The Nomugi, Chikuni, and Hofukuji Kaido: Matsumoto’s “Other Three” Edo Era Roads

Wed, Feb 23, 2022

In a previous post we took a walk along the Zenkoji Kaido, the Edo Era trade and pilgrimage route that ran through Matsumoto and up to Zenko-ji Temple in the present-day city of Nagano. Today we’re on a quest to find evidence of the three routes that branched off the Zenkoji Kaido, leading over mountains, across to oceans, and down to the old capital city of Edo. Strap on your boots!

The Hofukuji Kaido

North of the castle town of Matsumoto the Zenkoji Kaido ran through the post town of Okada-juku. Just past where the control gate on Okada-juku’s north end once stood is a stone marker indicating a fork in the road. This is the beginning of the Hofuku-ji Kaido, the route the castle lords and other assorted nobility would travel to fulfill the onerous obligation to meet with the shogun every other year.

Where the Hofukuji Kaido split off from the Zenkoji Kaido

Also known as the Edo Kaido or the Higashiyama Kaido, the Hofuku-ji Kaido ran up the Metoba River for just a short distance before climbing up over the hills of Shinagura and down in to the village of Shiga. There the road turned east once more, following the Hofukujigawa River toward Hofuku-ji Temple and Satoyama Villa, the place where the castle lords would spend the night.

Satoyama Villa

Unlike the Zenkoji Kaido, which is still a rugged hiking path over Kariyahara Pass, the Hofukuji Kaido has evolved into a paved road which leads right past the trail to the ruins of Shinagura Castle – perfect for history buffs who prefer driving over hiking.

Some of Shinagura Castle’s rock walls still remain

The Nomugi Kaido

The third-floor veranda of the Media Garden building offers a great view of downtown Matsumoto. The scenery is even better with the northern alps in the distance. With a beer from the Matsumoto Brewery it’s impeccable!

But this is more than just a cool place to take a picture. Ise-machi-dori, the wide street laid out before you, follows the path of the old Nomugi Kaido.

Turn Left Here for the Nomugi Kaido

This Edo Era trade route ran clear over those mountains to the west, connecting Matsumoto with Takayama and the relatively remote Hida region. Over on that side of the alps another road, the Hida Kaido, ran north to Toyama and the Sea of Japan. Throughout the Edo Era the Hida and Nomugi Kaido were used to transport yellowtail fish among other items to Takayama and Matsumoto. Today the Nomugi Kaido mainly transports tourists.

The Nomugi Kaido actually consisted of several routes that passed over the mountains into Hida. The name Nomugi means “wild barley” and stems from a type of broadleaf bamboo called kumazasa that is found all over the mountains between Matsumoto and the Hida region. It is said that in years past, when there was a bad harvest, the people of Hida would go into the mountains and pick the fruit of the kumazasa, grind it into flour, and make doughy balls they called ‘nomugi’.

Down from Nomugi Pass, Heading for Matsumoto

The Chikuni Kaido

Also known as the Shio-no-michi “Salt Road”, this trade route is similar to the Hida Kaido in that it ran north to the Sea of Japan. But rather than passing over the northern alps, out on the western fringes of Matsumoto this trade route split off from the Nomugi Kaido and ran 120 kilometers up through present-day Hakuba and over some mountainous terrain on its way to the city of Itoigawa. As one of its aliases suggests, the Chikuni Kaido was used to transport salt, as well as seafood, from Itoigawa to Matsumoto.

The Azusagawa River

Where the Chikuni Kaido and the Nomugi Kaido diverged is a mystery. We do know that somewhere after crossing over the Naraigawa and Azusagawa Rivers it led north to a post town that sat in the vicinity of Toyoshina Station in Azumino. Along the way the road seems to have passed through an area called Mamabe where, among the vestiges of history, are two notable – or at least noticeable – spots.

One is Kinryu-ji Temple, a beautiful and quiet spot. The other is a stone marker hiding in the bushes along an intersection. The temple is quite beautiful, and served as a place of prayer for people traveling the kaido. The stone marker – and the older stone marker lying in the dirt – are nothing special to look at although they do indicate by the Kanji characters etched in their sides that to the left was the Matsumoto Kaido (another name for the Chikuni Kaido) and to the right was the Hida Kaido, ostensibly implying the Nomugi Kaido which leads to the Hida Kaido.

Kinryuji Temple, along the Chikuni Kaido


Left to Matsumoto, Right to Hida

If you are a dedicated history buff – or you simply enjoy the odd excursion to places where things of importance once stood – checking out the remains of the kaido that ran through Matsumoto might interest you.

Otherwise, I’d recommend checking out Nakamachi-dori, the old merchant street along the Zenkoji Kaido, and going up to that 3rd-floor veranda for a view of Ise-machi Street, a.k.a. the old Nomugi Kaido – perhaps while enjoying a pint of some of the best beer around.