Kiso is surrounded by Japan’s foremost high mountains in the western side of Ontake mountain range and in the eastern side of Central Alps.
Prior to the Edo period, Kiso has prospered as a key junction for transportation and as a production area of Japanese cypress, the main building material for shrines and temples. Traditions and cultures in this town have remained unchanged.
Deep mountains and clear stream have been fostering Japanese cypress over 300 years old. Streetscape of old highroad is still left intact. The beautiful scenery in each season will make you feel the real Japan.
In about 400 years ago Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun, developed the arterial road called Gokaido (Five Routes) that connected Edo with other provinces.
Nakasendo is one of the Five Routes. It runs through Kiso and connects Edo and Kyoto. Each station town has developed unique culture as they have hosted various travelers including imperial family and daimyo (feudal lord).
There were 69 station towns in 540-kilometer route of Nakasendo. 11 of station towns and Fukushima Checkpoint, one of the four famous checkpoints built in the Edo period, were located in Kiso. Kiso has flourished as a center of Nakasendo, however, gradually the automotive and bullet trains took over the function of artery from Nakasendo.
What is left in the town built on the steep valley is the historical ambience of the Edo period.
In addition to the historical and cultural relics, Kiso has a rich natural environment nourished by the beautiful Kiso-gawa River and the mountain plateaus where Japanese cypress forest grows. Kiso’s natural scenery creates an interesting contrast against the developed metropolitan area in Japan.
Kiso is faced to Mount Ontake in the west and Mount Kisokoma, the main peak of Central Alps, in the east.
Mount Ontake consists of 5 peaks and 5 lakes and is the second highest freestanding mountain next to Mount Fuji.
The surrounding mountain range is at a level of 3,000 meters. There are also grand plateaus, waterfalls of varying size and beautiful clear streams.
Even prior to the Edo period, Kiso has been under direct administration of the feudal lords as a prestigious wood production area. Among 5 kinds of woods produced in Kiso, Kiso cypress is the best brand of Japanese cypress.
It can be seen from many examples of how Kiso cypress was used in old architectures. The five-storied pagoda in Horyu-ji Temple, a World Heritage Site, and every new Ise-Jingu Shrine’s building at the transfer of a deity used Kiso cypress.
Japanese cypress grown in Kiso differs in quality from that of other regions. Climates in the steep mountains of Kiso are frigid and rainy. Kiso cypress endures severity of nature and takes longer years to grow.
Currently 90 percent of Kiso cypress forests are national forests and under strict control. Usually they are off limits to the general public.
The gift from the grand mountains is cuisine culture of Kiso itself.
Preserved mountain forests bring excellent wild vegetables and mushrooms. Weetfishes, trouts and chars make their habitat in clear Kiso-gawa River.
The subsoil water is used for brewing local sake and beer. Also the plateau-reared rare Kiso beef, fine wines and many other dainties entertain visitors.
The local slow foods like goheimochi (skewed rice cake with miso sauce), sunki (pickled coleseed) and Obira (soup served on festive occasions) were made through a trial and error in harsh natural environment. You can feel the traditional culture by sense of taste.
Please enjoy slow foods and rich history in an atmosphere of the Edo period.