This deep and narrow valley is cut by the Kiso River and walled in by the central Alps to the east and the northern Alps to the west. From 1603 to 1867 the area was called Nakasendo (center highway), because it connected western Japan and Kyoto to Edo (present-day Tokyo).
After the Tokaido highway was built along the Pacific coast and the Chuo train line was constructed to connect Nagoya and Niigata, the 11 once-bustling post villages, where travelers and traders once stopped to refresh themselves and share news, became ghost towns. Two villages, Tsumago and Magome, have benefited from efforts to retain the memory of these old settlements. Traditional houses have been restored along the sloping stone streets and power lines have been buried underground. Walking through these historical areas, you can almost imagine life centuries ago, when the rustic shops were stocked with supplies for travelers instead of the traditional crafts now offered for sale.