325. Japan’s Road to Kiso: Photographs by Jeff Kucharski

P. Anne Winter writes:

Photo by Jeff Kucharski. Courtesy Japan Foundation.

Some people have the extraordinarily good fortune to find a second home in far away places. If they are creative enough to pass on their love of that country to others, we are all fortunate. We are able to enjoy their insights into that culture. 

Such a person is Jeff Kucharski who was sent to Japan as a Canadian diplomat for a total of over twenty years. He married a Japanese woman and they often lived near the historic Road to Kiso.

Recently, Kucharski gave a talk introducing 50 of his beautiful photographs about this road. He revealed his love for Japan and respect for its history. I felt honoured to hear him speak. 

Fortunately, his exhibition continues on for free at the Japan Foundation until December 12.

From around 702 CE to the early 1600s, Kiso was the only trade road from Tokyo or Edo to Kyoto. It had challenges from weather and an erratic, dangerous terrain. This lightly-paved road was the commercial efforts of many entrepreneurs. It was built by enterprising innkeepers, some of whom made you bring your own food. It provided Geisha attractions, cultural events, and trade with other countries.

So treasured was this strip of land that famous artists, writers, and poets immortalized all the best resting spots. The great wood-block artist Hokusai recorded it forever in his famous album “69 steps to Kiso”.

Each region required passes. Markers in wood or stone indicated stations or regions. Sadly many earthquakes, the bane of Japan, have demolished original buildings. These have been replaced often with traditional architecture. 

Simply, what one can enjoy from Kucharski’s images is Kiso Road and its enormous beauty today.

Some pictures are whimsical showing old and new signs to the same station, or the more jarringly English versions. At other times I found myself drawn to an overview of the Kiso Valley, a bird’s-eye view of old thatched or slate-roofed houses. I was also transfixed by tiny, colourful Japanese maple leaves on rocks by the waters edge, or a stooped women tending her precious flora and fauna for sale with no one interested in her wares.

Japan Foundation, 131 Bloor Street West, Suite 213
Toronto. Tel. 416-966-1600

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