Kisoji: Highroad Among Mountains
Kisoji is an old road that runs through Kiso in Nagano Prefecture, which is located along the Nakasendo, one of the main highroads connecting Tokyo and Kyoto Prefecture. Stretching 80 kilometers from north to south, the Kisoji is home to 11 "post towns" along its trail. The road has been used for about 400 years, with feudal lords from all over Japan using it to get to Tokyo to serve the shogun during the Samurai period. In this episode, we tour the post towns and see the deep facets of the Kisoji route.

A Sumo Boy's Fighting Days

The Okuwa Boys Sumo Club has been operating for 48 years. Currently 10 boys between the age of 6 and 15 are trained by an instructor who has competed in the National Sports Festival. The club has a match with a strong club in Kiso coming up. Sumo wrestling is very popular in Kiso, with rings at every elementary and junior high school, and even a 1,000-seat sumo arena. The origin of the sumo popularity in Kiso is said to have started by burly men, strong from their mountain work, challenging each other.

"Water Boats"

Communal water stations, called mizubune, "water boat" in Japanese, can be found all over Suhara-juku. Fresh water flows into them all year round. The mizubunes are made from hollowed-out logs of the oil-rich and water-resistant tree Sawara cypress. Mizubunes served as a common water supply for washing rice and vegetables, and also a place for people to commune. 2021 was a year to replace the mizubunes. The townsfolk joined forces to make three mizubunes from logs.

Procession of the Sacred Horse

Historically, a native breed of horses called Kiso Horses worked alongside people in this land. But these small horses were deemed unsuitable as military horses during the war, and a sterilization policy was adopted. After the war, one Kiso Horse miraculously survived and was used as a stallion to revive the breed. The number of Kiso Horses has today grown to 160. One horse will be chosen as the "Shinme" or "sacred horse" for the Hanauma Festival, a 300-year-old festival, to pray for a bountiful harvest.