Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Old Post Towns on the Former Nakasendō in Hikone

You might have heard about the Former Nakasendō (旧中山道), one of the five major government routes of the Edo period (1603 – 1867). The once mountainous road of 534 km connected Kyoto to Tokyo and went through 7 prefectures (Tokyo, Saitama, Gunma, Nagano, Gifu, Shiga, and Kyoto). The route constructed in 1602 has 69 post towns (Juku, 宿) scattered across. Two of the post towns are in Hikone. And they are surprisingly close to JR Hikone Station!

Toriimoto-juku Post Town (鳥居本宿)

Toriimoto-juku (鳥居本宿), just a 35-minute walk away from JR Hikone Station, was once a prosperous town as a major transportation hub. Because at the north of the town, Nakasendō forked off to another government road leading to the Hokuriku region in the northwestern part of Japan, many travelers chose to stop by and rejuvenate here.

In the town center, old houses lined the road, redolent the Edo period’s atmosphere. Although the roads are nicely paved now, it isn’t hard to imagine the good old days when most travelers needed to rely on their feet to get to their destinations.

Centuries ago, the torii gate of Taga Shrine was here. This is why the town was named “Toriimoto”.

A somewhat interesting fact about Toriimoto is that, unlike many post towns on Nakasendō, it didn’t become a post town until around 30 years into the Edo period. After the Hikone Castle was completed, Toriimoto took over the role of a post town from Ono-juku (小野宿).

Toriimoto-juku was famous for three red specialties: the red “Shinkyogan” pills, the red paper raincoat, and the red watermelons.

Arikawa Residence (有川家)

In the far north of the town, this big residence stands where the Former Nakasendō curved largely.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

It is the family house of Arikawa (有川), who has been making and selling the red Shinkyōgan pills (赤玉神教丸) since the late 1650s. The family-manufactured drugs are said to be effective for numerous common stomach-related symptoms, including food poisoning and diarrhea.

The family business was so successful that Princess Kazu (皇女和宮) and the emperor Meiji rested in the house when they traveled past Toriimoto.

If you read a few Japanese characters, you might recognize the character of God (神) in the pill’s name. This is due to the influence of the Taga Taisha Shrine, which might have boosted the pill’s sales (because people back then were far more religious than we are now).

The medicine is still made to this day in modern Toriimoto by the Arikawa Seiyaku Corporation. If you are interested, you can find it in the chemist in Hikone if the family house isn’t open when you visit Toriimoto.

Jōbon-ji Temple (上品寺)

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Following the small alley at the left of Arikawa Residence, you will get to the current Nakasendō, the National Highway no. 8. Across the road, there is an old bell tower.

You might feel nothing is unique about this bell just by watching it. But this bell is what a well-known Kabuki play, Hōkaibō’s Bell (法界坊の鐘), was based on!

Unlike how the play depicts Hōkaibō, the 7th head monk of Jōbon-ji went through hardships in collecting donations in Edo (Tokyo) to make a bell for the temple. Many of the donations received were from courtesans in Yoshihara. So the bell wasn’t simply a bell for Jōbon-ji. With the donors’ names engraved on the bell’s surface, when it is rung, it is like a ritual praying for a better life for the courtesans who lived a miserable live.

Red Paper Raincoats – Kappa

The other specialty of Toriimoto is the red paper raincoats, which are pronounced as ‘Kappa’ (合羽) in Japanese. As you stroll around the town, you will spot old signboards in Japanese characters. Some are even in the shape of Kappa (such as the Matsu-ya in the photo).

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

The raincoats that once enabled the town to prosper were made of washi paper after being impregnated with persimmon juice and iron oxide. The resulting product is water-resistant and excels in heat retention, making the raincoats made in Toriimoto one of the favorites among regular travelers.

In the early 19th century, there were as many as 15 Kappa shops in Toriimoto.

The Traces of the Ryokans in the Edo Period

Another notable thing about the town is the stone monuments here and there on the side of the road. Most of them mark the original locations of the many lodgings used to accommodate a feudal lord’s procession, which could be up to 300 people.

Obviously, the feudal lords and high-class vassals didn’t stay in the small lodgings that their attendants and soldiers stayed in. Instead, they stayed in the Honjin (本陣), which equates to a high-class ryokan nowadays. However, only those with high social status were allowed to spend a night in Honjin. This made life hard for those who operated the Honjin because the feudal lords and government officials wouldn’t travel past Toriimoto every other day.

In Toriimoto, there were also two Waki-Honjin (脇本陣). This type of accommodation facility is one rank lower than the Honjin. On a normal day, the two Waki-Honjin in town usually took in ordinary travelers.

Apart from the premium ryokans, there were also thirty-five Hatago inns (旅籠) accommodating commoners.

The Korean Road

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

In the south of Toriimoto-juku, the Nakasendō split into a sub-route called Hikone Road, leading to Hikone Castle’s castle town. The road is also known as the Korean Road (Chōsenjin Kaidō, 朝鮮人街道).

In the Edo period, when Korea was in the Joseon Dynasty, this was the road taken by the representative of the Joseon court for diplomatic matters. Their handwritten documents and portraits drawn at local temples still exist in Hikone.

