Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Oiwake-Shuku, the 20th Post Town On the Old Nakasendōndo

Remaining unknown to many, the old post town, Oiwake-Shuku (追分宿), is just two stations away from Karuizawa Station. The area is filled with many historical buildings, so it is a perfect spot to escape from the crowd in Karuizawa‘s town center for a calm and traditional ambiance.

Ⓒ 軽井沢町役場

Looking back at the history of Oiwake-Shuku, its history as a post town begins with the official road, “Tōzandō (東山道)”, that was maintained from the Asuka period (592 – 710) to the Heian period (794 – 1185). After the heyday in the Edo period, the town became less lively due to the abolition of the post station system in the early Meiji period and the completion of the railway system in the area in 1909.

But great writers and novelists still loved the quiet former post town for its rich historical and natural elements in the early 20th century.

Within a 1km radius of Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum (追分宿郷土館), there are a couple of cultural properties and historical buildings for you to enjoy a completely different vibe to the area around Karuizawa Station.

If you are interested in the old Nakasendō and the history of Oiwake-Shuku, visit the Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum (追分宿郷土館) and Nakasendō 69 Tsugi Museum (中山道69次資料館). While the notations are in Japanese, you can get a good idea of what the post town was like in the Edo period from the photos and exhibits in the museum. Especially in Nakasendo 69 Tsugi Museum, there is a mini Nakasendō showing all 69 post towns on the route!

A List of Attractions in Oiwake-Shuku

The above list of spots is listed according to their distance to Shinano Railway’s Shiano-Oiwake Station.

How to Get to Oiwake-Shuku

The closest station to Oiwake-Shuku is Shinano Railway’s Shinano-Oiwake Station (信濃追分駅), just 2 stations from Karuizawa Station.

As Oirase-Shuku is around a 20-minute walk from Shinano-Oiwake Station, you can also consider taking Karuizawa’s Town Loop Bus’s West Course (町内循環パス西コース) from either Naka-Karuizawa Station or Shinano-Oiwake Station and get off at the bus stop close to the attraction you want to visit.

  • As the number of services is limited, refer to HERE and click “町内循環パス西コース” for the service’s timetable to plan.
  • 平日ダイヤ = Weekday timetable
  • 休日ダイヤ = Weekend and public holiday timetable
  • The bus fare is 100 yen per ride.

Nakasendō’s Small Profile

The Nakasendō, also called the Kisokaidō, which connected Edo/Tokyo and Kyoto, was one of the five routes of the Edo period. The road that connects Tokyo’s Nihonbashi and Kyoto’s Sanjō Ōhashi Bridge (三条大橋) is a 500km road consisting of many passes that weren’t easy to trek through. However, the Japanese in the Edo period were able to walk through Nakasendō in 15 days!

From Edo, it was actually easier to take the Kōshū Kaidō (甲州街道), which was merged into Nakasendō at Shimosuwa (下諏訪). The distance is shorter, and the route is mainly flat. However, the traffic volume through Kōshū Kaidō is only half of the volume through Nakasendō.

The reason is the policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Kōshū Kaidō was prepared as an escape route for the shogunate, so other feudal lords were forced to use Nakasendō. In addition, it is said that the purpose of the policy was to put a financial burden on the other lords, so it would be harder for them to gain power.

Of course, the shogunate wouldn’t choose a route that passed through the area where the lords weren’t loyal to them. Many of Tokugawa Shogunate’s loyal retainers lived along the Kōshū Kaidō. It is said that the members of the Shinsengumi were also from the regions along Kōshū Kaidō.

But Nakasendō wasn’t the route that had the most traffic. The traffic on Tōkaidō (東海道) was twice of Nakasendō, and this fact hasn’t changed much until now!

Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum (追分宿郷土館)

In the Edo period, Karuizawa consisted of three post towns, Karuizawa-Shuku (軽井沢宿), Kutsukake-Shuku (沓掛宿), and Oiwake-Shuku (追分宿). Because Oiwake-Shuku was at the intersection of the old Nakasendō and the road to Echigo Province (越後国), it thrived as a transportation hub.

Echigo Province is today’s Niigata Prefecture.


Although the area has largely lost its past glory, the Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum, with a traditional inn appearance, preserved the unique regional culture of the Oiwake-Shuku and western Karuizawa town.

The materials inside Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum offer the visitors a good understanding of what the post town was like from centuries ago to the present. There is a corner where you can listen to the folk song, Oiwake-Bushi (追分節). You can also compare the diorama of Waki-Honjin (脇本陣), where the wealthy and higher-status officials stayed, versus the inns for travellers and commoners.

