Seki’s not a place you’ll hear about in any foreign tourist magazine. But given its history, it should be front and centre, for in this little slice of Japan time seems to have barely moved in almost 400 years.
Seki (関), in Mie Prefecture, was once the 47th ‘post town’ along the Tōkaidō, the historical route linking the then capital Edo (Tokyo) and the Kansai region of Western Japan. The route was established to allow local lords and their samurai underlings to travel easily between their homelands and Edo, where the shogun (the de facto rulers of Japan) resided.
In towns like Seki, travellers of all classes were stopped at the gates by government officials to have their travel papers thoroughly vetted before being allowed to enter and rest, and eventually continue their journey. The town’s name literally means ‘gate’ or ‘barrier’. Today, much of the townscape along the old road remains intact, still utilised by locals for living and working. Seki is an amazing place to wander through Japan’s past, well away from the tourist throngs that overwhelm other preserved post towns, like Takayama or Tsumago, Magome and Narai in the Kiso Valley.