The next phase of my journey across Japan brought me down to the city of Nagoya. Much like Takayama, I would be using Nagoya as a base for a pair of trips outside the city and I wouldn’t be seeing much of Nagoya until my departure day. Nagoya is sometimes mocked as the most boring big city in Japan and I suspect many other visitors to Nagoya use it much the same way I did.
My first trip out of Nagoya took me to the Kiso Valley. Originally I was going to get on a train that left Nagoya at 8:30am but I had a really hard time getting out of bed that morning and I ended up missing that train. Thankfully I found an express train that left Nagoya at 9:00am and the schedule would work out such that I would arrive in the Kiso Valley at just about the same time as if I had caught that 8:30am train. I rode the train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, and then I changed to a different train that took me to Nagiso, where I would board a bus to the town of Tsumago in the Kiso Valley. Altogether it took about 2.5 hours to reach Tsumago from Nagoya.
Tsumago lies along an old trade route that once connected Tokyo and Kyoto. During the Edo Period (1603-1867) Japan’s national government heavily regulated travel within the country and people moving between Tokyo and Kyoto could only use either a road that cut through the mountains or one that followed Japan’s southern coast. Tsumago was one of many settlements, called “post towns,” that developed along the route that ran through the mountains of central Japan and today it is the best preserved of the post towns within the Kiso Valley. To help recreate the ambience of old Tsumago the residents of the town have kept symbols of modernity hidden as much as possible and cars are banned from the main road during daytime hours.
The first place I visited in Tsumago was the Wakihonjin. This was a secondary inn that mainly served people that weren’t government officials or nobles (those people would normally stay at the town’s primary inn, called the Honjin, which I’ll feature in tomorrow’s post). I was able to get a one-on-one tour since I was the only English speaker visiting at the time and my guide told me some interesting history about the Wakihonjin. Much of the Wakihonjin that we see today is the same as it existed 200 years ago, but there’s a special bathroom that is newer. Some years back Japan’s emperor was going to be visiting Tsumago and that bathroom was built just for him but the emperor ended up only staying in town for less than an hour and the bathroom never got used. Another interesting fact was that up until modern times there would be periods of the year where the Wakihonjin would get hardly any visitors at all and during those times it would be converted into a sake brewery. After my tour wrapped up I visited one of the other buildings in the Wakihonjin where a small museum dedicated to the history of Tsumago is housed. I then headed back out to see a couple other places in Tsumago, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.