If you haven’t seen a Japanese traditional hearth, a part of the Teahouse Tsugaruya (枡形の茶屋 津軽屋) is reproduced in Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum. Check it out. The corner is filled with ambiance from the Edo period!

Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Monday.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • If Wednesday is a public holiday, the museum will open.
    • It is closed from the 28th of December to the 4th of January.
  • The admission fee is 400 yen (200 yen for children).
  • Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum is a 20-minute walk from Shinano-Oiwake Station.
  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Shōshin-bashi (追分昇進橋). The museum is then a 5-minute walk.

Hori Tatsuo Memorial Museum of Literature (堀辰雄文学記念館)

Hori Tatsuo was a Japanese translator and novelist in the 1st half of the 20th century. As he visited Karuizawa every year since he was 19, many of his works were set in Karuizawa/Oiwake-Shuku.

The museum was built on the site of the house where he spent the last two years of his life. While most non-Japanese people aren’t familiar with Hori’s work, it is a great spot to enjoy nature on the museum’s grounds and the gorgeous garden. Besides the exhibition hall, parts of the house and store rooms are also open to the public. So remember to check them out!

The wooden gate was Oiwake-Shuku’s Honjin’s back door. It was relocated here in 2006 and is now a popular photo spot in Oiwake-Shuku.

Hori Tatsuo Memorial Museum of Literature’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Monday.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • If Wednesday is a public holiday, the museum will open.
    • It is closed from the 28th of December to the 4th of January.
  • The admission fee is 400 yen (200 yen for children).
  • Oiwake-Shuku Folk Museum is a 20 to 25-minute walk from Shinano-Oiwake Station.
  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Shōshin-bashi (追分昇進橋). The museum is then a 3-minute walk.

Aburaya (信濃追分文化磁場 油や)

If you are interested in traditional buildings, visit Aburaya (油屋). Although the building we see now is surely magnificent, it is nowhere near as magnificent as when it was the Waki-Honjin, which got lost in a fire hazard in 1937. While Oiwake-Shuku became a quaint town at the beginning of the 20th century, the former Waki-Honjin was the best accommodation in the Oiwake area. It was thus the perfect accommodation choice for famous figures in Japan’s literature world in the Meiji period for the creation of their masterpieces.

After Aburaya was restored, it operated as a ryokan until 2007, accommodating students from wealthy families who needed to focus on exam preparation.

Before the fire hazard, Oiwake-Shuku’s Waki-Honjin/Aburaya was located next to the Hori Tatsuo Memorial Museum of Literature.

Aburaya is now a community spot consisting of galleries and antique and crafts shops. The antique shop next door used to be an old inn. You will find many old but interesting items there.

Staying at Aburaya

  • From Thursday to Sunday from late April to November, spending a night at Aburaya is also possible.
    • The maximum number of guests per room is 3 people.
  • No meals are provided by Aburaya.
  • Toilet and shower facilities are shared.
  • You have to reserve one day in advance.
    • Please reverse by filling in the webform HERE. Aburaya will reply to confirm if a room is available on the day of your choice.
  • Electric-assisted bicycles can be rented for 1,000 yen from 11 am to 4 pm.

For more information, refer to the official website HERE and translate it using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Important: Children are not allowed to stay at Aburaya.

Aburaya’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Aburaya is open from 11 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Monday from the 22nd of April to the 5th of November in 2023.
  • It opens from the 27th of April to the 8th of May and from the 20th of July to the 4th of November in 2023.
  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Kōminkan (追分公民館). The museum is then a 3-minute walk.

Kōsatsuba Board (高札場)

Kōsatsuba (高札場) was a board used for announcing the laws that the government wanted its people to obey. The board was used from ancient times to the early Meiji period. These boards were commonly set up at transportation hubs, checkpoints, harbors, and entrances and centers of towns and villages. While most of them have disappeared due to technological improvements, you can still see one when you visit Oiwake-Shuku.

Oiwake-Shuku’s Kōsatsuba is located where the Honjin used to stand. The Honjin was the top-grade accommodation facility at each post town to accommodate the feudal lords.

Ippo Bakery (一歩ベーカリー)

In the Oiwake area, Ippo is the bakery you want to visit. It offers mouthwatering bread, and the bakery’s building and furniture should also catch your attention.

Ippo was renovated from an old Dango rice cake shop. Because the owner is an artist who also owns a design studio, he turned the leftover recycled wooden building materials into furniture such as tables and chairs. The exterior remains Japanese, so the building blends in well with the traditional township, the small stream flowing on one side of the building, and the surrounding nature.

