Leaving the department store, the Nakasendo becomes nondescript. Kumagaya suffered heavily from the bombs of World War II although the recently-built Shinkansen railway construction has led to prosperity. The old highway is now a four-lane road with modern stores lining both sides.
Kumagaya was a prosperous, but conservative place for a post-town in the Edo period. Although it had a large population (3263 in 1843), men outnumbered women 110 to 100 and the number of inns was uniquely small: 19 out of 1715 households. Of all the houses, only 1.8% were inns. This compared to an average of 27% among all other post-towns along the Nakasendo. The demand for inns was so slight in Kumagaya that when one of the two honjin burned down in 1721, 51 years were allowed to pass before another family established a new “honjin”. Compared to the exuberant excesses of neighboring Fukaya, the inhabitants of Kumagaya preferred the polite charms of tea houses which actually did serve tea.
In 1764, there were riots in Kumagaya arising from the sukego system under which villages surrounding post-towns were obliged to help with porter duties when official traffic was heavy. Traffic along the highway had increased, leading to a decree extending the “sukego” system to all villages within a 25-mile radius of each post-town. In the same year, however, a Korean embassy coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Tokugawa family mausoleum at Nikko, which required all daimyo in the country to attend the celebration. These events put considerable strain on the villages in the system. Sukego villages in Shinshu and Kozuke rose in revolt and soon the rioters were joined by villagers in Honjo, Fukaya and Kumagaya until they numbered more than 200,000. In Kumagaya, the storehouses were smashed and looted. This forced the authorities to negotiate terms with the peasants and so led to a softening of the obligations imposed by the sukego system. The rioters returned home peacefully, but not before their ringleader had been arrested and, as was then typical, later beheaded. Representatives from each village who participated in the riot were also punished, although less severely.
After passing the Shinkansen station, the road quickly reverts to suburban/country lane status. It meanders past farmhouses and the occasional four-story apartment block. Hiroshige’s wood block print of Kumagaya features a stone column beside a temple. The column still stands, tucked behind a concrete wall, about a half mile from the train station.
Continuing on for about a mile, the Nakasendo passes through quiet suburbia. Gradually, the old highway ascends a river embankment. From the top, views extend across what appears to be the whole Kanto plain. Mt. Fuji is visible on the far side of the Arakawa River, for the first time since Shiojiri-toge. Ahead is the gathering haze of Tokyo. To the west, the Arakawa flood plain is filled with rushes, reeds and birds. To the east, rice fields give way to suburban housing, scrap yards, railway lines, and high-tension powerlines. Looking back, distant mountains embrace the rapidly disappearing farmland. Two miles beyond Kumagaya, the tateba of Fukiage is reached.