Time Travelling to Edo Period from Magome to Tsumago


For our Japan trip, I delegated Junda for the itinerary planning, where he was fully in charge on scheduling and planning the route. As for selecting the places to go or things to do, I chipped in the idea and let him do the rest. I told him that I want to do a bit of trekking, which he agreed, since the last time we went trekking together was 2 years prior in Peak District, UK. He proposed some name of places in Japan for our trekking activities. However, as I was too lazy to do my own research, I just told him that it's entirely up to him to choose. Therefore, his choice was Nakasendo. I had no idea of what I would find there. I thought that the trekking path would be on some mountain, or forest. I was not wrong, but it was not all there is to Nakasendo.

View of Ena from the top

We went from Totoro's house to Ena, a little town in Gifu prefecture, which is close to the next day destination; Magome. Our initial plan was to stay at Magome, since it will be our starting point for the trekking. Junda already booked AirBnb there, when suddenly I realized that he booked it for the wrong month. Thank God we could cancel it right away, but the place was already booked for our desired date. I searched for another option and found this lovely house on AirBnb, though the location was in Ena, a two train-stops followed by a bus ride to Magome. We thought that it was completely fine, as the accommodation price was very cheap for Japan's standard. Turned out that was one of our best decision of our trip at that point!

Our host, Shigeki, was very kind. He picked us up from Ena station and drove us to his house. We were very thankful for that because as we ride along the way to his house, we found out that his house was located on the top of the hill. It was a beautiful house, located on the area of his family houses and businesses. Apparently his family runs a big tennis club and a laundromat in Ena. 

Shigeki's house! And that's not the entire picture.

We had the entire house by ourself, which felt too much since there were two big rooms, large kitchen, and spacious living room. We had a quick stroll around the house and the tennis court, washed our clothes at the laundromat and had a quick chat with Shigeki's mom there, cooked our dinner, dipped in to the hot tub, and went to bed early as we need to have a proper rest before the trekking.


We woke up early and ate the overnight oats with the orange from Shigeki's garden, cooked our lunchbox, packed our backpack and prepared to leave.




Shigeki spoke very fluent English, so we could have proper conversation with him. He used to be a sushi chef in USA, which explained his fluency in English. When we told him that we're going to Magome, he offered us a lift, as he needed to go to Magome as well to collect the money from another laundromat he owned there. At first we refused because we need to go to Nakatsugawa station first to store our backpack before heading to Magome and start our trekking. But he said that it's okay to stop by at Nakatsugawa on the way. We were pretty much sure that he was an angel. 

On the way to Magome

On our way to Nakatsugawa, we stopped by Ena Gorge, one of the iconic place in Ena. It's a big river surrounded by tall karst hills. The colours of the water was greeny-blue-ish.


Shigeki dropped us at Nakatsugawa station and waited as we stored our backpack in one of the coin lockers there. We needed to do that as we didn't want to trek with heavy luggage, and we will continue our journey after the trekking from Nakatsugawa station to Takayama.

Shigeki and Junda

A bridge over the Ena Gorge

A while later, we arrived at Magome, at the starting point of the trekking. We exchanged good-byes with Shigeki with a mental note, that we would highly recommend his place to everyone who want to go to Nakasendo walking trail as well as a very shiny 5 stars review on his airbnb.

I remember that I was a bit confused as there was no sign of trekking path there, and the view that I saw was a row of the pretty old-style houses - no trees, no forest. I asked Junda to briefly explain about the trekking path that we're going to face, which he explained with a bit of a grudge.

"I already told you for thousands time when we were planning the itinerary!"
"Sorry, I wasn't fully listening, hehe"

I could say that Junda is a hard-core otaku. I remember vaguely that he already explained to me about our itinerary. But the point is, sometimes he put too much details when explaining to me; like the type and the speed of the train that we'll ride, the name of the kings and kingdoms, the history of the place, and whatnots. Therefore, when he starts to blabber much about Japanese stuff, usually, my ear will suddenly stop functioning.

------ okay from this point, Junda will continue writing:

Back in the Edo period (1600 - 1800), people travelled from Tokyo to Kyoto on foot or by riding horses. There were no cars, buses, trains, let alone Shinkansen and plane. Nakasendo trail was part of the 'highways' from Tokyo to Kyoto, and took three days to travel on average. The travellers usually spent the night at post towns (Juku) that scattered along the Nakasendo trail. Nowadays, Nakasendo trail is preserved as part of the Japan heritage. There are two post town along the trail that we walked that day; Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku.



The starting point : Magome-juku

The time machine brought us here.

Magome looks a lot like a movie set out of Rurouni Kenshin. Traditional row house that functions as shop or lodging flanking stone roads. Some of these houses even have a working watermill. Not long from our starting point where Shigeki dropped us off, there was a tourist information center that gave us a useful pamphlet containing map and lots of tips of the route. I have already done my research but there are still some useful information that I obtained from the pamphlet.

The walk in Magome was pretty much uphill, though the slope was not too steep. So overall, it was a very pleasant walk. As soon as we reached the top of Magome, we were immediately greeted by greeneries. The view up here was absolutely breathtaking; range of mountains and vast forest anywhere eyes could see. I could see Tsumago among the forest and that made us feel energized trekking the trail.

