During the Edo period Kiso-Fukushima flourished as a post town on Nakasendo highway. Being home to Fukushima Sekisho – one of the most important checkpoints along Nakasendo – and a seat of provincial magistrate, it was one of the larger settlements in Kiso valley. Nowadays it is still larger than most of its neighbors, although the old town is mostly gone. Only a tiny area of old houses remains, and it’s completely outshined by historically less significant, but much better preserved Tsumago and Magome. What is worth seeing in Kiso-Fukushima is the Fukushima Sekisho Museum and the garden at Kozenji temple.
The town’s historic district is called Uenodan – it consists of one street and a couple of back alleys. Although very small, it’s still picturesque and totally worth stopping by if you’re in the area. At the time of my visit there was virtually no one else there.
Barrier stations existed on all main roads in Japan since Heian period, but held a special significance during the Edo period, when movement of people and goods was strictly controlled by the government. Guns were not allowed to be brought into the capital, and women were not allowed to leave (this has to do with sankin kotai system) and every traveler had to have proper travel documents. The purpose of barrier stations was to check those and make sure that everything is in accordance with the law.
The station at Fukushima was pretty big – one of the four major stations in the country. The original building has not survived, but the reconstructed one is said to be a close copy. Various exhibits help you get an idea of what a sekisho was all about.
Kozenji, founded in 1434, is one of the three most important temples in Kiso valley, although little remains of its original appearance (fires, fires, fires). It was a family temple for local provincial rulers, the Yamamuras, and also has some links to Kiso Yoshinaka (also known as Minamoto Yoshinaka), a famous figure of Genpei war. But most of the visitors who stop here now do so because of the garden: Kozenji’s large karesansui garden is said to be the largest in Japan as well as in Asia.
Yamamura Daikan Yashiki Museum
In Edo period daikan was a governor appointed to a province or territory directly under the shogunate control (as opposed to provinces governed by daimyo). Kiso valley was one of the shogunate territories, governed by hereditary daikans from Yamamura family. As local rulers and overseers of Fukushima checkpoint they gathered considerable power and wealth, and their mansion is said to have been quite large and impressive. Unfortunately only small part of it survives, and nothing there now gives an impression of grandeur. You can skip it – or stop by if you have time. There’s some interesting exhibits inside.