During a recent exploration with my son, I recently went to Motai, a way-station along the old Nakasendo road. Located in Saku City, it is technically an “in-between” station that caught the overflow from Mochizuki post town on one side, and Ashida post town on the other. I was happily amazed to see such an unmarred Edo-era townscape, with beautifully maintained earthen walled storehouses and not one but two operating historical sake breweries.
Here in Nagano Prefecture, usually when you mention “Nakasendo Post Town”, you usually get images of Unnojuku in Tomi City, and the famous ones in the Kiso Valley, Narai-juku and Tsumago. While those towns have done a fantastic job of preserving their Edo-era townscapes, they tend to be a bit touristy. For example, even though some of their old buildings are actually lived in and worked in, there are plenty of souvenir shops, tea shops, eating / drinking establishments, etc.
Motai on the other hand has none of those. We couldn’t even find a parking lot, let alone a t-shirt shop. Motai is not a history display — it is a living and breathing village. Those classical dwellings aren’t polished up to look nice for tourists — they’re lived in and lovingly maintened by the people that own them. And those sake breweries — simply amazing.
The sake brewery we visited was Takeshige Shuzo, of Misonotake and Bokusui labels. Entering their compound and looking around their facilities had me drooling — not just from the scent of the sake being brewed but from the intensity of the historical vibe from the buildings. And I’m not the only one that thinks their buildings are cool — the entire collection of 30 structures are listed on Japan’s National Historical Registry. And the staff was so helpful and friendly — “Come back on March 21st for our Open Brewery event!” they said.
All I can say is it’s a shame Motai isn’t better promoted, because people like me who are interested in Japan’s history and the Nakasendo would go crazy over a place like this.
Click here for details on Motai. Access by car from Saku IC on the Joshin’etsu Expwy via Shimonida Asashina Road, 30 min. Or by train from Nagano Shinkansen Sakudaira Station and bus to Motai Iriguchi stop (35 min.)
Click here for Takeshige Honke Sake’s website.