Nakatsugawa: Where Walking to the Nakasendo Begins

With so many developments happening around the world, it can be quite easy to just move forward and not look back on the past. History dictates how culture and traditions have developed over the years and it is important not to forget this despite modernization. For people who wish to travel to a place that still retains its history as reflected by some of its structures while getting a bit of an exercise through hiking through nature, one of the places to check out is Nakatsugawa.

Weather, History, and Hotels in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan

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More commonly known as Nakatsugawa-shi in Japanese, the city of Katsugawa is situated in the Tono region in Gifu Prefecture. Found on the 1st of April in the year 1952, the city of Nakatsugawa is currently under the governance of Mayor Koji Oyama since May of the year 2004. With a total area of 676.38 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 261.15 square miles, the estimated population of the city was 80,572 as of July of the year 2011.

As a result, the population density of the area was 120 persons per square kilometer, which was equivalent to 310 persons per square mile. The address of the city hall of Nakatsugawa is Kayanoki-chō 2-1, Nakatsugawa-shi, Gifu-ken 508-8501. Its symbols include the Sciadopitys verticillata tree and the Enkianthus campanulatus flower.

Initially, Nakatsugawa was a post town called Nakatsugawa-juku during the Edo period. It was among the 69 stations along the Nakasendo. The travel route began from the Nihonbashi located in Edo, which is now known as Tokyo, to Sanjo Ohashi situated in the imperial capital of Kyoto. It also served as among the five primary routes that were utilized during the Edo period. Furthermore, it was also one of the two routes that served as a link between Edo and Kyoto.

Nakatsugawa was composed of several towns and villages. These include Tsukechi Town, Fukuoka Town, Sakashita Town, Hirukawa Village, Kashimo Village, and Kawaue Village all hailing from the former Ena District and Yamaguchi Town hailing from Kiso District located in Nagano Prefecture. They were all merged into Nakatsugawa on the 13th of February in the year 2005.

One of the things that Nakatsugawa is known for is its plentiful chestnut harvest. There are several chestnut delicacies offered in the area such as kurikinton. Kurikinton is made by first boiling chestnuts. After they have turned soft, they are to be mashed and combined together with sugar. After this, they are then to be reformed into a chestnut shape.

This delicacy is readily available during the autumn season. As it has become a tradition in the area, several families make their own kurikinton during its harvest season. It is highly recommended to purchase some to bring home to family and friends for them to be able to get a taste of the special food in Nakatsugawa.

Nakatsugawa can be accessed by various ways. For planes, the closest airport to Nakatsugawa is the Chubu International Airport. Direct connecting trains are available on the Meitetsu Centrair service going to Nagoya Station. For JR Chuo Line, one can also take a connecting train from Kanayama Station to Nakatsugawa.

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One may also take a car or a bus to go to Nakatsugawa. The closest intersection found on the Chuo Expressway between Tokyo and Nagoya is the Nakatsugawa I.C. National Highway 19 and National Highway 363 also pass through Nakatsugawa coming from Nagoya. Buses are available outside Nakatsugawa Station with varying routes and destinations.

For people who wish to stay in Nakatsugawa, there are also several places that one can stay in for the night. One of these places is the Hotel Route Inn Nakatsugawa Inter. It is a business-type hotel that is only 7 minutes away from Nakatsugawa Station by car. It offers rooms that are reasonably priced. Every room comes with free wired internet, a safe, and a video-on-demand TV. It also offers buffet for breakfast.

For those looking for a traditional feel, try staying in a ryokan. One may check out the Totaro for staying the night. It is located in the western part of Nakatsugawa. Its rooms are guaranteed clean and comfortable. It features tatami flooring and futons for that traditional Japanese accommodation.

Located in the southern part of Nakatsugawa is a mid-range hotel known as Hotel Windsor. It offers clean and spacious rooms with modern facilities. A huge public hot bath is also available for guests who wish to relax and unwind after a long day of walking. The hotel also offers free parking for guests and features an on-site restaurant for the famished.

Local Attractions: Museums, Rivers, Valleys, and Theaters

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Several efforts have been made in order to preserve the Edo period heritage of Nakatsugawa on the original route that passes through town. This road is now lined with several Japanese sake shops as well as restaurants and confectionery stores. These restaurants are housed in wooden buildings and warehouses called kura that were restored through the years. Walking along this road lets visitors feel like they are still in the Edo period.

Stretching from the west to the east, the Nakasendo runs through the heart of Nakatsugawa from the bridge located to the south of the Chuo Main Line Bridge. It crosses over the Nakatsugawa River as well as the Yotsumegawa River. It then continues to the hills located on the other side of town.

There are now only two remaining markers in the area: one for Nakatsugawa’s Honjin, which is a lodging house that caters to feudal lords, and one for Waki-Honjin, which is also a lodging house but for lesser dignitaries. Some of the original wooden buildings have also been restored and are now being preserved so that the next generations would still be able to witness its beauty. These buildings include the Shuyukan House as well as the house of the headman of the post town, Kurobei Hida. The latter house now serves as the residence of the Soga family.

