The Nakasendo trail (中山道) was one of the five official main roads between Tokyo and Kyoto at the time of the Samurai in the Edo period (1603-1868). The total length of the road is more than 500 kilometers and the route was mainly domestic. It was also one of the best routes the Shoguns and Samurai could take to Tokyo or Kyoto. Especially because they didn’t have to pass rivers.
What would it be like to be able to walk part of this route? Well, 500 kilometers is quite ambitious, but to really feel back in the time of the Samurai to be you can make a nice walk between Magome and Tsumago. This walk is about 8 kilometers long and starts in the town of Magome. Then you will walk through the Kiso Valley and after about 3 hours of walking you will arrive in Tsumago. A beautiful route through traditional Japan!
What to do with your suitcase/backpack? If you don’t stay overnight, it is possible to ask the local tourist office if they will bring your suitcase/backpack to Tsumago. Of course for a fee (500 yen).
Magome: Start of your Nakasendo Trail
Magome is a town of less than 1000 inhabitants. At the time of the Samurai it was a classic postal town and one of the 69 intermediate stations of the Nakasendo Trail. When you arrive in the village you will probably notice that it is pleasant, that the houses look traditional and that there are only souvenir shops and restaurants. And probably even more tourists.
But appearances are deceiving. The village was completely restored a few decades ago, but hasn’t lost its typical Edo-houses. There is generally one main street where it is nice to stroll through, before you actually start your walk. It takes about 3 hours, so there’s plenty of time.
Although we don’t know much about Magome 400 years ago, we do know a thing or two at the time of the Meiji restoration (1868). Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943) was born in Magome and is one of the most important writers of his time. He wrote the book Before the Dawn (1930), in which he described the advantages and disadvantages of the change of power from the Tokugawa to Emperor Meiji in the village of Magome. The social and political changes were a slow and difficult process for the local population.
A number of small museums in the village are dedicated to Shimazaki Toson, such as the Honjin/Toson Memorial Museum and the Wakihonjin Museum. Both are open daily from 9am to 5pm.
8 km: walk with waterfalls and beautiful nature…
The walk through the Kiso valley from Magome to Tsumago is not difficult. It takes about 3 hours and brings you along some beautiful small waterfalls. On the way you will also come across a few houses/restaurants, where it is nice to drink a cup of tea for example.
But there is also danger on the road! Regularly you will see a bell hanging somewhere and it is important to make it ring. It chases away the bears! Although the chance of encountering one is very small…
When you arrive in Tsumago you still have the feeling that you are in traditional Japan at the time of the Samurai. In 1968 the village was restored with precision, so as not to give the impression that we are living in the modern era. Tsumago also has no more than 1000 inhabitants, but is nice to stroll through.
You can also visit the Honjin and Wakihonjin in Tsumago. Both are open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and give a glimpse of where officials and generals came up with their battle plans and also spent the night. You will also find the Kotoku Temple from 1500.
From Tsumago it is quite easy to take the bus to Nagiso and go to the next destination. Depending on how much time you have it is of course also possible to spend the night in this traditional village….
Walk the Nakasendo Trail between Magome and Tsumago?
How to get there?
Magome can be chosen as the best starting point for this hike. To get to Magome you have to take a bus from JR Nakatsugawa Station (JR Shinano Limited Express between Nagoya and Nagano) to Magome. It takes about 30 minutes and costs just over 500 yen. From Tsumago there is a bus to JR Nagiso Station which will take you back to Nagoya or Nagano.
If you want to do this walk from Tokyo then the most important thing is to go to Nagoya. From the Central Station take the JR Shinano Limited Express.
Google Maps: Nakasendo Trail Magome and Tsumago
Finally: Most people walk the Nakesendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago. The other way around is of course also possible.
Read more about Nagano and the region!
- Nagano: Top 6 attractions, accommodation and transportation
- Jigokudani Monkey Park | Meet the Japanese Macaques in Traditional Onsen
- Matsumoto Castle | Discover the original Black Castle in Japan
- Zenkoji Temple, Nagano | Search for the Key to Paradise!
And what did you think of the walk from Magome to Tsumago? Feel free to leave a message below!
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Hello, I’m Steven!
On Travel4history I write about my experiences during my travel in combination with history. What do we historically know about the places we visit? Here I share information about tips, experiences and history. Know where you are!