Kiso Valley: Tsumago 妻籠
Tsumago along with Magome are two restored and now preserved Edo-period way stations on the Nakasendo highway. Both are located in the Kiso Valley in Gifu Prefecture (Magome) and Nagano Prefecture (Tsumago). Walking between Magome and Tsumago or vice versa has become a popular day trip for both domestic and international travelers and gives a taste of how feudal Japan once was and a brief introduction to the delights of the Japanese countryside.
Both Tsumago and Magome have closed their main streets to cars and as much as possible electric wires have been hidden out of sight.
Magome and Tsumago are within easy reach of Nagoya via Nakatsugawa or Nagiso by both car and public transport and the pleasant 2 to 2 and a half hour walk on the Nakasendo highway between the two can be done within a day from Nagoya with a bit of planning or by joining a tour.
Tsumago feels the more "authentic" of the two post towns (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 1960's, 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, and now trendy cafes and boutiques with the surrounding, forested mountains as a spectacular back-drop.
Tsumago has a number of wooden craft shops, noodle restaurants, Japanese confectionery shops and historic inns or hatago. Walking along the main street visitors can see the different ranges of accommodation that were on offer for Edo period wayfarers from plain wooden floors, to tatami mats to the grandiose Honjin and Waka-honjin. The uma-ya or stables has also been renovated and restored. Tsumago's main temple is Kotoku-ji, which is believed to date originally from 1500.
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. The building is built in hinoki cypress wood, darkened from the smoke of the irori hearth fire.
The Meiji Emperor visited the inn in 1880 and a western-style table was made for his visit and the tatami covered in carpets so the Emperor could enter in shoes. The adjacent museum has a number of interesting exhibits - tools, weapons, documents and dioramas explaining traditional lifestyles in the Kiso Valley. Some of the photographs show farmers from the Kiso area who moved to Manchuria during the 1930's - a landscape certainly very different from their mountain roots.
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.
Tsumago's festivals include a parade on November 23 with participants in Edo period dress including monks and samurai warriors carrying palanquins and others recreating a wedding procession. The Wachino Shrine Festival takes place July 23-24 and the Taimatsu Torch Festival on the fourth Saturday of August in the ruins of Tsumago Castle.
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. The walk passes from Gifu to Nagano prefectures over the Magome Pass (Magome-toge) where a memorial stone is inscribed with a haiku poem by Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902):
These white clouds evoke
memories of my long walk
under fresh green leaves
On the whole, the trail is well sign posted (in English and Japanese) and passes a couple of pleasant waterfalls on the way: Otaki 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 Otaki and Metaki Falls are featured in the book Miyamoto Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (1892-1962) a fictional account of the life of master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In the book Miyamoto was traveling to Edo (Tokyo) with his sweetheart, Otsu, a woman who was betrothed to his friend. Their passion for each other grew on the journey and to cool off their ardor they stood under their respective waterfall.
Just before the historic power station in Tsumago coming from Magome is the Iida-kaido on your right - another Edo period highway leading to the town of Iida in Nagano Prefecture.
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.
You can also leave your bags to be picked up by the same service at Magomekan (馬籠館) and Magome Bekan (別館) souvenir shops near the main crossroads where the bus arrives at the foot of the stone steps. (Luggage pick up here is 9am-11.30am ONLY)
The service is suspended during the winter season and runs from around March 21 to November 30. See the Magome Tourist Office homepage for details.
Kiso Valley Festivals
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 palanquin 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: 0573 69 2336
Tsumago Tourist Office
215-2 Azuma, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano 399-5302
Tel: 0264 57 3123
Nagiso Tourist Office
3668 Yomikaki, Nagiso-machi, Kiso-gun, Nagano 399-5301
Tel: 0264 57 2001
Accommodation in Tsumago & Magome
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.
The Shinchaya minshuku is located in a tranquil valley, 2km from Magome.
Shinchaya 5110 Magome, Nakatsugawa-shi, Gifu 508-0502. Tel/Fax 057 369 2619.
Tajimaya is an inn with over 100 years of history in central Magome Tel: 057 369 2048. All the rooms have Wi-Fi access.
In Tsumago, the historic Maruya Inn is right on the Nakasendo and has tatami-style rooms and excellent food.
Maruya Inn, Tsumago, Minami Kiso-machi, Nagano, Tel: 0264 57 3117; Fax: 0264 57 2591.
Other ryokan are Hanaya Tel: 0264 57 3106, Tsutamuraya Tel: 0264 57 3235, Shinomura Tel: 0264 57 3158 and Koshinzuka Tel: 0264 57 3029. Next door to Hanaya is the noodle restaurant Kongoya Tel: 0264 57 3116.
Access - Getting to Magome and Tsumago
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 5.15pm 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. You can also send your luggage ahead by taxi to your accommodation and walk with a day pack.
There are Meitetsu 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.
Buses from Nakatsugawa to Magome
The bus journey from Nakatsugawa Station to Magome takes about 25 minutes.
On weekdays there are buses leaving Nakatsugawa at 7.42am, 9.10am, 9.40am, 10.15am, 11.15am, 12.12pm, 1.12pm, 2.12pm, 3.12pm, 4.12pm, 5.12pm, with the last bus at 6.30pm.
On weekends and public holidays there are buses from Nakatsugawa to Magome at 8.10am, 9.10am, 9.40am, 10.15am, 11.15am, 12.12pm, 1.12pm, 2.12pm, 3.12pm, 4.12pm, with the last bus at 5.45pm.
Buses from Magome to Nakatsugawa
On weekdays there are buses leaving Magome for Nakatsugawa at 7.05am, 8.10am, 8.40am, 9.40am, 10.10am, 10.50am, 11.50am, 12.45pm, 1.45pm, 2.45pm, 3.40pm, 4.40pm, 5.40pm, 6.10 with the last bus at 7.00pm.
On weekends and public holidays there are buses from Nakatsugawa to Magome at 7.05am, 8.40am, 9.40am, 10.10am, 10.50am, 11.50am, 12.45pm, 1.45pm, 2.45pm, 3.40pm, 4.40pm, with the last bus at 6.10pm.
The adult fare is 540 yen with children 270 yen. Buses do not run from December 31st-January 2.
Buses from Nagiso to Magome
There are buses leaving from Nagiso Station to Magome via Tsumago and Magome Pass at 8.40am, 10.05am, 12.40pm, 2:15pm and 4.35pm.
Buses from Magome back to Nagiso Station leave at 9.20am, 10.50am, 1.25pm, 3:00pm and 5.15pm.
Fares are: Nagiso Station to Tsumago (300 yen); Nagiso Station to Magome (800 yen), Tsumago to Magome (600 yen) and Magome to Magome Pass (300 yen).
The journey from Nagiso to Magome by bus takes 35 minutes; from Tsumago to Magome it is around 30 minutes.
Magome & Tsumago Map
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