Jusan-toge (Thirteen passes) is really a series of climbs and descents along the ridge which carried both the old Nakesendo highway, and the 8th century Tosando before that. In the Edo period , it was an isolated area. There were three houses which ran illegal gambling, but their existence was such a well known secret that most guidebooks mentioned them. One of them still stands among the other scattered homes.
Unlike valley villages, the houses here are isolated or clustered in twos or threes. The agriculture is mainly upland gardening with tea predominating over vegetables and the occasional rice field.
The highway, running as it did through an isolated and potentially dangerous area, contained a large number of devices to aid and protect travelers. Drinking wells along the road are frequent because there was little other source of refreshment. There are several pretty retaining pools fed by clean, gurgling water. These were intended for people. Horses drank from small holes in the road bank into which seeped water from springs.
Protection appears in the form of the many “jizo” statues which line the road. One which lost its head a long time ago is particularly famous. This stone is half way up a hill called “The very serious hill” because it was steep enough to force riders to dismount from their horses. Equally famous is a small structure built into the hillside; it houses 33 images of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
Toward the end of the Edo period, a number of “tateba” were established to reduce the level of isolation in the area. One of these has now become a liquor shop run by a retired couple who are descended from the samurai formerly responsible for maintaining this section of highway.
Along the ridge is the junction with a highway which went off to the Ise Shrines. Many pilgrims would have turned off the Nakasendo here in the Edo period. Descending from the ridge is some ishidatami which brings the traveler under an expressway. A little further is the railway line and then a short walk along the modern highway (which was last seen in Mitake) to the entrance to Ena as it is called now; Oi as it was called in the Edo period.
Oi post-town lies at the far end of the modern town. The road to it passes through the modern night life area, hotels, and restaurants, to the railway station area. Beyond the station the old post-town area is well preserved. In this area, the highway may date back to around 1100 or before, but Oi itself had 175 households and 1,227 people in the 1790s, a medium sized post-town. The area around the former honjin is well preserved. The gateway to the honjin, the surrounding ordinary inns, and the double masugata road shape have all survived to this day.
Leaving Ena, there is a kosatsuba and then some industrial estates. The old highway quickly turns into paved country road which runs through a rolling valley. After about 7 miles through nearly continuous farm villages, the road enters Nakatsugawa. The road descends a hill and is obstructed by a masugata which signals the beginning of the old post-town. Near Nakatsugawa train station, the Nakasendo has been gentrified with attractive sidewalks and shops lining the way.