Kiso Valley

When you visit the Land of the Rising Sun, you better be prepared to learn a lot about culture and history – two of the most defining aspects that have shaped this nation to be its state today. Some of the most beautiful outdoor activities are the ones that manage to incorporate both – and there are a lot that do.

One of the best outdoor sights to experience, especially when interested in history, is the Kiso Valley. Should you find yourself in the Nagano Prefecture, you should definitely pay a visit to the valley. Japan has its own mountain range called the “Central Alps” – of course, not nearly as large as the real deal in Western Europe, but respectable nonetheless. The Kiso Valley runs along the side of this mountain range, which once upon a time used to be a very important commercial trade route in historic times, especially around the Edo Period when this valley was rather populated.

Along the Kiso Valley ran the Kisoji, around 70 kilometres long. The route was once part of the Nakasendo, which literally meant “path through mountains” and is the setting of many ancient travel logs and diaries. Being part of the Nakasendo means that the Kisoji was part of the crucial methods of communication and transportation between Edo and Kyoto.

Given the length of the valley and its road, and given that it used to only be travelled by foot, a large number of post towns popped up, which catered to those travelers – early forms of economy fuelled by tourism in Japan.

Nowadays, along this valley, a few post towns still exist and they are modeled after how they used to be. The most popular ones are Magome, Tsumago and Narai, all of which are preserved rather well from the old days. Visitors to these towns can experience some of the most interesting and detailed parts of Japanese cultural history that are often overlooked – many only think of the castles where battles were fought or temples were the holy were crowned. Stone paths and wooden structures litter the town with some people actually selling goods and souvenirs just how merchants once did hundreds of years ago.

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