Magome and Tsumago are two restored and preserved Edo-period way stations on the Nakasendo (中山道) in the Kiso Valley in Gigu and Nagano Prefectures.
The Nakasendo, like the more well-known Tokaido to the south, was a road connecting Kyoto with Edo (present-day Tokyo).
Magome and Tsumago are within easy reach of Nagoya via Nakatsugawa or Nagiso by both car and public transport and there is a pleasant 2 to 2 and a half hour walk between the two historic, former post towns.
Magome (meaning "horse - 馬" "basket 籠") has the more touristy feel of the two places with more souvenir and food stalls on its steep main street and can get pretty busy on weekends and national holidays.
Both places are best visited, if possible, during the week.
Magome's name derives from the fact that travelers were forced to leave their horses here before tackling the steep climb to Tsumago ("wife 妻" "basket 籠"). Both towns have closed their main streets to cars and as much as possible electric wires have been hidden out of sight.
Magome's main street is lined with wood and plaster Edo-style buildings, most of which date from the 20th century as the originals fell into disrepair or were burnt down in the frequent fires that affected both towns.
A wooden watch tower guards the entrance to Magome and there is a reproduction of a Tokugawa shogunate notice board (高札 kosatsu), which lays down the law for approaching visitors.
The death penalty was enforced for cutting down any of the area's cypress (桧 - hinoki) trees which were used for building the regime's castles and are still used for rebuilding Ise shrine every 20 years.
Magome is also known for its most famous son, novelist Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943), whose works include Yoake Mae (Before The Dawn) and Ie (The Family), novels that chart the history of people in the Kiso region as the area's importance and wealth declined in the Meiji Period.
The Toson Kinenkan is a small museum in the center of Magome dedicated to the author and his life, whose grave can be visited just off the main street along with Eishoji Temple, which is mentioned in the author's novels.
Tsumago feels the more "authentic" of the two post towns (宿 juku) as it suffered less from fire and began to be protected by the Japanese government in the mid-1970s after restoration efforts by the town's citizens in the 1960s, becoming a model for later preservation schemes in other areas of Japan.
The delightful main street, which is closed to traffic, contains a variety of wooden and plaster Edo-style inns, houses, temples and shrines, with the surrounding, forested mountains as a spectacular back-drop.
Places of historic interest tied to Tsumago's history as a Nakasendo post town include the Waki-honjin - an inn used by the retainers of feudal lords, rebuilt in 1877 and containing a moss garden, a museum (Shiryokan) and a special toilet for imperial use.
Across the street is the Tsumago Honjin, where the feudal lords (daimyo) spent the night. Both places are preserved as museums and can be visited separately or together by purchasing a combined ticket.
Just off the main street, Kotokuji Temple dates from 1500 and has an ancient cherry tree and a singing floorboard.
Magome-Tsumago-Nagiso Walking Trail
It is possible to walk the old Nakasendo on a walking trail (7.8 km) from Magome (420m above sea level) to Tsumago (600m) and on to Nagiso (3.2 km) or in the reverse direction.
The walk takes about 2 hours to 2 and a half hours and passes through forest and farmland as well as on the road connecting Magome to Tsumago.
On the whole the trail is well signposted (in English) and passes a couple of pleasant waterfalls on the way: Otake and Metaki (Male and Female) Falls. If you are coming from Tsumago, after these falls continue on the road for a couple of hundred meters before the trail turns right into woodland.
The trail from Tsumago to Nagiso JR Station is another hour and passes through some pleasant farmland and small hamlets. Look out for SL Park just before Nagiso, which is a charming spot with a view of the valley below and a rusting steam locomotive for company. There is a very small temple to Kannon nearby with three-colored plum trees in the tiny garden.
There is also a baggage forwarding service available at either Tourist Office in Magome or Tsumago. For 500 yen per piece your bags will be delivered between the tourist offices to arrive at 1pm if you drop them off between 8.30am - 11.30am.
Tsumago and Magome play host to a number of festivals through the year.
In Tsumago on November 23 there is a parade of local people dressed in traditional costume re-creating a procession from the Edo Period: samurai warriors, monks and palaquin bearers.
July 23/24 sees the Wachino Shrine festival in Tsumago when locals parade a portable shrine through the town.
The fourth Saturday of August is a fire festival held at the ruins of Tsumago Castle and performances of Kiso dancing.
Magome Tourist Office
Tel: 0264 59 2336
Tsumago Tourist Office
215-2 Azuma, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano
Tel: 0264 57 3123
Nagiso Tourist Office
3668 Yomikaki, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano
Tel: 0264 57 2001
It is possible to stay in a variety of ryokan or minshuku in both Magome or Tsumago and details can be obtained from either tourist office or in Nagoya.
From Nagoya Station take the Shinano Express on the JR Chuo Line to Nagano and get off at Nakatsugawa. From there take a local train (futsu) to Nagiso or an hourly bus to Magome.
There are buses from Nagiso to Tsumago and an infrequent bus runs between Magome and Tsumago. (The last bus leaves Magome at 3pm for Tsumago).
Taxis can be hired for the journey between Magome and Tsumago or to Nakatsugawa if you miss the bus.
Call Nankiso Kanko Taxi: 57 3133 or Ontake Kotsu 57 2616
There are Meitestu Highway buses from Nagoya Station to Magome (90 mins) and from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station (4 and a half hours).
By car take Route 19 to Nakatsugawa and Nagiso or by Chuo Expressway the journey is about 1 hour 15 mins (toll charge 1950 yen) when the traffic is flowing normally. The Chuo Expressway is also a quick way to visit Iida, Hirugami Onsen and Tenryukyo. The journey back to Nagoya on the Chuo can be crowded on public holidays and weekends.
Buy tasteful interior decoration paper lanterns.
Books on Japan
Japan images by Jake Davies
Japan Magome Tsumago Kiso Valley Nakasendo Nagoya hiking
Monday, November 06, 2006