Traveling the Nakasendo Trail with Edo Samurai: A Stay in Naraijuku, Nagano Prefecture
An Edo-Style Japanese Rest Stop: Naraijuku
In reality too, during Japan's Edo Period (1603 – 1868), leaders and important personages often found themselves traveling around between their homes spread across Japan, the ancient capital of Kyoto, and the more recently established capital of Edo (current-day Tokyo). These people traversed Japan using the Edo Five Routes, the major highways of the time, which connected all the major regions to each other. And they needed somewhere to stay during those long journies, didn't they?
One of these paths was the Nakasendo, and along the Nakasendo formed Naraijuku. A rest stop for samurai and other important figures traveling around Nagano (perhaps from the nearby Matsumoto Castle) and around Japan. Recently, the JAPANKURU team stopped by modern-day Nagano Prefecture to take in some of that old-fashioned ambiance, so let us take you back in time with us!
Is Naraijuku (奈良井宿) related to Nara (奈良)? Look at how they're written in Japanese!
The Answer Is:
Why so many visitors?
All the commerce of Edo travelers helped the town to grow, and the profits continued to go towards building new businesses, which eventually resulted in the town earning the nickname "Narai of 1,000 buildings" (Narai senken, or 奈良井千軒). Hotels, restaurants, and small shops are still maintained in some of the original structures from hundreds of years ago, so a walk around Naraijuku probably feels an awful lot like it did back in the Edo Era! It's a rest station through and through, but the tiled roofs and wooden facades that are still found along this chunk of the Nakasendo are enough to make any traditional Japanese architecture lover swoon.
We stayed the night in Ikariya Machida, a traditional guest house providing modern travelers with a place to rest their heads at night. With a dinner of simple, traditionally-prepared Japanese cuisine made by the owner, and a night spent in rooms that smelled pleasantly of tatami mats and wooden walls, we were transported back in time. When we woke up in Naraijuku the next morning, refreshed and free of the fatigue of the road, it wasn't hard to imagine Edo travelers feeling just the same.
- Is it a real rest stop without a place to stop for a cup of coffee?
- A two-week journey down the Nakasendo without a single cup of coffee? Luckily, we didn't have to suffer such difficulties. Naraijuku's Matsuyasabo Coffee Shop can be found in a two-story house from the end of the Edo Period. The first floor is a little more of a modern Western-style cafe, and the second floor has a Japanese-style tatami-floored room. Feel free to plop yourself down and sip your hot coffee or tea.
Ikariya Machida Inn (いかりや町田民宿)
Address: 573-1 Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Matsuyasabo Coffee Shop (松屋茶房)
Address: 583 Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Hours: 9:00 ~ 17:00
Address: Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Parking: available around the area.
Parking Fee: both free and paid, see the official website for details.
So, do you feel the old streets and beautiful buildings calling you to Naraijuku yet? We certainly enjoyed our stay there, and thought our whole trip to Nagano was lots of fun. If you want to hear more about our road trip through the beautiful mountainous scenery of the area, check out the article on JAPANKURU's rent-a-car adventure.
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⇩(And don't forget to check out our video from Naraijuku!)⇩