Walking Into a Time Warp: The Kiso Valley Tsumago & Magome Trail

The cities of Japan are fascinating; the bustling streets filled with pedestrians in Shibuya, the neon lights of the shopping centers and restaurants of Osaka and the trains that zip through each city like bullets are hallmarks of a developed country. However, that was not what I was looking for on this trip. I headed to the provinces to discover what Japan was like before.

Tsumago Old Town

Magome

Magome is an old post town that connects to Tsumago along the Nakasendo Trail that linked Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period. I only heard about this route from a friend and decided to add it to my itinerary. I took the train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, another old post town, but as soon as I arrived, I boarded the bus that went to Magome. The station in Nakatsugawa already felt like a small town, which made me look forward to seeing Magome.



Stepping out of the bus was like stepping into a time warp. The town was in the mountains, surrounded by lush farmlands, and the towering skyscrapers that characterized Japanese cities were non-existent.



The old town has a walkway in between houses and establishments, making it easy for visitors to explore. Magome served as a place of respite for travelers along the Nakasendo Trail. Many inns and restaurants line the town that maintained their original architecture.




I was fortunate to visit at a time when there were very few tourists and people. After walking around, I waited at the bus stop for the ride to Tsumago. This was another side of Japan that I got to see and discover.

Tsumago

The bus ride took us through verdant farmlands and lush mountains veiled with mist as it was the rainy season already. The inclement weather actually added to the charm of this old post town. Tsumago was similar to Magome in so many ways; the row of old houses lining the streets and the serene atmosphere as I walked by the old houses and establishments. It was like traveling back in time, I also remembered Samurai X (the anime) as he passed through similar towns in the cartoon.



Experiencing the old way of life
As one of the guides discussed the history of the house, I realized how hierarchical Japanese culture was. The position of each member of the family on the dining area signified their standing, the father at the head and the children at the opposite side.


I was hungry so I decided to try a local dish called gohei mochi, which is a toasted rice ball slathered in sesame and walnut soy sauce.



The town managed to recreate the Edo Period by maintaining the old houses, honjins and wakihonjins. The honjins were the principal inns for the government officials, while the wakihonjins served citizens of lower status passing through.



Magome and Tsumago are old post towns that are worth visiting while in Central Japan. The well-preserved houses and establishments, and the middle-of-nowhere feel made me feel like I was in another epoch.

General Information

I wasn't able to do the walking trail but rode the bus from Magome to Tsumago. For those who want to do walk the ancient path, it is clearly marked and takes around 2-3 hours one way. If you don't want to carry anything during the trek, there is a baggage forwarding service at the tourist information center of each town; the cost is Y500 per bag. You must drop your bags between 8:30AM to 11:30AM.

Getting In and Out of the Post Towns

From Manila, the best place to arrive in is Nagoya. From the city get on the train bound for Nakatsugawa which costs around Y1,330 one way. Once in Nakatsugawa, board the bus bound for Magome which costs around Y560 one way. Once in Magome, you have the option to take the walking trail to Tsumago or the bus, which costs Y600 one way. To get back to Nagoya, board the bus to Nagiso Station from Tsumago for around Y300 one way. From Nagiso Station, you can return to Nakatsugawa or Nagoya.

You can also start your trip in Tsumago by heading to Nagiso Station first instead of Nakatsugawa from Nagoya.

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