Francois' Japan Blog
by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2008/06/09 - Post Towns

Modern travellers passing through Narai

Thanks to the Shinkansen and the public transportation system, getting around in Japan is a convenient, efficient, and usually rapid affair. Despite this, sometimes I catch myself wallowing in self-pity for catching a bad connection or being stuck in a packed train. To snap myself out of it, there is always a simple solution; think of how people would have had to make the trip during the Edo Era. In the Edo Era, if a man wanted to get from Osaka to Tokyo he had to walk.

As a means to assert control over the country, the Shogunate government of the Edo Era heavily restricted the movement of its subjects. For all but the most wealthy, this resulted in journeys being taken by foot across a nationwide system of walking paths. Because these trips would usually require multiple days, "post towns" developed along the routes to provide travellers with accommodation.

Many locations in modern day Japan were first established as post towns, and this can be recognized by place names that end with "-juku"; two well known examples are Tokyo's Shinjuku and Harajuku. But neither of these places have retained much of the post town ambience that they had in the Edo Era. In fact, after the Meiji Restoration and the development of the railway system, most post towns lost their "post town ambience" as they modernized. However, there were also many that did not modernize. As the rest of the country progressed, some former post towns were left behind as relics of a bygone era.

Tsumago at Dusk

The misfortune of neglected post towns 100 years ago has become our good fortune today. In a few picturesque towns that time seems to have passed over, the post town is still alive. Or rather, to be more precise, the post towns have been revived as a tourist destintation. Of course, people aren't passing through out of necessity anymore, and their journey will probably be just a few hours, at most a weekend . But nonetheless, people are still walking through these little towns, trying to find a bit of rest and revitalization. And in fact, what better way to find refuge from the trials of modern day life than to go to a place where it seems to have not yet arrived.

Some post towns retain their original Honjin and Wakihonjin, which were the principal and secondary inns respectively. When important government officials (or perhaps the Emperor himself) would pass through a town with retinue in tow, it would be there that they would stay. The people of the town and the staff at the inn would go to great lengths to keep their guests comfortable and rested. Modern day travellers may not be greeted with quite the same pomp, but post towns will surely have either ryokan or minshuku where visitors can rest and be tended to if they wish to spend the night. I have had some very enjoyable experiences in the former post towns of Tsumago, Magome, Narai (all in the Kiso Valley), and Ouchijuku.

A Firepit in Magome

Though staying at a ryokan is almost always an extremely pleasant experience, the particular pleasure of visiting a post town is undoutedly walking about the town itself. The buildings of the main street are usually kept as they were in the Edo Era, and people sell local specialties out of their shops, sometimes the same speciality that was sold in former times. Many of the old buildings have had their interiors turned into charming little restaurants.

But simply walking up and down the streets is pleasure enough in and of itself. After spending so much of our days behind a desk or behind a wheel, there is something very calming about walking through a quiet old street. One particularly nice walk is between the two post towns of Tsumago and Magome, which has a nicely maintained trail. I suppose if you're in a post town the most natural thing to do is to walk to the next one.

The walking trail between Magome and Tsumago

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List of Posts:
2011/09/01 - Final Post
2011/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sapporo
2011/05/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2011/04/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Aizu
2011/04/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2011/04/16 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2011/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2011/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2011/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2011/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2011/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2011/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/02/11 - Shiretoko Fantasia 2011
2011/02/11 - Asahikawa Winter Festival - by night
2011/02/10 - Asahikawa Winter Festival - by day
2011/02/09 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2011 - by night
2011/02/08 - Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi 2011
2011/02/07 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2011 - by day

2010/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2010
2010/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2010/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/24 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/23 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2010/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kuju
2010/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kirishima
2010/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2010/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2010/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2010/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagasaki
2010/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2010/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2010/01/23 - Wakakusa Yamayaki

2009/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2009
2009/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2009/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Light Up
2009/11/23 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2009/11/22 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Ohara
2009/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2009/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Higashiyama
2009/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto Kurama
2009/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2009/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2009/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Akita-Komagatake
2009/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kamikochi
2009/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2009/06/18 - Biking the Shimanami Kaido
2009/06/01 - Gunkanjima
2009/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2009/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2009/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kobe
2009/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2009/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2009/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nara
2009/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kobe
2009/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2009/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2009/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/01/19 - Bears in Hokkaido

2008/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2008/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Lake Akan
2008/08/18 - Miyajima Trip
2008/06/09 - Post Towns
2008/05/08 - Baseball Game
2008/04/14 - ASIMO and Aoyama Cemetery
2008/04/08 - Ninja Restaurant