Monday morning the 20th of March we met Kiyo(Kiyoko Se) our Japanese Guide for the next 12 days in the hotel lobby in Tokyo. Normally this trip is for 10-12 people but Tony and I are the the only guests on this Oku travel guided walk- what a luxury to have Kiyo all to ourselves. The plan was to follow part of the Nakasendo route on foot through the Kiso valley.
The Kiso Valley grew in importance during the Edo period (1603-1868) when the 500 km long Nakasendo route was formed. The Nakasendo (“path through mountains”) was one of the two means of transportation between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. It contrasted with the other principal transportation route of the time, the Tokaido, which ran along the coast and was prone to flooding.
Because of restrictions by the shogunate (the Japanese government in Tokyo), travelers were almost always forced to make their trips on foot. As a result, “post towns” developed every few kilometers to provide travelers with places to rest, eat, and find nightly accommodation during their arduous journey.
Our first stop on Monday morning was Nihombashi bridge where the Nakasendo route starts in Tokyo ( see wood cut above). All that is left is a plaque in the middle of the bridge. Otherwise the bridge is rather disfigured by a massive motorway flyover.
We continued our history lesson by going to Ueno park and the Tokyo National museum to learn a bit more about the Edo period and stroll through the lovely museum garden.
We also visited the grand Meiji Shinto shrine which represents the period after Edo. The upkeep of the shrine is supported by Sake breweries represented here by rice barrels and also wine companies. Sake is an important drink during religious festivals and ceremonies even weddings.
The very impressive wooden Shinto Torii gate is the 12m high entrance to the shrine and decorated with gold leaf 16 petal chrysanthemum the emperor’s crest. The Meiji period lasted from (1868-1912).
After a delicious lunch with Kiyo we prepared ourselves for the first day of actual walking the Nakasendo route.