The Post Town of Tsumago-juku

November 2, 2016 2016年11月2日

Lasting between 1603 and 1868 was the Edo era, one of the most prosperous periods of time in the history of Japan. During this time, Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government, and the country’s 300 daimyō, the all-powerful feudal lords who ruled most of the land. Characterized by intensive economic growth, an excessively strict social order, isolationist foreign policies and a flourishing art scene, the Edo period played a profound role in the industrial, artistic and intellectual development of Japan.


Located in Nagiso, Nagano Prefecture, Tsumago-juku is the 42nd of the 69 post towns on the Nakasendō, a trade route that stretched over 530 km and connected modern-day Tokyo with Kyoto during the Edo period. As one of the most well-preserved towns in Japan, people stopping by Tsumago are usually visitors looking to experience an authentic slice of Japanese history and soak in the ambience of a historic Japanese post town.

長野県の南木曽町(なぎそまち)に位置する妻籠宿(つまごじゅく)は、江戸時代の商業街道として現在の東京と京都を結ぶ530 kmに渡って栄えた中山道六十九次のうち42番目の宿場でした。日本国内で最も保存状態に優れた町である妻籠宿を訪れる観光客らは、歴史的な日本の宿場町の雰囲気に浸り、日本史の真の一面に触れることができます。

Before becoming a part of the Nakasendō route, Tsumago was part of the Kisoji, a minor trade route running through the Kiso Valley. The town fell into poverty after the construction of the Chūō Main Line railway, which bypassed Tsumago. As a result, the town ended up being neglected for over a century. Yet, with enough dedication and effort from locals, over 20 houses were restored by 1971. Five years later, Tsumago was deemed as a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site by the Japanese government and has since then become a fairly popular tourist destination.


It only takes a short ten minutes to go through the entirety of Tsumago on foot. A myriad of wooden Edo-style temples, shrines and two-story inns are scattered along the street. Cars are strictly prohibited on the main road during the day, and all the power cables along with the telegraph lines are concealed. It’s details like these that brings forth the feeling of having traveled back in time for visitors.


Different kinds of accommodations are available for travelers, including a rebuilt version of the town’s honjin, which used to be a major way station for government officials. It was the place where only feudal lords and other representatives of the shogunate would stay during their travels. Originally destroyed, the inn was reconstructed in 1995, but the new building still manages to retain the sense of charm that it once held during the Edo era.


The waki-honjin, which is a smaller version of the honjin, is the secondary inn. In the past, it accommodated travelers of lower status and retainers of the feudal lords. Reconstructed in 1877, the waki-honjin was rebuilt with Japanese cypress, which was actually prohibited by the government during those times. According to the rules, when two official parties were traveling through Tsumago, only the most powerful of the two could stay in the main honjin, while the other party must reside in the waki-honjin.


The government has a set of stringent laws that prevents any of the buildings in Tsumago to be rented out, sold, or demolished. The town remains uninhabited nowadays, and its only the traditional craft shops and inns crammed with people during the tourist season that brings the sleepy town to life. But for people looking to experience a piece of Japanese cultural history, this quaint little town is a must-visit destination.


Contributor: Anastasia Masalova
Photographer: Tutu

寄稿者: Anastasia Masalova
カメラマン: Tutu

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