Sunday 15 February 2015

Stepping back in time - Narai

Day 3 of my trip started, again, with my alarm shattering the silence of the morning.  There was no going back to sleep this morning though as checkout was waiting for me.  Dragging myself out of bed and through the shower, I then made my way downstairs for a Japanese breakfast of fish, salad and eggs with plenty of coffee.

After breakfast I checked out and made my way to the station to wait for my train.  The plan for today was to catch the train to a town about 20 minutes south from Matsumoto called Shiojiri.  Google images had shown me photos of a beautiful old town that I had decided was well worth a visit before heading back to Tokyo.  There are a number of old towns in this area called the Kiso Valley.  A lot of them lie along an old road called Nakasendo that joined Edo (the original name for Tokyo) to the old capital of Kyoto.  They were all small towns where travellers could rest and feed up before continuing on their way.  I hope to return to the area in summer and walk along a stretch of the Nakasendo.

My train pulled into the station and I got on for the short trip to Shiojiri.  I got off at Shiojiri and made my way out of the station

and into the tourist office.  I brought up the images of Shiojiri that had prompted me to want to visit and asked the staff where this old part of town was.  The tourist officer looked at the pictures I was showing him with a puzzled look on his face and finally said in Japanese "This is not Shiojiri......"!  I showed him that I had indeed searched google images for Shiojiri Japan.  He said "Nope, this isn't Shiojiri, it is Narai".  "How do I get to Narai?" I asked.  "By train." he responded.  "Okay, when is the next train?" I asked.  He checked his timetable and said "In 2 hours"......  There wasn't much I could do about that, so I went back outside wondering how I was going to kill 2 hours in the middle of Nagano.  I remembered I had seen a waiting area inside the train station so I decided to go inside and nap in one of the seats to pass the time.  The waiting area was a combination of seats, a small shop and a small soba restaurant.  

It was about lunch time so there was a steady stream of people coming in to the waiting area for a steaming hot bowl of soba. I passed as my stomach was still full of breakfast.  A couple of naps later, it was time to head down to my train.  Before too long I had arrived at Narai.  Just outside the station was an information sign about the historical old town.

The preserved area of town is a one kilometre stretch of old houses that are now a combination of residences, shops, restaurants and ryokan (traditional Japanese style Inns).

Allow me to take you for a slow leisurely walk along the street.

I guess even 300 years ago they needed hair salons!

A few shops were open for the few tourists that had braved the cold.

All of the buildings along the street were oozing old world charm.

All along the street there were these little water springs that, I guess, were there for anyone to drink from and for thirsty tourists to fill their water bottles from.  It was too cold for me to be feeling too thirsty, so I passed.

A nice little shrine.

Absolutely stunning.  People who read this blog often will know that I love old towns here in Japan.  I have been lucky enough to visit quite a few over the last couple of years including Kyoto, Shibamata, Shirakawago, Hida Takayama and Kawagoe.  If you are enjoying this post, feel free to check out those other ones too!

About halfway along the street I noticed a little alleyway off to the right hand side of the street.  

I love exploring alleyways and seeing where they end up, so I walked along this one and found a set of stairs at the end.

I carefully navigated my way up and at the top of the stairs was a little shrine looking out over the town set amongst towering pine trees.

By this time, breakfast had well and truly settled and I realised that I hadn't eaten in about 8 hours so I walked back to the street and found a restaurant that was open and walked inside.  The owner looked a little surprised that 1 he had a customer and 2 the customer wasn't Japanese.  He was very friendly and welcomed me in and set about cooking my order.

All of this food for about 1,000 yen.  Wow, things were cheap out here!

The restaurant owner changed the television channel to the Australian Open tennis and Japan's Kei Nishikori was playing so both of us sat there watching the tennis, with me also enjoying a great late lunch.

I finally finished eating and decided that it was time to head back to the station to catch my train back to Matsumoto so that I could return to Tokyo.  Regrettably I turned my back on Narai but vowed that I would return another day.

Narai was another of those towns where you can escape the modern world and at times when I found myself on the streets with no other people around, it gave me a surreal feeling, one that made me feel that I had been transported back in time to the glory days of this little old town.

Thanks again for reading, I hope you enjoyed Matsumoto and Narai.  Feel free to leave a comment below and I'll see you next time.


  1. Konnichiwa Jason,
    Like you,I enjoy strolling the dori of these post-juku towns,being preserved.This town,reminds me of Seki-juku in Mie -ken.I seem to recall,I previously wrote a little about Magome and Tsumago...two such towns you can walk between.
    A new sushi casual restaurant called the "Sushi Planet" has opened up on the corner of West Terrace and Waymouth Street.I went there last Friday and was really impressed with everything about it.
    I suppose you will now take a break from your travels and get ready for hanami.
    I can imagine that one of these days,you will start your own travel business and act as guide to perhaps Aussie/Kiwi tourists!
    Kirei na syashin wo,arigato gozaimasu.....noel.

  2. Thanks Noel.
    I didn't know about Seki in Mie. I have been planning for a while to visit Seki city in Gifu which is famous for knife and sword making but I didn't know about the other Seki along the Tokaido. That is now also on the list!
    Definitely taking a break from travels. Staying a little closer to home now for the next couple of months.
    As for the future, who knows what it holds. That idea does sound like something I would love to do.....
    Take care Noel.

  3. Hello Jason-san,

    I am interested in your blog. Do you mind if I sometimes visit your blog?


    1. Hi Mariko,
      thanks for your comment. You are welcome to visit my blog anytime. I hope you enjoy reading it!
      Tell me if you would like me to write about anything!