Narai is one of those insider sites I can just strongly recommend you to visit. It´s a small, idyllic mountain village off the beaten tracks (at least when it comes to foreign visitors), that will instantly transport you back in time as its buildings, landmarked since 1978, originate the Edo era!
At this time, Narai marked the geographic centre of the travel route between Tokyo and Kyoto, turning it into the ideal resting place on the Nakasendo highway.
There are two shrines in Narai, one to the Northern and another one at the Southern end of the village, as well as five temples that appear to be almost hidden and barely noticed witnesses of long gone times in between the buildings.
Along the pictresque and ukiyoe-esque main road, you will find countless shops selling a large variety of selfmade, traditional food, spices, toys, porcelaine and general craftmanship items.
Somehow walking around Narai literally feels like a time travel, also in regards of the most beautiful scenery and location in the midst of those mountains and sheltered by forests. Simply and truly enchanting. There are not many places in Japan that left such a huge impression on me.
For sure, Narai is a known destination amongst Japanese tourists, but there are not too many Western tourists making their way up to this place. Perhaps that´s just another reason making it worth a visit. It won´t be as crowded as let´s say the sightseeing places in Kyoto. On the day I took the pictures, I found myself to be the only foreign tourist walking the streets of Narai, and two very kind show owners didn´t hesitate to invite me in for having tea and cake with them. Several of those salesrooms are directly integrated into the living quarters, and residents are very friendly, which adds up to the unique atmosphere this gem will veil you in.
In case you´re getting hungry or thirsty, just take a rest in one of the restaurants or traditional teahouses, where you can have a tea, coffee or meal in a unique style and atmosphere.
How to get to Narai
From Tokyo, you´ll get to Narai via Shiojiri. The trip will take around 3 hours in total.
Shinjuku —> Shiojiri —> Narai
Oh, and once more I´ll recommend you “Hyperdia.” You can conveniently plan all of your trips with it, Hyperdia is a great timetable / scheduling tool for all kinds of train connects within Japan. Hyperdia is also available as app for your smartphone or accessible via http://www.hyperdia.com/