With the 4-day-Yari-dake hike we have just finished the day before, and still being used to waking up at sunrise, we decide to go for an 8-km stroll between the timeless villages of Magome and Tsumago. A trip well worth it!
Both villages are former Japanese post towns on the Nakasendo way connecting Kyoto to Edo (nowadays Tokyo) in the heart of the scenic Kiso valley. Prosperous during the Edo period (1603-1868), they fell into poverty when the Chūō Main Line railway bypassed them.
Thanks to the perseverance of their inhabitants who started restoration in the late sixties, we are strolling through the main street of Magome flanked by traditional Edo-style houses and inns. In the seventies, the government protected both villages, and used them as a model for preservation, making it possible to enjoy street views with no power cables: a very unique sight in Japan, that is almost unsettling to us by now!
Passing by many small shops selling traditional souvenirs, restaurants, and food stalls, the steep cobble-stoned street leaves Magome, the 43rd post town out of 69 on the “highway”. Japanese tourists queue to taste the local delicacy: skewers of balls of pounded rice coated with a sweet nut sauce (gohei-mochi). Indeed, a small skewer of three balls will most likely give us enough energy to complete the whole trail!
The trail wanders through beautiful forests, along rivers, and crossing waterfalls. We feel like we are traveling back in time, enjoying a tea warmed up above an open fire in a restored rest-house. Only the ring of our smartphones picking up the free wireless signal wakes us up from our day dream! Getting closer to Tsumago, the 42nd post town on the highway, rice fields slowly replace forests.
While Magome was busy with tourists, Tsumago is peaceful and feels very authentic, even though its long main street is bordered by souvenir shops. The mountains in the back drop offer a fantastic setting.
Walking this easy hike allowed us to discover a timeless Japan that is not so frequent to discover. This probably explains why these few streets are frequently used as filming locations.
Claire & Marcella
- Our base for the day was Matsumoto.
- It is best to walk from Magome to Tsumago, as Magome is more touristy and Tsumago provides a more authentic feel.
- From Matsumoto, we took advantage of our JR train passes to ride the train to Nakatsugawa, and then a bus to Magome. Before you hop on, make sure to ask for the time tables of the return bus (Tsumago) at the tourist office, by the bus stop. Bus tickets can be bought onboard.
- Once in Tsumago, a bus took us back to Nagiso train station (that is a couple of kilometers away and easily walkable too).
- The trail is well marked in English.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!