Day 105-106: Magome to Tsumago in the Kiso Valley, Nakasendo, Japan

The Nakasendo trail

When I read the Top 25 things to see and do in Lonely Planet’s Japan guidebook, walking the Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago caught my attention:

“The Nakasendō (中仙道) was one of the five highways of the Edo period, and one of the two connecting Edo (now Tokyo) with Kyoto. Much of the route is now followed by national roads; however, in the thickly forested Kiso Valley there exist several sections of twisty, craggy post road that have been carefully restored. Most impressive is the 7.8km stretch of trail between Magome and Tsumago, two of the most attractive Nakasendō towns. Walking this route is one of Japan’s most rewarding visitor experiences.”

Could the girls walk almost 8km in one go? We parents all thought so…


It took us about three hours to drive from Matsumoto to Sakashita, a town about 10 minutes away from Magome, which is the start of the trail.

The minivan we rented fit all 7 of us plus our luggage!
The old farmhouse we stayed at. It was very spacious.

We stayed at a big, traditional farmhouse, which was more than 150 years old, in the town of Sakashita I found it on AirBnB.

We went out for dinner at an izakaya in Sakashita. (An izakaya is an informal pub that serves food.) The owners and some very friendly patrons were intrigued that we were staying in such a small town. We managed to convey to them our intention of walking the Nakasendo from Magome to Tsumago.

Mixing with the friendly locals at an izakaya in Sakashita.

Ordering food though was a bigger hurdle. I got the Google Translate app out and that helped, but we realised that, just like English, there can be numerous words to describe one thing. We ended up with lots of food, beer and sake. Some of what arrived was a surprise, as was the bill. It cost us quite a bit! But we were all very hungry and were thankful to find food late in the evening in a small town.

Magome to Tsumago

The next morning, we parked the minivan at Magome where we would start our walk. Thankfully, it was a beautifully sunny and clear Spring day. We carried water and snacks and cameras and headed off. Come along our journey on the 8km historical trail.

Mika and Elina at the start of the walk in Magome.
Pretty mountain scenery over the rooftops of Magome.
There were a few water wheels on the hike that were still operating.
I was sooo glad to see this coffee shop – it even offered a flat white! It was good coffee, but not cheap. It cost us about $7 for a flat white.
Even Paul got one: a decadent caramel “flaver latte”.
Still in Magome. Many tourists who are not up to the walk just come to Magome to look around.
Rice cracker shop.
A defunct water wheel.
Wooden kitchenware shop.
This shop sold bamboo wares, ceramics and wooden toys or objects.
These toddlers had a prime perch to check out the walkers going past their house.
Traditional sandals.

Clear, clean water was always flowing on either side of the cobbled streets in Magome. Some of it was channelled through troughs or fountains with ladles, most likely for the travellers walking the trail though I never saw anyone drink the water.

Vibrant flowers!
How the locals got their news during Edo times.
There was a lookout above Magome with a magnificent view.
Looking back over Magome from the lookout
Family, with view. (Paul’s orang-utan T-shirt is a souvenir from our Borneo trip.)
Another water wheel.
The trail went through some bamboo groves.
There were quite a few of these mirrors by the road at blind corners for drivers.
One of the “wilder” stretches of the trail.
This traveller’s respite is more than a hundred years old and serves free tea, though donations of coin are welcome.

This is an old travellers inn on the trail that is now used as a tea room. UK actress Joanna Lumley came here when she did a BBC show about Japan a few years back.

The entrance to the tea room.
Walkers enjoying some green tea.
Outside the tea room, this trough was used to water the horses back in the day.
There were lots of twisty tree roots in this part of the path.
Getting there …
Moss-covered stone wall.
Someone’s house was left wide open and you can see where the hearth exists, it’s the square hole in the middle.
Ready for winter!
Old fashioned retaining wall.
And down we go over old cobble stones.
OCD tendencies? This person sorted the wood according to different cuts.
Front porch of a house.
At some points on the trail it “rained” cherry blossoms when breeze was strong.
Here’s a video of it.
Grave yard.
Wooden telephone booth under a huge cherry blossom tree.
Not far to go now.
Elina in front of a straw horse.
We arrive in Tsumago at last! It was the late afternoon.
Jun Obara in one of his creations.

This is Jun Obara, an eccentric menswear designer, who is something of a Tsumago institution, modelling one of his creations. Read this interesting article about him.

One of the old hearths used during the Edo period.
Checking out a modern travellers’ inn.
A store selling miniatures.
Olden times newspapers: Tsumago’s announcements board.
Local cat.
Paul and Greg took the bus back to Magome to pick up the minivan while the rest of us waited here.
Tri-coloured cherry blossoms from one tree.

We all really enjoyed doing the walk and would highly recommend it. If a seven-year-old can do it, so can you!

Goodbye, Kiso Valley: Looking back up the valley, Sakashita is in the background, from a bridge over the river on the road out of the valley.