08 Aug 21

Exploring the narrow backstreets of Nakatsugawa

Chris Kavanagh Japan

After a few days soaking up the sights of Kyoto prior to my Nakasendo Way walk, I decided to head off early to Nakatsugawa, the walk’s starting point. I arrived in the morning with my walking shoes on, ready to explore.

About Nakatsugawa

Nakatsugawa, the 45th postal town of the Nakasendo Way, has developed into one of the major centres of the area for the lumber and silk industries. During the Edo period, Nakatsugawa was a prosperous town, but still had a population less than 2000 with around 200 homes. It now boasts a population of nearly 80,000 housed in 31,000 homes. However, despite its recent changes, it has managed to preserve many of the original wooden homes, warehouses and buildings and much of the charming atmosphere in the narrow backstreets of the old town.

These streets are steeped in history and hide myriad glimpses back into how life in Gifu Prefecture was hundreds of years ago. I found that the best way to explore these streets (without getting lost!) is to join the Backstreets Walking Tour, guided by RAW Travel’s local guru, Ukky.

Our guide

Ukky is a wealth of local knowledge, and, during our tour he blended personal anecdotes beautifully with interesting facts about the township and its history. He really put life into our stroll through the alleyways as we absorbed in the sights, sounds and smells of old town Nakatsugawa.

Becoming a sake fan

He escorted us to the Hazama Sake Brewery and museum, where we gleaned so much about one of Nakatsugawa’s oldest businesses, and sampled some of their product. I have to admit that I’m not the biggest drinker, or sake fan, but I was so impressed that I came away with a few bottles of their ‘liquid gold’ to enjoy at home.

The brewery has an inhouse store that sells small 330ml bottles of sake, which is a fabulous post-holiday gift for friends if you can resist opening them beforehand.

The same can be said for wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) which we enjoyed, along with tea, at a tasting at one of the amazing sweet shops Ukky took us to. These wagashi also made a perfect omiyage (gift for friends, family or co-workers) upon our return home.

The beauty of old and new

The tour led us through tiny alleyways filled with local homes, and, as we wandered around, Ukky gave us a real insight into traditional old-town living, the daily routines of the locals as well as village life, both past and present. It’s truly fascinating to see how new and old sit side by side, and especially how the original Edo period wooden buildings have morphed into 20th-century dwellings. He also filled us in about the local flora and fauna.

Ready to begin

Having an understanding of the area, its locals and the history made the best start to my Nakasendo journey. I felt that I had so much more knowledge about the people whose footsteps I would be walking in. Advance bookings are essential. Please advise your destination specialist if you’d like to add this option to your booking.

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