Did Edo period really end? Walking between Magome and Tsumago on the former Nakasendo, once one of the main road from Tokyo to Kyoto, allows to catch a glimpse of Japan’s past. The easy hike and the two preserved post towns are located in the heart of the Kiso valley, and are one of the 100 landscapes of Heisei era. A nice walk in the countryside, with straw hats and backpacks.
Along with the more famous Tokaido, the Nakasendo road (or Kisokaido) was one of the Gokaido: the five main ways to travel from Kyoto and the former Edo (nowadays Tokyo).
If the Tokaido was the main of the roads, it was also a dangerous one, crossing several rivers and suffering from a difficult coastal weather. For that reason, the easiest Nakasendo was thus the first choice of many travelers, among them the lords (daimyo) and their families.
The princesses favorite way, including the imperial princess Kazunomiya, still remembers these old days thanks to a yearly fall parade in Magome featuring princesses traveling in a luxurious litter. The traveling poet Basho too walked on the Nakasendo during his 1688 journey.
Magome and Tsumago are two of the former sixty-nine post towns of the Nakasendo. The two and the path in between had been elected as one of the 100 Heisei landscapes because of their almost unaltered shape and of Magome’s unique situation on the slope of a hill. Many wood buildings date back from Edo Period. The cobbled path allows one to enjoy the view over the Kiso valley.
The walk between the two towns is an eight kilometers one, with easy directions (some of them even in English). Two to three hours are necessary. A convenient luggage delivery service is available between Magome and Tsumago (500 yen per piece, hand-in before 11:30am and delivery from 1pm).
Sleeping on the Nakasendo is a convenient way to enjoy the road’s atmosphere. It is even possible to stay in the Eisho-ji temple and to enjoy an introduction to zen meditation (8000 yens per night, with two veggie meals included). Booking in advance is necessary.
Many travelers are only discovering the two stations without hiking from one to another. While the 8km path is not too difficult and offers many beautiful natural sights.
The path also meets a small resting place where two locals are offering tea, plums and Nakasendo stories to the walkers. The walk also leads to two waterfalls, Otaki and Metaki – meaning “male” and “female”. Both were named after a local legend. Bells are also to be found regularly. Tolling them is a way to keep away the possible bears around.
How to get there?
The easiest from Tokyo is to catch an Highway bus from Shinjuku and reaching Nagoya, and to stop on the way at “Chuodo-Magome” (4h50, 4630 yen). Magome-juku is then 20 minutes away walking.
The train solution is a little more complicated. The closest station from Magome is Nakatsugawa station, while Nagiso station is the easiest to reach Tsumago. Both are linked to Nagoya Subway network thanks to JR lines (for examples using the Chuo or Shinano JR Lines from Kanayama station).
Another option by train coming from Tokyo is to first reach Shiojiri on the JR Azusa line (from Shinjuku station). And again, Nakatsugawa or Nagiso are to be reach with local trains. The whole trip from Shinjuku to Nagiso station last three hours and is about 12500 yen.