How to Get to Toriimoto

From Ohmi Railway’s (近江鉄道) Toriimoto Station (鳥居本駅), it is a 5-minute walk.

  • From Hikone Station, take trains bound for Maibara. HERE is the timetable for the service.
  • For trains heading back to Hikone, refer to the timetable HERE.

The post town can also be easily accessed by a rental bicycle, which can be rented out in Hikone’s city center.

Takamiya-juku Post Town (高宮宿)

The second post town in Hikone is Takamiya-juku, 6 km south of Toriimoto-juku. In the Edo period, it was the 64th post town on Nakasendō.

While it is pretty hard to tell nowadays, Takamiya-juku was the second biggest post town on the route back then (the largest was Honjō-shuku (本庄宿) in Saitama Prefecture). At the time, there were as many as 835 private residences with around 2,500 people living in Takamiya.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Way before Takamiya became a post town in the Edo period, it prospered as a fabric distribution center. Raw materials and fabric in the region before processing the clothes further.

The aristocrats in the Momorochi period already used the hemp fabric from Takamiya as gifts. The specialty, Takamiya-nuno (高宮布), was traded at high prices and presented to the Shogun since the 14th century.

The town used to be governed by the Takamiya clan. But unfortunately, in 1573, when Hashiba Hideyoshi was taking down Odani Castle not too far away, the Takamiya Castle was also destroyed, with the members of the Takamiya clan fleeing separately to other parts of Japan.

At the beginning of the 17th century, when Nakasendō was under construction, Takamiya was revived as a post town. Similar to Toriimoto, there was one Honjin, two Waki-Honjin, and 23 Hotago-Inn in Takamiya.

Taga Taisha’s Torii Gate (多賀大社一の鳥居)

The town’s symbol is the 11-meter tall stone torii gate of Taga Taisha Shrine. Unfortunately, the actual shrine isn’t close to this torii gate. From here, it is another 3 km before you arrive at Taga Taisha, the shrine that enshrines the goddess of the sun in Japanese mythology.

But the torii gate marks the starting point of the formal pilgrimage route to Taga Taisha. Along the route, a stone lantern is placed every 109 meters.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Enshō-ji (円照寺)

If you are a fan of Tokugawa Ieyasu, you will certainly want to pay Enshō-ji a visit. There is a stone called Ieyasu-kō Koshikake-ishi (家康公腰懸石), which is the actual stone that Tokugawa Ieyasu rested on centuries ago!

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Opposite Enshō-ji, the large residence is the former Honjin, albeit the gate is the only structure left from the time.

Muchin Bridge (無賃橋)

One can easily imagine the amount of fortune that was generated from the textile trading that took place in the area. This is probably why the town could have a toll-free bridge in an era when you had to pay your way to cross bridges. As such, the particular bridge was named Muchin Bridge (無賃橋).

The bridge was ordered to be built in 1832 by the lord of the Hikone Domain. This was so people could still cross the Inukami River (犬上川) regardless of the river’s water level. Money was collected from the town’s citizens, and upon completion, it was decided that a fee won’t be charged for crossing.

The current Muchin Bridge was rebuilt in 1932 with concrete replacing the previous wooden bridge. At the side of the bridge, there is a small worship hall with Jizō Bodhisattva (地蔵菩薩) enshrined.

In 1977, while renovation work was undergoing for the bridge, two Jizō Bodhisattva statues were excavated from the bridge’s pier.

The statues were likely buried when the first Muchin Bridge was constructed in the hope that the bridge’s structure to stay safe. So, instead of disposing of the statues, a worship hall was built to enshrine them.

Takamiya Shrine (高宮神社)

If you are visiting Takamiya-juku in early April, a great place to stop by is the Takamiya Shrine.

Not only the cherry blossoms will be blooming, but the Drum Festival (太鼓祭り) will also take place on a Sunday that is the closest to the 10th of April.

On the day, a large procession with a total of more than 500 people will be dancing and beating the Taiko drums and gongs. Together with the cheering from the crowd, the festival is just lively!

If you come to the town in other parts of the year, you can get a vibe of the energetic festival from the photos on the shrine’s wall.

Apart from the many cultural properties in the shrine’s precinct, you will also find the graves of the Takamiya clan.

From Takamiya Station, it is just around a 5-minute walk, making it a convenient place to stop by on your way back!

How to Get to Takamiya-juku

From Ohmi Railway’s (近江鉄道) Takamiya Station (高宮駅), it is a 5-minute walk.

  • From Hikone Station, take trains bound for Takamiya. HERE is the timetable for the service.
  • For trains heading back to Hikone, refer to the timetable HERE.

The post town can also be easily accessed by a rental bicycle, which can be rented out in Hikone’s city center.

Discover Where Else to Visit in Hikone

Want to find out more attractions close by that you might be interested in? Check out our article on Hikone!

In the article, you will be introduced to some delicious Japanese and Western sweets shops, interesting temples and shrines, and many more historical destinations you might not know!

Click the photo to find out more about other attractions in Hikone!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *