Magome – Tsumago hike: A side of Japan I never knew existed

Japan surprised me in many ways. But the most unexpected was the part of the Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago. It is the place to experience rural Japan that seems to be worlds apart from its sprawling cities. The 8 km hike up in the hills of Kiso Valley balanced my image of this ultramodern country with some oldfashioned charm. Here are some impressions from it.

Magome in rain
Magome is the preferred starting point of the trail as it lies higher than Tsumago and the initial ascend is shorter.
Tajimaya Inn, Magome
Magome is also the perfect place to experience some traditional Japanese hospitality. We loved our stay at the Tajimaya Inn.
Kaiseki dinner, Tajimaya Inn
Dozens of small dishes constitute a traditional Kaiseki dinner, served at the Tajimaya Inn.
Evening in Magome
Rainy weather wasn’t ideal for walking but it added a certain something to my nighttime photos of Magome.
Outside of Tajimaya Inn, Magome
We felt weirdly out of place with our suitcases here. But the local tourism office offers luggage transfer service so we had them delivered to Tsumago. Very convenient.
Old lady in Magome
Though picturesque, the villages along the trail are populated by elderly people only and many houses seem to be deserted – a stark reminder that Japanese population is ageing.
Bamboo forest, Nakasendo trail
The path mostly leads through forest and a couple of small villages.
Odaki Falls
Odaki and Medaki waterfalls are just a short detour away from the path descending to Tsumago.
Magome - Tsumago trail
Most of the trail is relatively quiet with hardly anyone around.
Paved path on the Nakasendo Trail
Somehow, Japanese seem to be most proud of this last paved part of the path descending to Tsumago as it is pictured in every brochure of the trail.
Traditional restaurant in Tsumago
You can find a couple of restaurants in Tsumago but we chose this old mom-and-pop place with a menu that can fit on that chalkboard at the door.
Tourists in Tsumago
Tsumago seems busier with visitors than Magome.


Getting there and away:

From Nagano or Nagoya by train to Nakatsugawa. From there it’s fairly easy to catch a bus to Magome (the bus station is right outside of the train station). Walk to Tsumago and have your bags delivered there. From Tsumago you can catch a bus back to Nakatsugawa. Taxi is another alternative that is not too pricey.

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Tajimaya Inn in Magome. Nice rooms with tatami floors and futons. The price includes sumptuous dinner and breakfast plus a hot bath in the evening.

Find a detailed map here.