At the top of Magome-juku. We breathed and filled our lungs with fresh air.

Suddenly into the woods.

These road post can be found everywhere along the trail so it was hard to get lost. They were also gave a sense of progress seeing that the number decreases for Tsumago and increases for Magome

Along the trail, we passed by many small villages that only contains dozen or even fewer houses. Magome used to be prosperous as post town, before the completion of Chuo Main Line (the railway that connects Tokyo to Kyoto) in 1908 that did not pass through Magome. Since then, Magome was pretty much abandoned, before extensive work preserving the trail and the town themselves in recent decade managed to bring back some of the crowd. Having said that, we are pretty much alone along the way, perhaps due to the cold late-winter weather and rain earlier that day. Me and Mira both walked very carefully. The downpour was both a curse and a blessing. From what Shigeki told us, if the season is warmer and the weather is good, Magome could get quite crowded, so it was good to only see a few humans here and there.

We passed by a few small villages with only a dozen houses. It gave us a sense of slow village life. I'm not sure if these houses are inhabited, but we met a few residents who were chopping firewood or drying some kind of fruits. It made us want to pick a house, move in, and get settled immediately.

Another empty small village.


The typical view along the road

About halfway along the trail, we finally met other human.

There was a rest stop called Ichikokutochi Tatebachaya. I think this place used to be a tea shop, but currently it served all travellers free tea and candies. When we passed in front of the building, Suzuki-san, the one who run the shop urged us to come inside. There was one other group inside that were about to leave. Suzuki-san immediately prepared a very delicious warm tea, while telling us a story about the place.

Hot tea on a cold day, couldn't be any better!

Old-styled furnace, so iconic!


It was free but you could give small donation to show your love.




Arigato Suzuki-san!

Not only Ichikokutochi Tatebachaya is the halfway marks, it is also a turning point of the trail. Prior to this, the trail tend to have more hike up, but afterwards it was mostly sloping down. I think it took us one hour to reach Ichikokutochi Tatebachaya with much stopping for pictures. If the weather is good and we didn't take any picture (which is absolutely impossible), I think forty to fifty minute is more than enough.



Scattered along the trail are bear bells. As the name implied, the bells are supposed to protect the travellers from unwanted encounter with black bear. I'm not sure how frequent it happens, but I don't think we were ready to face a bear out in wilderness that day. Seeing that we still had 8 days of vacation to go, I made sure that we rang all the bells that we passed despite secretly wishing to see a real bear.

Don't forget to ring the bell!


I thought that hiking downhill would require extra attention from us, but luckily there were lots of random wooden bridges that helped us got a good grip. These bridges looked like they are just lying in the middle of a road without bridging anything, so I suppose that their main function is indeed to make trekking on a wet ground easier. Too bad we have no pictures of these bridges.

The road passed not only forest, but also river, stairs, and at some point it also merged with asphalt road, although there barely any cars at all. Oh, we forgot to mention that there is a regular bus service from Magome to Tsumago. So if you don't fancy walking 7km, you could take the bus instead and save yourselves a breathtaking view and a few hours walking.





After two and a half hours of walking, we finally made it to Tsumago. It took longer to walk the second half of this trail because we ate lunch somewhere close to a river. Our makeshift bento surprisingly tasted good. Thanks to the furikake!

Tsumago has seen a bit more modernization than Magome. The main road is made of asphalt, and is wider than the stone road in Magome. But that doesn't mean that Tsumago got less traditional charm than Magome. There was a building that displayed huge amount of hinamatsuri dolls. We were greeted by another rainfall when we arrived at Tsumago, but somehow there were more people in Tsumago than Magome.

Initially, we could only stroll around Tsumago for a limited time because the bus that will take us the nearest station, Nagiso Station, will be arriving not long after we arrived at Tsumago. But after taking a few pictures, we realized that we missed the bus already. Suddenly we have extra one hour to stroll around Tsumago that we enjoyed.




Beautiful hinamatsuri dolls!



Mitarashi Dango, I thought it was going to be sweet but it was salty instead, the brown sticky thing is soy sauce. Mira hated it. Haha.



Totoro met a local creature


If you are sick of huge building and pack of humans everywhere eyes can see, as is typical of Japanese city, you should try walking the Nakasendo trail. However, even though we strongly recommend you to walk the trail, first you need to have honest conversation with yourselves about walking at least three hours through various terrain. It was not a terribly long walk, but if you are not ready, you are not going to enjoy it. For example, If you are going to be bringing luggage or big backpack, make sure that they are not hindering you on the way. Otherwise, you could copy us and store your belongings at Nakatsugawa station, walk the trail, and then go back to Natasugawa station by train or bus.

Walking Nakasendo trail has meditative effect for us as we immediately feel refreshed instead of tired despite walking. But try to put it somewhere close to the end of your trip, because it will make other destination pale in comparison - we'll talk about it later.

3 comments

  1. definitely a must destination trip in Japan!

    sebagai otaku juga aku merasa gagal karena ga tau tempat ini mir, sehingga aku harus balik lagi ke sana. thanks Junda catatan perjalanannya, nanti aku tanya2 klo udah beli tiket nya ya hahahah

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    Replies
    1. it is, indeed! rasanya ingin ngomporin semua orang untuk ke sanaa hahaha

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