Stages of the Nakasendo (14): From Narai to Yabuhara
The Narai Stage: Narakawa Village, Kiso County, Nagano Prefecture
*** 256km from Nihonbashi, Tokyo / 276km to Sanjo Ohashi in Kyoto ***
The Yabuhara Stage: Kiso Village, Kiso County, Nagano Prefecture
Narai is the busiest of the eleven Nakasendo post towns in Kiso. The Nakasendo Highway, though developed in the Edo era (1601-1867), actually dates from Heian times (794-1192). Many of the shrines along the way venerate deities mentioned in the Kojiki (Chronicles of Ancient Matters).
Why did Narai thrive in the Edo era? Perhaps it was because it had close connections with Kiso Fukushima. For it was there that, in the Ancient and Heian eras, culture and industry flourished with the support of the central government. This eventually led to the growth of special industries here, along with the formation of post towns. The mansion of the Nakamura family, originally comb merchants, is made in Kyoto style. Combs were made from local Japanese cherry birch and lacquered. These lacquered combs made the family wealthy in the Tenpo era (1830-33). In those days, all of the houses over the full length of Narai (about one kilometer) were built in the same style as the Nakamura Mansion – including sake brewing houses. While imagining the bustle of commerce in this small town enclosed by mountains, our thoughts turn to the next stage. Then we will cross the Torii Pass – the most notorious pass on the whole Nakasendo route – before going on from Yabuhara to Miyanokoshi.