Of the 69 stops along the old Nakasendo highway, Otajuku is the 51st post town, counting from the Itabashi end. Otajuku prospered because of its strategic location right before the Otanowatashi, one of the three most gruelling sections of the highway. It was also sited before the highway forked into the Hida and Gujo highways.
Otajuku spreads 680m east to west along the highway, and preserves much of its historic architecture and scenery, allowing visitors to enjoy the old atmosphere while strolling the streets. After walking past the Matsugata and entering the Former Nakasendo Highway village, the remains of the Honjin Gate are to the left, while on the right is a side building open to the public.
In the vicinity is Yusen-ji Temple, famous for its Waterfall Kannon legend, the grave of Banryu-Shonin, and monuments commemorating the poems of Shoyo Tsubochi, Hakushu Kitahara and Matsuo Basho. In the old days, travellers leaving Otajuku would cross the Kiso River at Otanowatashi, and head for Fushimi and Mitake.
The stone-paved road in Imaichi is part of the old Higo road that was used in the past. This important historical path was designated as an important cultural heritage site of the prefecture in 1972.
Imaichi Stone-Paved Road is located in the town of Notsuharu in Oita Prefecture. Notsuharu-cho became part of Higo territory from 1601, and Imaichi and the Notsuharu area formed a post station for the Higo clan until the late Tokugawa shogunate.
It is said that a teashop along the road here once prospered as a trading center. The stones used to pave the road reflect former ages. The 2m-wide section of stone-paved road lies in the center of the 6m-wide road. It stretches about 660m and reminds us of the time in the past when a daimyo lord would pass along this road.
The Kagokaki race, which takes place annually in August, is also famous. It is a race to reenact the cityscape back then. During the race, people run along the pathway, wearing a costume and carrying a basket.
Odawara lacquerware is a traditional craft from the Odawara district in Kanagawa prefecture.
Odawara lacquerware was first made in the mid-Muromachi period by painting on wood found in abundance on the nearby Hakone mountain range. Later, Hōjō Ujiyasu invited a craftsman to introduce the coloring technique. As a result, its technique was acknowledged and Odawara lacquerware started to develop.
In the mid-Edo period, Odawara lacquerware became available in the markets of the capital Edo, and its technique became established in cities and post stations near the main Hakone stations on the Tokaido Road.
Odawara lacquerware uses the natural feel of wood such as zelkova combined with lacquering techniques known as 'suriurushi' and 'kijironuri'.
The main Odawara lacquerware products are bowls, pots, plates and trays. In 1984, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry designated Odawara lacquerware as a traditional cultural asset.
The Tsuyama Basin in Okayama Prefecture was once a prosperous area through which the old Izumo Way passed. On the eastern side of the basin was a post station known today as the Joto area.
On the streets of the Joto area, which has been designated for preservation by the prefecture, are old stores selling sake, paper and knives for example. The old Izumo Way passes for about a kilometer through the town from Tsuyama castle ruin, following an east-west route. The road is built using a style called 'kaimagari', which is maze-like for defence purposes.
The houses are distinguished by their low fronts with lattice doors and 'sea-cucumber' walls and recall the atmosphere of an old town. The highlight of a visit here is the Joto Mukashi Machi (Kyu-Kajimurake) area, which consists of buildings dating from the Edo to the Taisho periods. The Sakushu Joto Yashiki is a traditional fire-watchtower that gives an insight into historic methods of fire prevention. Joto is also famous as the location of the movie series 'Otoko wa Tsurai yo' and the drama 'Aguri'.
Honjin are the inns located at post stations on the old highways. During the Edo period, they provided accommodation to traveling daimyo, kuge and officers, who were obliged as part of the Sankin Kotai system to live part of the year in Edo, the Shogun's capital.
Yakage is a town built along the Odagawa river. Major roads passed through Yakage from ancient times. In the Edo period, the town prospered as the 18th post station of the Sanyo Highway. It is the only place where the original honjin (of the Ishi family) and the original sub-honjin (of the Takakusa family) are both designated as important national cultural assets. The honjin mansion still fronts some 36m along the road, and has land 90m long with an area of 3,200m2. Dozens of buildings still stand today, hardly changed from Edo times, and provide representative examples of 'tsuma-iri' and 'hira-iri' architecture, as well as 'oni-gawara' roof tiles and 'shira-kabe' and 'namako-kabe' walling.
Every November, the town holds a festival with a daimyo procession and enjoyably recreates the atmosphere of the Edo period.