Located in the Kiso valley this pretty, traditional village, one of the endpoints of the famed Old Post Road walk, is a great introduction to rural Central Honshu. Although zooey during the day, if you can spend the night, it’s delightful in the early morning before the tourists show up.
Getting to Tsumago from Nagoya
We retraced our train ride back to Nagoya and then caught the 10AM Shinano 7 Limited Express to Nagiso. It was a little tricky buying tickets. For convenience it’s best to go to a JR ticket office for a reserved seat ticket. I bought a regular 1660 yen ticket to Nagiso from a machine and then bought an express train supplement on the track platform for an additional 1180 yen.
It worked out fine but we didn’t have reserved seats. Luckily, since the train originates at Nagoya there were seats available. You can also buy tickets on board the train. There are cheaper trains that take about 2 hours instead of 1 but you have to change trains in Nakatsugawa.
Taxis were waiting at the sleepy little Nagiso train station and it was an easy 1350 yen taxi ride to Tsumago.
At midday the town was full of tourists, mostly Japanese, but not packed. Too many people though to show off the real charm of this mountain village.
We left our bags at the ryoken, walked around town, and stopped for some soba noodles next to the hotel before walking down to catch the 12:47 bus to Magome to start the walk back to Tsumago. It’s a 25 minute bus ride, 600 yen each.
The bus was full and Magome was more crowded than Tsumago. At just after 1PM the sun was much too high in the sky for good photos.
Walking the Old Post Road
We walked the old post road from Magome back to Tsumago. Whichever direction you do this route I suggest you take the bus first and then walk back to your final destination.
It’s a 7.8K walk that took us about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace with lots of photo stops. The trail is well signed with frequent mileage markers. The first 2.5k descends a bit and then climbs to the top of the pass, after the pass it’s all downhill back to Tsumago.
I didn’t find the first part of the trail that pretty. Wandering through rural Japan was interesting but not particularly charming or picturesque, but there were a few shrines and these great crocus flowers. Past the pass, however, the trail goes deeper in the woods and becomes more picturesque following the river past small farmsteads, a few more shrines and so forth.
Watch for the waterfall. You leave the trail, which climbs the hill above the falls, and instead follow the road. There is a large map/sign along the road that marks the way.
Back in Tsumago at around 4:00 there were fewer people on the street and nice light. Still too many tourists wandering around to get empty street scene shots. The cemetery, however, is actually open to visitors. Other cemeteries I’ve run across have been closed.
I woke up early the next morning and took another spin through town before breakfast. Low light, empty streets, cool breeze; this is when the town is its most charming.
September 24, 2017
For links to all the posts in this series see the Japan page.