Tag Archives: Old Nakasendo Highway

Tsumago, Old Nakasendo Highway, Kiso Valley – 2

untitled-358 untitled-357 untitled-352untitled-351On the northern end of the lovely hamlet village, in Terashita area, two wonderfully restored rows of wooden houses led towards the dense bamboo and forested mountain. All the dwellings were restored to the old construction styles of the period. It is wonderfully serene. We stopped a shop and contemplated at a “mochi” display. We were advised that dinner at our ryokan was big. A man walked door to door with a flat box filled with bread. Large bamboo mats were sometimes laid out in the sun to dry. When a breeze came in, soothing sounds from wind chimes hung above the doors enhanced the ambiance of this charming place.

untitled-355I am glad that we ventured to this part of Japan. Kiso Valley, surrounded by lush forested mountains and beautifully preserved post towns of Tsumago and Magome, is certainly a slip back in time. I could easily imagine the days of the immaculate shogun and sword wielding samurais trudged to the Honjins and Waki- honjins through these very streets. Although it is geared for tourism, it provided an opportunity for people, tourist and locals alike, to ruminate historic moments in this living museums.

We retired to our ryokan for a deserved rest and to reflect our walk and these wonderfully preserved towns of Old Japan over cups of hot green tea.

Tsumago, Old Nakasendo Highway, Kiso Valley – 1

We passed a concrete bridge over a slow flowing river. As we entered Tsumago, in Nagano Prefecture, we were greeted with wide asphalt roads with a few vehicles on it. No vehicles were allowed during the daytime. There were hardly any “tourists”. Perhaps it was a Monday. We made our way into town and eventually located the Tourist Office. We collected our bags and I handed over the bell that I had obtained at Magome. Now where is our accommodation?

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untitled-345 untitled-361In Tsumago, we decided to stay at Fujioto, a ryokan or a typical Japanese inn, the most upmarket of all our accommodations in Japan. We planned to try out the various types of lodging on offer – hostels, “minshuku”, hotels and a “ryokan”. The locals are always helpful and directed us to the right place. Tsumago, in comparison to Magome, had a more authentic village atmosphere and experience. The main street, led us towards two rows of rustic dark wood double storey houses with sliding doors, wooden rain gutters and narrow balconies on the second floor. Indigo and white “noren”, cloth hung at the entrance of shops advertised their wares. Potted plants and a big sculptured broadleaf tree highlighted the deep dark brown of the wood. Further beyond, a dense mountain rose above the village.

Our ryokan was set in a lovely manicured garden with a koi pond several meters off the road. A stone pathway led us down to the entrance. We were greeted by the rather excited staff. This is our only planned ryokan experience. This conscious decision was the cost!

In our spacious room with a great view of the garden and mountains, we relaxed and sipped green tea. Later, we walked up the street and enjoyed the slow walk past inns, restaurants and gift shops. Through a back street alley, we emerged in a bright golden rice field. We soon discovered that something was lurking underneath. People smiled as we passed on the street. On a hill, we visited a temple. The vistas of the village below were attractive. Smells of hot buns wafted through the humid afternoon air. An elderly man was baking bread buns in a traditional fireplace with an assortment of filling, mostly sweet. It was light and tasty. There is certainly a homely feel to this place.

Magome, Old Nakasendo Highway – 2

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We were earlier advised by our host that dinner is big. We limited our snacking habits. As dusk approached, visitor numbers’ thinned. It also became cooler. It was much more pleasant to walk. However, the shopkeepers were also closing down their shops to head home. I thought it was still early. This is typical. Dinner arrangements are best made with the inn for the night. We were already discussing what was in store at our place. Tour bus queued on the main trunk roads as visitors were ushered in. As the sun set over bamboo grooves, the surroundings became quiet. Then nearby mountains were now hazy. Sounds of gushing water and rustling leaves merged with bird songs and clacking of shopkeepers shutting the doors resonated in this old town. Roadside lanterns were lit. The sight was ambient.

