After scrambling up and down the rocks for a while, we needed a rest from the baking sun. My umbrella hat definitely came in handy, even though no Japanese person has ever managed to pass me without a comment!
When we stepped off the train in Agematsu (上松), we had already caught a glimpse of our next stop: Nezame-no-toko (寝覚の床), where the Kiso river cuts through impressive big blocks of marble. After a navigation accident which involved taking a wrong turn at the station and ending up on the wrong side of the river, we finally made it there under the scorching midday sun. After paying 200￥ admission, we followed a path down to the river. Most people apparently contented themselves with the observation platform at street level, which has the disadvantage that the view is cut by the power lines of the train. Surprisingly, the river itself is not secured and one can climb to one’s heart’s content on the giant rock boulders and experience this impressive place up close. Nezame-no-toko is definitely a must see in Kiso Valley.
Next to the river, there is an “Art Park”, distinguished by shapes mowed into the lawn, a stone with a face and some stones balancing on top of each other. This art park was the perfect place for a picnic and a nap under a tree. One of the disadvantages of the train line through Kiso Valley is that there’s only a train every 2-3 hours. We therefore had ample opportunity to laze in the shade.
We arrived in Narai (奈良井) in the late afternoon. It is another post town which is a historical protection area, where we stayed at a Minshuku owned by an old lady. On a stroll through this picturesque town, Narai struck me as rather more laid back than Tsumago. People seemed relaxed and friendly. Narai is home to a variety of craftspeople and artists, mostly specializing in woodwork. The small shops and boutiques lining the main street were full of lovely and very original art and crafts. Our excitement for buying was only checked by the consideration that all we bought we’d have to carry on our backs for two more days.
Also Narai counts a bridge among its attractions: a wooden bridge called the Kiso-no-Ohashi (木曽の大橋) which is illuminated after dark in the summer season.
The lady at the tourist information was very helpful and gave us a map for our next day’s hike. When she heard where we were staying, she exclaimed, “ah, obasan!” (ah, the granny) and went on to explain us that her husband was a craftsman making bent wooden boxes, also known as magemono.
The dinner cooked by our obasan was delicious. She also turned out quite curious and chatty. The only draw-back of our stay at her house was that she wakes up very early and started rummaging in the house around 5:30 am!