Toriitouge Pass - Basho Matsuo visited this pass, and a monument there features his haiku poetry: “Taking a rest on a mountain pass, higher than skylarks.” Reijin’hi (steles) and statues of gods stand at this place for paying respects to Ontake. (A Kiso Village historic site and natural monument)
Giant Japanese horse chestnut trees - Basho visited this place, and the monument on which his haiku is written reads, “Horse chestnut of Kiso, a souvenir for men in the floating world.” Legend has it that a child was once put in a tree hollow, and it grew vigorously, so if a woman drinks tea made from the tree bark, she will have a baby. (A Kiso Village historic site and natural monument)
The 6 km mountain trail that connects Narai-juku and Yabuhara-juku along the Kiso Road crosses the Toriitouge Pass at an altitude of 1,197 m. The historic trail goes through deep mountains and was one of the most difficult passes on the Nakasendo Road for travelers in the Edo period, who wore straw sandals. 400 years have passed since its heyday, and the old trail is now covered with thick greenery and loved by modern travelers as a tasteful walking trail.
The mountain trail, being a part of the Chubu Nature Trail, lets you walk with refreshing sunbeams streaming through leaves. The trail is well maintained and easy to walk on. Many poetry monuments of Basho and other haiku poets as well as stone Buddha statues can be seen along the trail and near the peak. Overseen by giant Japanese horse chestnut trees are seen, the road is loved by modern travelers as a tasteful walking trail.
We interviewed Mr. Koji Yanagawa. He is the vice-president and director-general of the NPO “Kisogawa River Mizu no Shihatsueki (source of water).” He also works as a forest instructor.
“In the old days, Toriitouge Pass was full of travelers coming and going on the Nakasendo Road. It is still a popular site. Basho composed haiku at the pass,” said Mr. Yanagawa.
The old Nakasendo Road still remains in the Kiso area, and Toriitouge Pass in particular is as it used to be with very nice scenery.
The Japanese horse chestnut trees are captivating throughout the changing seasons and unruly in winter. The trees flower in June and then bear and drop fruit in September. “The fruit is large and shiny. Picking the pieces of fruit up and bringing them back home makes you feel wealthy.” Mr. Ishii added.
“Himegifucho butterflies (Luehdorfia puziloi) appear in the area.
You can see traces of wild animals.
You can see wild grasses and flowers unique to each season, too. Even herb experts visit here.
Would you like to see my treasured photos?”
He showed me his photos of Toriitouge Pass and Japanese horse chestnut trees.
“We need to take care of the old road by thinning and cutting trees so the landscape won’t change. We will work to allow everyone to see Toriitouge Pass as it was in the old days,”
said Mr. Yanagawa, who works to preserve the old landscape.
The NPO “Kisogawa River Mizu no Shihatsueki” offers a guided tour of the 3-hour historic trail from Yabuhara Station to Narai Station via Toriitouge Pass. (Reservation required)
You can enjoy hiking while listening to detailed descriptions of the scenery visible from Ontake Shrine (the place to pay respects to Ontake), poetry monuments in Maruyama Park, and more.
From the Ina Interchange on National road 361, 30 minutes by car
From the Shiojiri Interchange on National road 19, 30 minutes by car
Yabuhara, Kiso Village, Kiso-gun, Nagano Prefecture
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