It feels like slipping back in time to the Edo Period.
Fans of samurai films may find it intriguing to hike between Tsumago and Magome in the Kiso Valley on the border of Nagano and Gifu prefectures. They are two of the most popular and well-preserved post stations on the Nakasendo highway that travelers in the Edo Period used to get from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is fun to hike the trail, imaging that it was once busy with merchants, carriers, samurais, feudal lords and their servants who were making days of trips by foot and horse.
The Edo Shogunate constructed the 534-kilometer Nakasendo highway, one of the five major highways leading to “Edo” or Tokyo, over the seven years beginning in 1601. Along the routes, the government set up a number of “shukuba” or post stations to not only provide accommodation for travelers but also deliver official mails and packages efficiently. Tsumago and Magome are the 42nd and 43rd of the Nakasendo highway’s 69 “shukuba.”
The highlight of the hiking between Tsumago and Magome is the narrow streets lined with rustic wooden houses in the centers of the towns. Many of the houses are traditional inns, eateries, teahouses and souvenir shops. Located in a mountainous area, the hiking track also offers the opportunity to enjoy the natural landscape of mountains, woods, rivers and waterfalls. Although both post stations went through considerable work for restoration, Tsumago retains more original buildings. In 1976, Tsumago was designated as one of the first important preservation districts for groups of traditional buildings. Magome is known for its sloping stone pavement and quaint water-wheel generator. It takes about three hours to hike the trail which is roughly eight kilometers.
Tsumago and Magome are friendly to hikers. A baggage forwarding service is available at each of their tourist information centers at the price of 500 yen per item. The information offices also issue certificates made of Japanese cypress for those who walked all the way from one station to another. There is one more service which may scare some visitors. The offices lend bear bells to hikers – just in case.
Learn Japanese History
Learn Japanese Culture