The Kiso Ohashi bridge which spans the Narai-gawa (Photo: Sandra Isaka)

The Kiso Valley's Narai-juku

An impressive town close to lake Suwa-ko

The Kiso Ohashi bridge which spans the Narai-gawa (Photo: Sandra Isaka)
Sandra Isaka   - 3 min read

The Kiso Valley lies in the southeastern section of Nagano Prefecture (and a small section of Gifu Prefecture). Eleven local villages that were designated juku, or post towns, lie along what was once the Kisoji, which is now Route 19. The road was part of the Nakasendo, an ancient highway connecting Kyoto to Tokyo.

Athough Magome and Tsumago are more famous, Narai-juku is another post town that should not be missed. This is especially true for travelers who like to shop. Narai has a very long, straight main street that is lined with interesting stores, cafes, restaurants, temples, and more.

One of my favorites shops is Atelier Miyuki. Miyuki-san herself will welcome you into her studio where she sits and paints. She has a variety of lovely handmade souvenirs for purchase, including some t-shirts decorated with her cute designs.

There is also a wonderful antique store, a handmade jewelry and clothing shop, stands selling locally made food products,...

If you are interested in taking a break, sit down at the little 'mom and pop' dango shop. The couple who run this place have been serving their pounded rice ball snack for many years. Or, relax at one of the many lovely cafes that have been created inside the historic traditional buildings lining the street. If the weather is nice, I recommend that you grab an outdoor table at Cafe Miyama. They have a very tasty curry lunch.

This cafe is on the opposite side of the railroad tracks from the main street. Look for sign posts that will point you down and into a pedestrian tunnel that connects the two areas of the town. Also on this side of Narai is the Narai-gawa river, over which the Kiso Ohashi bridge has been built. Although built recently, it has a traditional design and is one of the longest wooden bridges in Japan.

Magome and Tsumago are located at the very southern end of Kiso Valley. Narai is located at the northern end, not far from Lake Suwa and the Shiojiri Interchange on the Nagano Expressway. Between them lies many sightseeing spots including other post towns, river gorges, hidden temples, and more.

For travelers to Japan and all who live in this country, the Kiso Valley should be on a 'must see' list.

Sandra Isaka

Sandra Isaka @sandra.isaka

As an intercultural consultant & Japan travel specialist with 20 years in Japan, I love sharing my favorite places with others.