noble young ladies traveling with their entourages to Edo for marriage to high-ranking officials of the Shogunate.

Although they are now gone, the voices of those who used the Nakasendo seep from the walls of the old Japanese inns along the route.  The light from their paper lanterns still resonates with visitors today and warms their hearts.  Even now, each of us can experience this part of Japan’s rich history in the quaint old post towns where the heritage and antiquities of yesteryear still remain.


Here we describe each Post Town with its preserved streets and remaining relics of the 'Edo period'.
All post towns have souvenir stores and restaurants and exhibit rows of old original houses.
We recommend you to eat the famous "Goheimochi", if you do happen to stroll through the one of these towns.

Tsumago Post Town

Nearest station: Nagiso station on the JR Tokai Chuo line Take an Ontake Kotsu bus (Tsumago &Run line and Tsumago & Magome line) and get off at Tsugome bus stop.
Location:Nagiso town, Kiso District, Nagano

It was the first Post Town in Japan that preserved an old street and was selected as an 'Important Traditional Buildings Preservation District'.

Old buildings still remaining in the streets, glowing old lamps and springs to drink from remind you of old post towns. It seems as if the 'Edo period' is condensed and preserved in its entirety.

No Vehicle traffic is permitted within this Post Town so that you can stroll peacefully. At night Tsumago Post Town is illuminated with its lamps exhibiting nothing but the original scenery of Edo period Japan.
Tsumago Post Town, together with the neighboring Magome Post Town and the slope leading to Magome Post Town are renowned tourist spots representing the essence of Kisoji.

Attraction 1 : Tsumago Post Town - Wakihonjin Okuya

It is the building which served as an inn for daimyo (feudal lords) and as a wholesaling facility. In the 10th year of the Meiji period, the existing building was lavished with Japanese cypress, use of which had been banned until then, and built to resemble a Japanese castle. It is designated as a cultural asset of national importance.
In the backyard, there is a museum of traditional materials, where the history of Nagiso town and Kisoji and of the movements to preserve it and other such locations and cityscapes across Japan are displayed with the use of models and imagery.
Tsumago post town Wakihonjin Okuya

Narai Post Town

Nearest station:Narai Station on the
JR Tokai Chuo line
Location:Narai, Shiojiri City, Nagano
Narai Post Town is located at the foot of Torii Pass, where it flourished as a Post Town being referred to as "Narai of 1000 buildings" having a length twice as long as Niekawa Post Town.
Narai Post Town was separated from the national road network when the national roads were upgraded in the Meiji period; but this served to preserve this Post Town exactly as it had existed, and in 1978, it was designated as a "Traditional Buildings Preservation District". Traditional inns for ordinary travelers and daimyo from the 'Edo period' stand exactly as they were. And the Daimler's inn is presently being used as a community center. The house of the Tezuka family who ran a wholesale business is open to the public as a museum. The old buildings of Narai Post Town resurrect the scenes of olden days. Stone-paved sections of the path extending to Torii Pass are a precise reproduction of the original stone-paved road of the Nakasendo, which is now used and maintained as a walking trail.

Attraction 1 : Narai Kiso Bridge

Kiso Bridge is a large bridge built only with cypress trees over 300 years ago. It is an arched bridge spanning the Narai River. The re-construction of it began in 1989, and took three years to complete. The total expense was 303 million yen. Its main beam is 33 meters in length, 6.5 meters in width, and 7 meters in height from the surface of water at the center of the bridge. It features the largest span for a pier-less wooden bridge in Japan. You can see the meticulous craftsmanship in the timber work and structure of the bridge. You will be overwhelmed by this dynamic structure while feeling the warmth of the wood. You can take impressive pictures here.Kiso bridge

Magome Post Town

Magome Magome Post Town is the furtherest south of the Kiso's 11 post towns.
The old street was destroyed by a fire leaving only the stone path and entry gate, however, you can still feel the taste of post towns of that time as the old street with its rows of old style houses have been reconstructed.
It is a tourist mecca with Tsumago Post Town and is built along a hillside, along its stone paved street. The entry of cars is prohibited to preserve the historic buildings and to allow the tourists to shop freely at souvenir shops on both sides of the street.
Nearest station:
Take a Nohi bus on the Magome route from Nakatsugawa train station on the JR Tokaido Chuo line and get off at Magome bus stop.
Take an Ontake Kotsu bus on the Tsumago & Magome route from Nagiso train station on the JR Tokaido line and get off at either Jinba or Magome bus stop.
 *From Jinba bus stop: you will be located at the top of the Post Town so that you would be going down hill as you tour the Post Town.
 *From Magome bus station: Conversely, you would be walking up the hill as you tour the Post Town.
Location:Magome, Nakatsugawa City, Gifu

Attraction 1 : Toson Museum

Attraction 2 : Eishoji

It is a historic temple built in 1558 by Nanarozaemon Shimazaki, the ancestor of Toson Shimazaki, a Magome-born novelist. This temple appears as "Manpukuji" in Toson Shimazaki's novel, "Before the Dawn".
Statues of Kannon made by Enku stand in a hall to the side of the main building of the temple. You can also see the statue of Amitabha Tathagata made with Japanese cypress at the end of Heian period and a poetic tablet by Toson Shimazaki.
If you make reservations in advance, you can eat special vegetarian food such as Kaburamushi (in winter) made with mochi instead of white fish and Goheimochi.
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