Lacquerware is a particular specialty of Japan, and in Japan it is a particular specialty of the Kiso Valley. The smooth, glazed bowls and dishes are enjoyed for their aesthetic appeal and complement the flavors of a Japanese meal. The most commonly seen lacquerware is the bowl in which miso soup is served.
Kiso-Hirasawa (木曽平沢) is a village that developed outside the post town of Narai during the Edo Period. It gradually developed a certain prestige as its lacquer products became renowned throughout Japan. Today, Kiso-Hirasawa still capitalizes on its popularity as a producer of lacquer goods.
Numerous lacquer stores are located throughout Kiso-Hirasawa, as well as a museum about lacquering called Kiso Shikkikan. It is almost all in Japanese, but has many impressive lacquered goods on display. It also shows the tools and techniques that are involved in the lacquering process. The shops offer lacquerware of all types that are usually quite expensive, though modestly priced goods can also be found.
Kiso-Hirasawa is located just two kilometers or a two minute train ride north of Narai. Limited express trains between Nagoya and Nagano do not stop at Kiso-Hirasawa Station. Instead, change to a local train at Shiojiri or Kiso-Fukushima.
Kiso-Hirasawa's town center is compact and can be explored on foot.