Kiso Valley (木曽谷), is surrounded by mountains such as the Central Alps to the east and the North Alps to the west. The old Nakasendo Highway, which was completed in the Edo Period 1603–1867) as a trunk road connecting Kyoto and present day Tokyo, went through the region. Among the 11 post towns situated
along the road, Narai is one of are the most protected and worth visiting.It is about 70 minutes by local train from Matsumoto, and similar times from Nagoya.
Narai (奈良井) is a Protected Area for the Preservation of Traditional Buildings.
The highlight is the 1 km long main street with its stretch of residences and shops dating from the Edo Period. Folkcrafts abound, and I watched as traditional craftsman created hand-made umbrellas, with modern artisans producing hand-painted clothing. I bought a freshly painted t-shirt here.
Kiso’s Big Bridge, is made of Japanese cypress that is about 300 years old. Beautifully curved, the bridge arches over the Narai River.
The Torii Pass (鳥居峠) goes from Narai-juku to Yabuhara – both ends having railway stations making this a really accessible walk. It is easy to transport yourself back 400 years to imagine travellers moving through this area.
At Yabuhara (薮原) I had a 90 minutes to kill after just missing my train back to Matsumoto. So I took a short trek into the nearby hills during one of the typical afternoon storms. Fantastic!
So this is how you can spend a positive, enriching and interesting day, and be back at your hotel by 5:00pm. After leaving Matsumoto later than planned (see Where did I leave my wallet?) I hopped the train to Shiojiri, just 10 minutes down the line.
A friendly Kiwi (staffer) at the Shiojiri Tourist Office directed me to a local bus that would get me to Narai in 50 minutes. He did laugh when I said I was going to walk the Torii Pass – as if it was Mt Everest or something. Over 6 kms up goes up 600m and down again. Hey, I live in the Blue Mountains! This is flat.
A look through the town. Have a rest. Find the Torii Pass trail and off I go, chasing a 75yo local lady as she walked the Pass as easily as a 20yo. Down to Yabuhara, another trek up the hills outside this town, and then train back to Matsumoto. Now this is travelling.
Go to the Japan National Tourism website to get detailed information about traveling to the beautiful Kiso Valley.
(Wednesday 3 August, 2011)