Kiso Valley

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The Kiso Valley [1] (木曽谷) starts from Nagano prefecture and runs through Gifu prefecture, Japan.

Understand[edit]

Situated in the southwestern part of Nagano Prefecture and the eastern part of Gifu or Tōno (東濃), this area was once a section of the old Nakasendo Highway, one of Japan's historic transport arteries joining Kyoto with Edo (present-day Tokyo). Roughly following the Kiso River, the once-important post towns now form a well-preserved living museum of the Edo Period, with most modern facilities being hidden from sight.


Get in[edit]

By train[edit]

The centrally-located train station for the Kiso Valley is Kiso Fukushima (木曽福島), located on the JR Chuo Main Line.

There are several different approaches to Kiso-Fukushima from Tokyo. One route is to take the Tokaido Shinkansen Nozomi to Nagoya, then transfer to the Wide View Shinano for the run to Kiso Fukushima (3 hours 20 minutes, ¥13800).

Another route is to take the Nagano Shinkansen Asama to Nagano and transfer there to the Wide View Shinano. This takes about 3 hours 40 minutes and costs ¥11300.

A third way is to take the Azusa or Super Azusa from Shinjuku to Shiojiri and transfer there to the Wide View Shinano (3 hours 20 minutes with good connection, ¥9080).

If you use the Japan Rail Pass, you should go via Nagoya, Nagano or Shiojiri.

From western Japan, including Kyoto and Osaka, take the Shinkansen to Nagoya and change to the Wide View Shinano or to local service.

Note that some other parts of the valley are located at other stations near Kiso Fukushima on the JR Chuo Main Line (see below).

By bus[edit]

From Tokyo you can also sign up with local motorcoach tours for a one or two-day excursion to the Kiso Valley region. Highway bus also gets your from Nagoya or Tokyo to Ena Station or Nakatsugawa Interchange.

Get around[edit]

See[edit][add listing]

  • Magome - In Gifu prefecture, this post town is famous as the birthplace of the noted poet/novelist Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943). The town often appears in his works. Old inns wind their way up to the old curving street, much as they did in the Edo period. 30 min. by bus from Nakatsugawa Station on the Chuo Honsen Line. Magome is the most developed site for tourism and its steep street tends to get crowded.
  • Tsumago - In Nagano prefecture, this town was designed as the forty-second post town from Edo. Since 1968, the town has been preserved and restored to its former glory by the efforts of the local society and is now a Protected Area for the Preservation of Traditional Buildings. Wonderful old Edo atmosphere. It is a fascinating 3-hour, 9-kilometer walk from Magome to Tsumago to experience the ancient highway as it was in its heyday. 7 min. by bus from Nagiso Station on the Chuo Honsen Line, or 30 min. by bus from Magome. There is a 2 to 3 hour hike between Tsumago and Magome. You can return to your starting point by bus or taxi. The Tourist Information Center can take care of your luggage.
  • Ena - This little city in Gifu prefecture, also on the old Nakasendo Road, is the host of the Nakasendo Hiroshige Museum where you can get a look of how was the road during the time of Hiroshige (1797-1858), famous ukiyo-e artist, considered the last great master of that tradition.

At Ena you can also have a look of the Kiso Valley Cliffs at Enakyō, where you can have a little cruise on the river. Ena is also part of the Mino Pottery area that starts from Tajimi.

  • Narai - This town is also a Protected Area for the Preservation of Traditional Buildings. Once the most prosperous of the post towns, it was called "Narai of a Thousand Houses." Five public wells still refresh travelers with their cool, clear water. On the northern end of the Kiso vally, Narai is a bit more laidback than Magome and Tsumago, and to some extent it looks more authentic. From Narai you can climb to the Torii pass and see an original section of the paved Nakasendo. Narai is 5 min. walk from Narai Station on the Chuo Honsen Line.
  • Mt. Ontake: A magnificent, active volcano rising 3,067m at the southern end of the Northern Alps on the cypress forest to the top. The view of Mt. Ontake from Kaida Heights is justly famous. 1 hr. 30 min. by bus to the foot of the mountain from Kiso-Fukushima Station on the Chuo Honsen Line. 3 hrs. hike to the top.
  • Iwamura Castle - Once the powerful Iwamura-han, Iwamura village in Gifu prefecture is also quite well preserved. You can admire there the ruins of the once highest castle of Japan. Several old houses are open to the public for free. The paddy fields scenery in the rural Tomida is said to be once of

There is a historical section of the Nakasendo Highway through the Kiso Valley.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Hike between Magome and Tsumago is one of the best and most famous in Japan. Take your time and enjoy the sites. The hike can be done around an hour if you don't care about seeing anything but 2 to 3 hours to make it special If you're going to hike the trail between the two cities, it is easier to hike from Magome to Tsumago. Tsumago is a very nice place to stay overnight and the JR Nagiso Train Station is only an hour walk or a $15 taxi ride away.
  • Ski at one of the resorts around Kiso Valley
  • Daio Wasabi Park [2] in Azumi (Nagano prefecture) is the perfect place to get your hand dirty to craft a delicious and spicy "wasabizuke" , a wasabi tsukemono[3].
  • Rock climbing in Kasagiyama area close to the Kiso River, in Kasagi village.[4]
  • Bicycle tour with Tono Cycling Tour [5]. Slow pace to discover the scenery and the people in the Tōno area. Guided tour in English available.
  • Canoe and Kayak on the Kiso River with the Kayak University of Nakatsugawa [6]. English OK.

