Japan – Walking the Nakasendo Way: Magome to Tsumago

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It was time to leave Matsumoto and our friendly innkeepers and trek deep into the mountains of the region Central Honshu to finally find out what this famed Nakasendo really is. We exchanged a hundred blessings and gifts with our hosts on our way out of the ryokan. We left a jar of rose oil to further enrich the scents of Japan and in return we received two origami mice filled with bunny-candies…

It was a very good start to the day!

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

 

The tourist info center informed us the night before that we’d have to revise our planned hike of eight kilometers along the ancient nakasendo path. We had tried to arrange it so that the ascent would be shorter than the descent, as we had initially thought to walk the distance with our backpacks. A few stops later we arrived at Magome, where it was raining rather generously.

 

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

 

Still, the preserved villages that line the road are authentic and unbelievably beautiful. With a bit of luck, you can even find a place to rest and have some tea. The road mostly leads through the forest, though there are plenty of motivating sights to see – such as the ruins of an old monastery or some quaint little houses or a waterfall here and there. Most motivating, however, were the bells to use to scare off bears. We think there were instructions available for the case that the bells don’t work but alas, our Japanese was not good enough for us to understand them. At one point we came upon a bell and a very steep cliff right afterwards without any visibility. We did not slow down until we came upon the next bell.

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a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
The adventure starts – we leave Magome, preserved since the Edo period, and head to the neighboring Tsumago by the Western foot path of about the same age through the mountains.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Even shortly after the beginning, the ascent offers some stunning views.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
It seemed the newer road had to cross the older one at some points, but there was plenty of indication for it so we wouldn’t get lost.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
CAUTION!!! Bears in the area! Having a “weapon” changes this entire experience.

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
The first inn we came across – it looks disused though.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
The mountain tops, shrouded as they were in mists, were visible through the bamboo and huddled villages. The first two kilometers were hard and many mental threats were made towards the girl who had made us change our planned route, but gravity ironically lifted our mood on the descent.

 

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Descending towards the waterfalls
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
These waterfalls might not be as impressive as some others around the world, but they cheerfully bubbled around the Nakasendo, huddled away in the Japanese Alps.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Cherry trees taught us that there is beauty to be found even amongst rain and fog.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

Our spirits were lifted with every sign that pointed to Tsumago, and although the village was a bit sleepy, it offered a traditional lunch of noodles and potatoes and strange vegetables, which, to be honest, we didn’t really like, but the service and atmosphere were top-notch. We even met a group of people from South Africa, some of whom had lived in Sofia and exhibited fascination with us.

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a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Tsumago is only a few metres away.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

 

Soon we headed to Nakatsugawa city, where we planned to stay for the night. In the evening we even had enough energy to eat in the restaurant next to the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised – it had the facade of a castle and harbored some devilishly delicious food.

 

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan

 

Here in Nakatsugawa we finally witnessed some strange working time presentations…

a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Opening hours of the public bath in the hotel.
a journey on the Nakasendo Way in Japan
Don’t freak out! He’s just showing off the pyjamas the hotel provided.

 

We continue our journey to Kiso valley!

 

 

This article was brought to you in English by Nick Kotsev.

 

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