“Ice cream in Japan was very standard….same price, same flavour…soft serve cones” – Navindd

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After a long warm shower, we headed to our restaurant across the inn. Dinner was already in progress and the wonderful aroma of herbs and sauces filled the still cool air. There was a hive of activity. The table was filling up with all sorts of mouth- watering delicacies. Salted local trout, an array of pickles, assorted vegetable tempuras, sweet bubbling soup with local mushrooms, soft tofu, miso and sweet “gohei-mochi”. It was indeed a big dinner. Earlier, our host suggested that we only took two orders instead of three. Even this, we barely managed to finish. It was, however, a delicious meal. Horse meat is also on the menu if desired.

In the quiet of the night, we strolled on the street. A nostalgic feeling of was inevitable. The thought that, once, horses trotted heavily on the stone paved roads; samurais’ with ornate apparels striding along these same roads; and locals trying to attract travellers to buy their wares, flooded through. I felt privileged to have walked the same places samurais and feudal lords had done so centuries ago. Magome is indeed a wonderfully restored living museum piece. We retired early in our comfortable room in preparation for the long walk the next day.

“After the dinner, we were well and truly stuffed, even though we shared two meals between the three of us. At night, Magome was a ghost town with not a soul in sight….” – Navindd

Magome, Old Nakasendo Highway

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From Takayama , we headed back to Nagoya and caught an onward train to Nakatsugawa. Train journeys here in Japan is a delight. Food parcels from the train stations, ample leg room and hardly any noise from people. The sound of the iron wheels rolling over the rusty track is very soothing. From Nakatsugawa, we caught a local bus to a sleepy town of Magome. We now entered Kiso Valley, located in Nagano Prefecture and runs along the Central Alps. This is one of the few preserved towns, of the 69 so called ‘post-towns’, along the historic Nakasendo Highway. Before this highway was established, a shorter route was called Kisoji. Later, this network extended and was one of the five links between Edo (political capital) and then imperial capital Kyōto and was called Nakasendo [means – path through mountains] during the Shogunate period. They were mainly used by Samurais, merchants and feudal officials. The bus passed through golden rice fields weaving its way through the lush green mountains.

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When we arrived in the late afternoon, the small town was not sleepy at all. In contrast, it was packed with people and came with all the attributes of a tourist town. Past the pedestrian’s only cobblestone pathway, the beauty of this preserved township emerged. Rustic wooden houses set on stone foundations lined on either side of a steep winding road, lattice doors and windows and surrounded by great mountains views. The entrance to this old post town is marked by a big water wheel. On a steep uphill walk, shops displayed all kind of gift items, aromatic food, local wooden handicrafts and more. It was refreshing to hear sound of gushing water beneath the paved street as water flowed through the channels. Green foliage and flowering plants accentuated the road side appeal together with sculptured pines.

Our stay tonight was in a “Chaya”, teahouse or inn. Our host greeted us and led us to our abode. Futon bedding on tatami- mat floors had already been laid out. An elderly woman in kimono gingerly walked around the corridor tidying up the place. There were great views of the mountains including Mt Ena and had an ambient old world charm atmosphere. The owners had a restaurant across the street.

A large water wheel spun rapidly turned by the gushing water. It certainly looks like a by- gone era village though touristy.

“The highway was very old, forged out of cobblestone, used by Samurai on horses” – Navindd

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We strolled on the streets with hundreds of people. Telephone and electrical wire were conspicuously missing. At food stalls, there always seem to be a queue. Ice cream stalls included. We wandered to the outskirt of town along rice fields and vegetable gardens. A lone farmer was tending to them meticulously. From a temple, we could see the blue green mountain ranges and the new town- ships surrounded by golden rice fields. The most famous son from Magome is Shimazaki Tōson, a highly regarded figure in Japanese literature. There are a few museums here. At one shed, near the tourist office, I found an old samurai hat and overalls. One of the highlights of travelling within Japan is the sample local delicacies. The dishes may be the same, but each locality had their own flavour. We sampled some grilled rice cakes, “gohei”, steaming sweet buns, pickled beans and nuts.

“The whole of the Kisoji lies in the mountains.” – Toson