Narai-juku, April 2023

The Nakasendo Way, translates to the “middle mountain way”, once connected Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868).  Traders preferred the more convenient coastal roads making this mountainous trail safer for the passage of feudal lords and their families as less trade meant fewer bandits on the road.  Along the 500km Nakasendo Way were 69 post towns or “juku” where travelers could rest.  These post towns were controlled by the Tokugawa rulers and the services were for the benefit of dignitaries, samurai, members of the Tokugawa household and other government officials.  Regular folk were usually not allowed on the trail.  There are a few post towns in the Kiso Valley (Magome-juku, Tsumago-juku, and Narai-juku) still preserved and relatively unchanged since the trail’s heyday.
About an hour by train from Matsumoto is Narai-juku, the 34th of the 69 post towns located at the midpoint of the Nakasendo.  Narai-juku was the wealthiest of the 69 towns and was also known as the “Narai of a Thousand Houses.”  Thanks to the preservation work done by the Japanese government, it is kept as it was during the Edo period.  There are beautifully preserved historical residences such as the Nakamura Residence and the Kamidonya Shiryohan which are open to visitors.  We had lunch at the newly opened Byaku Narai hotel renovated from a traditional house with 12 rooms, an amazing restaurant, and a sake brewery onsite.
Entering Narai-juku.

At the entrance of Narai-juku are these notice boards called “kosatsuba”.  They list the regulations from the shogunate to the villagers and can be found in all the post towns.

Byaku Narai Hotel

Chosenji Temple was built in 1366 and there is a famous ceiling painting of a 20 meter long and 3.5 meter wide dragon dating from the Meiji era said to protect the monks of the temple.  It is also called the “roaring dragon” because of the sound that echoed through the temple whenever someone clapped their hands.

Our short visit quickly came to an end.  It makes a pleasant day strolling along the old streets of Narai-juku and imagining the hustle and bustle in its heyday.  Until the next time!


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