Buy[edit][add listing]

The Kiso valley is known for the "Hinoki" fine-grained cedar pine trees (Chamaecyparis Obtusa). This scented wood is known for its durability. Hinoki is used for example for bath tubs and accessories. Japan's most important shrine, Ise Jingu is rebuilt each 20 years using Kiso Hinoki. You can buy Hinoki goods, especially around Narai. North of Narai, visit Kiso-Hirasawa (木曽平沢) which is famous for its lacquerware.

Mino pottery or "Minoyaki" can be found in Ena, but it is not the best place to get some Japanese traditional ceramic ware.


Remember that in both Tsumago, Magome and most of the villages, international ATMs are only available at local post offices, and that they are only accessible during regular daytime hours. As it is impossible to exchange international currencies in the area, try to do this before your visit. Be sure to bring along enough cash and coins if you wish to purchase souvenirs and crafts from the street vendors.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Gin No Mori [7] in Ena, close to Enakyo is well placed if you go by car. Known as one of the main osechi [8] maker of Japan, the company headquarters offer shops that products and Tōno region specialties like "Kurikinton" (autumn/winter), "Castella" a kind of sponge cake introduced by the Portuguese in the 15th century, Shiitake preparations and Hida Beef side dishes that get well along with rice. The main shop sells various local specialties from "Sugi", a kind of cypress hugely cultivated, liquor to the sausages from the little village of Kushihara made by Gobar [9].
  • Kawakamiya(川上屋) in the old Nakatsugawa is said to serve the best "Kurikinton" of Tōno. Note that is a very seasonal, product made of chestnuts, usually available from September to February.
  • Goheimochi is a popular local dishes. Sticks of gelatinous rice are grilled with a sweet-and-sour sauce flavored with walnuts chunks. Served in various shops around the Kiso Valley.
  • Kankara mochi also known as the loveliest mochi of the Southern Japanese Alps can be only found at Kankaraya [10] in Iwamura. Can only be eaten fresh. Three traditional tastes are sweet sesame, fresh anko or azuki red beans paste, and sweet kinako or roasted soybean flour.
  • Castella : this sweet sponge cake can only be found in 2 cities in Japan where the old true castella recipe that was introduced by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, then improved by the local bakers : Nagasaki, where the Portuguese landed, and Iwamura village. You can get the true taste at Mastuura[11] or Kameya in Iwamura.
  • Sekihan manjū : you will be surprised by the taste of this manjū, less sweet than the usual one. You taste it close to Nagiso Station where you can find one of the best sekihan manjū.
  • Wasabi : specialty of Nagano prefecture !
  • Edible Insects :

 

*"hebo" or "hachi no ko" (蜂の子) are black wasps larvae cooked with soy sauce and sugar. Very good on a bowl of rice. Can be found in local small supermarket like Kaneni [12] in Iwamura village. Quite expensive as it is registered as a "rare taste" (珍味) of Japan.
*"inago" are locusts usually prepared in Inago no Tsukudani or locusted boiled with soy sauce and sugar. Can be found in local small supermarket during the season (September to October here, depends on the harvest time).
*"zazamushi" also a "rare taste" (珍味) of Japan, and a specialty of Nagano prefecture. Stoneflies larvae are cooked as a tsukudani (see above).
*"aburazemi" (アブラゼミ) or large brown cicada larvae is also a specialty of Nagano prefecture.
*"gengorō" (ゲンゴロウ) or water beetles are still eaten in some part of Nagano prefecture. It was once more widespread but the declining quality of the water in the river makes difficult to find them.
*"kaiko" or silkworm larvae are still enjoyed in Nagano prefecture.

Drink[edit][add listing]

  • Lady of The Castle sake is actually brewed by Iwamura Brewery ([岩村醸造|http://torokko.shop-pro.jp/]). The pure natural water and the local special rice offer an unique taste. Each year, in February, there is an event called Kurabiraki (蔵開き) to try out the new brewed sake that lasts one month. During this time, each Sunday, for a fee, yo ucan drink all you want. The free of alcohol yuzu juice pressed from fruits from the nearby Kasagi village worth also a try.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Take your time to explore the valley and overnight in an historical building at one of the minshukus.

  • Hanaya is a fantastic little ryokan outside of the small town of Tsumago. It is located directly off the Nakasendo trail; you can walk on the trail into Tsumago itself in about 15-20 minutes. Hanaya is a modern building about the size of a large, 2-story house. It has a fantastic hot bath (single sex only), and they serve both dinner and breakfast in your room.
  • The Fujioto Ryokan in Tsumago [13] is also worth checking out. The owners speak some English and Italian
  • If you want something more familial and a little bit out of the main touristic path, then you should try Guesthouse Tomida in the rural ward of Tomida in Iwamura village [14]. Owners can handle English and French.

Get out[edit]

Kiso Valley has also several (small) ski resorts.


Routes through Kiso Valley
NagoyaTajimi  W noframe E  ShiojiriTokyo


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