Because the owner can’t forget the taste of the bread that he had in Germany when he was young, he started making bread. With a self-built kiln and through trial and error, he finally created the recipe for his ideal bread. From there, different flavors of rye bread were developed. So on Ippo’s shelf, you will find a variety of rye bread made with natural yeast. Each of them has different ratios of rye, fruits or nuts.

Tip: Remember to check with the staff to see if sampling is still possible because it is very difficult to figure out which bread you might like by only looking at them!

The bakery also has a café dining space. So when the weather isn’t too cold, how about enjoying Ippo’s freshly baked goods with a cup of coffee on their terrace?

Moreover, fresh local produce and small handmade items, such as wooden clocks, are also placed in Ippo. If any of them catches your attention, purchase them before someone else does!

Ippo Bakery’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Ippo is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Friday to Monday.
    • Drinks are served from 10 am.
    • The lunch menu is served from 11 am.
  • It is a 25-minute walk from Shinano-Oiwake Station.
  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Kōminkan (追分公民館). The bakery is then a 1-minute walk.

Oiwake-Shuku’s Monument of Separation (追分宿の分去れの碑)

Ⓒ 軽井沢町役場

On the west side of Oiwake-Shuku, a monument stands where a smaller road merges with Nakasendō. From the monument, if you proceed with the small road on the right, it leads to Nagano‘s Sarashina (更科), infamous for the rice terraces scenery in Mt. Obasute (姨捨山). When the rice fields are covered with water in spring, each field reflects the moon’s movement throughout the night. The view was thus praised as Tagoto no Tsuki (田毎の月).

On the other hand, if you stay on Nakasendō and travel west, it leads to Kyoto, and from there, you can get to Mt. Yoshino in Nara, a famous cherry blossom destination. This is why a short poem is curved on the monument.

さらしなは右 みよしのは左にて 月と花とを追分宿 (Sarashina wa Migi, Miyoshi no wa Hidarinite, Tsuki to Hana to wo Oiwakeshuku)

Because the travelers who became friends during their stay in Oiwake-Shuku had to part ways at this intersection, a Monument of Separation was placed to mark this part of the history.

  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Kōminkan (追分公民館). The monument is then a 3-minute walk.

Sherlock Holmes Statue (シャーロックホ-ムズ像)

The most interesting statue/monument in Oiwake-Shuku is probably the Sherlock Homes statue close to the green space as Oiwake-Shuku’s Monument of Separation. While it might make you wonder if the setting of the scene in the famous novel was in Oiwake-Shuku, it wasn’t why the statue was placed here.

Apparently, the entire story was translated into Japanese in Oiwake-Shuku. So on the 100th anniversary of the novel, fans had this 183cm tall statue made.

Nakasendō 69 Tsugi Museum (中山道69次資料館)

Nakasendō 69 Tsugi Museum is a spot to visit for those interested in the history of Nakasendō and the post towns along the official road. If you understand Japanese, you will definitely enjoy the knowledgeable curator’s explanation about Nakasendō and the exhibits in the museum.

Because the museum has a space filled with photos and items of each post town, by the end of your visit, you should have a good understanding of the specialties of each area and how each post town differs from one another. In each post town’s exhibition space, there is a part of the painting ‘The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō’ (木曽海道六十九次) painted by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重). Next to the painting, a recent photo at each post town compares how much has changed in the last few centuries. Apparently, the curator took the photos when he visited each post town!

A mini Nakasendō in the museum’s garden is also amazing to explore. After all, the curator spent two years building it! The rivers, passes, and mountains were reproduced in detail. The signboards provide information and highlights about each post town along the way, so you will be able to experience a 15-minute simulated trip on the Nakasendō!

Nakasendō 69 Tsugi Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Nakasendō 69 Tsugi Museum is open from 10 am to 4 pm on weekends and public holidays from April to November.
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for elementary and junior high school students.
  • The museum is a 30-minute walk from Shinano-Oiwake Station.
  • If you plan to take the Town Loop Bus, get off at Oiwake Iriguchi (追分入口).

Discover Other Fascinating Attractions Karuizawa

Click the photo for all the amazing attractions in Karuizawa!

As you might already know, Oiwake-juku is just a part of the wider Karuizawa town. So your visit to Japan’s best highland resort, Karuizawa, won’t be complete without exploring the area close to Karuizawa Station. The town has amazing natural spots, several Western-style villas, amazingly designed churches, and unique cafes and restaurants awaiting your visit.

So refer to our Guide to Karuizawa article for more attractions to include in your itinerary!