One of the local attractions in the area if the Nakatsugawa Nakasendo Historical Museum. This museum contains some historical documents as well as artifacts that reflect the history and culture of Nakatsugawa. Other items that can be found in the museum include woodblock prints and paintings. Information about Nakatsugawa and the Nakasendo may also be obtained here.

The museum is open from 9:30 AM to 5 PM though entry is only until 4:30 PM. It is closed every Monday except on holidays, wherein the museum would be open on that Monday but closed on the next day. The Nakatsugawa Nakasendo Historical Museum is also closed from the 27th of December to the 5th of January the following year in celebration of the New Year. Admission costs 320 yen per head.

The town also has its own kosatsuba and joyato. Kosatsuba is basically an information board while joyato are stone lanterns that serve as beacons for travelers at night. Close to the Kosatsuba are Nanrinji Temple and Asahigaoka Park, which houses Asahigaoka Shrine.

Another must-see for art aficionados is the Maeda Seison Exhibition Hall. This hall was built in commemoration of a modern Japanese artist known as Maeda Seison. Seison also served as a leader of the Nihonga movement. Local kabuki theaters can also be found in Nakatsugawa.

For the religious people, check out Toenji Temple. A Soto Zen sect temple, Toenji Temple contains statues of Kannon as well as the Nyorai (Tathagata) Buddha. A number of these statues are designated as National Important Cultural Properties. A number of the temple buildings were also built during the Edo period.

Nakatsugawa is also a great spot for fireworks display during the summer season. This is typically done on the banks of its river. It is held a day before the Oidensai Festival, which occurs in mid-August. This festival is accompanied by traditional floats as well as street performances. Another festival held in the area is the Nakatsugawa Furusato-jiman Festival, which is held in the month of October.

The Nakasendo Walk: From Nakatsugawa Station to Magome and Kyoto

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The primary reason why most people travel to Nakatsugawa is to do the Nakasendo Walk. It is basically a trek that starts at Nakatsugawa. It is said that Nakatsugawa holds one of the best parts of the traditional Nakasendo Way walking route, where it also starts. The post town of Magome lies at the center of the Kiso Valley. This post town is also the birthplace of the first modern novelist of the country, Shimazaki Toson.

Magome contains broad stone walkways that are accentuated by manicured gardens as well as wooden architecture. It is the opposite of Tsumago, wherein inhabitants try to live without the use of modern conveniences such as electricity.  The trail between these two places is 8 kilometers long.

The path passes through the countryside prior to going through the twin waterfalls of Otaki and Metaki, which translates to “the man and the woman.” The trail also passes through the ruins of Ichikokutochishirakiatame Bansho-ato, which is a castle from the Edo period. Touring Tsumago would not be complete without visiting the Honjin in the area. After which, it is time to head back to Nakatsugawa Station to get on a train to Nagoya.

For a deeper hike, take a four-day journey that includes the hiking adventure that begins at Nakatsugawa. This hike is 39 kilometers long and may be tiresome to beginners. The hike starts near the Hiroshige Print Museum and goes up to the historic Magome Pass. Visitors would then enter Kiso Valley.

Get to experience the traditional Japanese hospitality by stopping at Shinchaya Inn. It is a teahouse that now also serves as minshuku for tired travelers. It is situated just outside of Magome. Day Two constitutes the exploration of Magome until one hikes to Tsumago Village, which is known for its traditional architecture that is around 400 years old.

Tsumago remains untouched by modernization by prohibiting the installation of power poles and power lines in the area. Even vending machines cannot be found in this area. Walk around the village to immerse one’s self in their culture before heading to Iwaya Inn where one can relax and unwind in an onsen.

Day Three begins with a stop at a barrier station that was reconstructed years ago. The trail then leads to Jizo Pass, where hikers would have to climb through the dense forest to 1,355 meters before finally going down onto Kaida Plateau, where the active volcano Mount Ontake can be found. One would then have to go up the plateau again before going down to the alpine resort of Kaida Kogen.

Yabuhara concludes the Nakasendo Walk with a hike of 11 kilometers as visitors climb Torii Toge pass. The Torii Pass is also known as one of the highest points in this trail. Visitors would then emerge at Narai, which is the halfway point between Tokyo and Kyoto. It is also one of the most well-known post towns of the highway.

Why Nakatsugawa is A Must-Visit

There are various reasons why Nakatsugawa is a must-visit. However, probably the most common reason is to get to take the Nakasendo Walk. It is said that taking this adventure is truly invigorating and eye-opening. Though it can be challenging to take this journey that lasts for four days, many say that there is fulfillment at the end of the hike. One would also get to witness what it was like to live in the past when taking this route and visiting the villages.

Another reason why Nakatsugawa is a great place to visit is its close ties to history. With several structures in the area preserved and maintained well, even the younger generation would be able to appreciate the historical architecture of the buildings that dates back to the Edo period. What is more fascinating are the stories behind these buildings and the people who lived in it for a period of time. Lakes and waterfalls can also be found in the area, which provide calmness to anyone who can witness its beauty.