Kiso Valley 木曽路 – Walking the Nakasendo Trail 中山道, Japan – Day One: Magome 馬籠 to Tsumago 妻籠

Japan is certainly a country of contrasts. Coming from the jam-packed streets of Kyoto filled with cacophonious tourists hungry to consume every sight and morsel in their wake, the Nakasendo Trail presented a quiet respite where the only prevalent sounds were the crunching of gravel beneath our feet or the gentle gurgling of a stream we were following.

For anyone considering a walk along the Nakasendo Trail, just go! Even if you only have a day to spare. Okay, let’s qualify that the day to spare needs to take into consideration starting early from whatever city you are coming from. This is because things close pretty early in the villages along the trail and most of the inns are usually full. Also, train connections are infrequent so the last thing you would want is to be stranded in a village without any accommodation. Oh, and there are bear warnings every 1 km or so along the trail too so …

We decided on a 3.5 day walk departing from Kyoto in the second week of April 2019. Luggage was an issue so we left ours in Nagoya where we would eventually end up and backpacked it. Below is our overall itinerary:-

Overview itinerary
Detailed itinerary can be downloaded here

From Magome to Tsumago

This is the most popular trail which spans some 8km between the 43rd post town which is Magome to Tsumago the 42nd. Both towns are well-preserved but as Magome seems to be the start / end point for the Nakasendo for many, the town seemed a bit more developed for tourists with its souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. The preserved wooden buildings of local cypress, hark back to the Edo period, which together with the cobblestone roads, retain the feudal feel of the post-towns.

Arriving at nearly 1pm, we wandered the main street up-slope for photos and some ooh-ing at the souvenirs before settling on the local fare of soba and the area’s speciality – gohei mochi – in one of the restaurants. We were there on a Thursday, so things seemed pretty quiet in general, with practically nobody in the restaurants.

By the time we waddled out from lunch, it was almost 2pm and seeing that we hoped to get to Magome by 5pm, we figured we ought to pick up the pace a little. It was going to be up-slope for the next hour or so and of course, we were waylaid by scenic spots for wefies and panoramic captures. Some stripping was also in order as temperatures went up coupled with uphill exertion. At around 3.30pm, we arrived at the much-mentioned 250-year old teahouse, serving free tea, pickles and wifi. The uncle manning the place was actually in the midst of closing up so we made haste with the tea and photos and went on our way.

Whoever said that uphill from Magome to Tsumago was only for the first hour or so either lied or had strange perception of angles. There were definitely a few more slopes to overcome, though thankfully short. Waylaid further by a very friendly Shiba Inu, some trees bursting with blooms and more farm animals (ducks to be precise), by the time we got to Tsumago, it was 5.30pm and everything was shuttered. We trotted as fast as we could to what we believed was the Visitors’ Centre but since we were famished, the only open shop selling steaming Oyaki (stuffed buns) called to our growling auntie stomachs. Our saviour was the Oyaki Uncle, who after hearing that we were trying to find a place to get a cab to bring us to our hotel, promptly got on his mobile phone and called the taxi company to send a cab to pick us from his stall. Overcome by his kindness, we aunties promptly bought 10 buns from him in repayment, which we polished off even before the taxi arrived.

When we were searching for accommodation in Magome and Tsumago some months back, we were dismayed that most inns in the areas were fully booked. We decided to take a chance with the Hotel Kisoji, found via Google Maps, and it turned out to be a very good stay. At around SGD110 per pax, including a super sumptuous buffet dinner and breakfast, the traditional tatami room was clean and spacious for us 4 aunties. It was the onsen, however, that gave the place a definitive thumbs-up. With a large inviting indoor pool and very nicely landscaped outdoor pools, complete with a water feature, it was the ultimate way to end our day one hike.

Beautifully landscaped outdoor onsen of Hotel Kisoji
Image credit: Hotel Kisoji

Note: Our 4 hours to get from Magome to Tsumago included lunch stop at Magome, tea stop at the Tatebachaya, numerous stops for photos and to harass some animals and a couple of toilet breaks.


About the Nakasendo Trail:-

Hotel Kisoji ホテル木曽路:-

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