Magome and Tsumago are two charming, old postal towns in the Kiso Valley. Magome (Gifu Prefecture) and Tsumago (Nagano Prefecture) are located along the Nakasendo Trail, an important route that connected Tokyo with Kyoto during the Edo period (17-19th century).
Nowadays, in modern times of email and video conferencing, the well-maintained part of this former postal route between Magome and Tsumago is beloved for recreational use. The Magome Tsumago Walking Trail. You can walk both ways; from Magome to Tsumago is the easiest (8.3km) and that is exactly what I did.
Magome is a small picturesque town that was able to preserve a lovely authentic atmosphere with traditional wooden houses, inns and water wheels. There are a few optional sights to visit, such as the Honjin and Wakihonjin Inns, where high-level officials used to stay overnight. Try one of the pleasant little restaurants, such as Chaya, Masuya or Café Kappe, especially the local soba noodles.
The Toson Memorial Museum is all about the town’s most famous resident, novelist Toson Shimazaki. He was born in Magome in 1872 and described in his book ‘Yoakemae’ (Before the Dawn) his life during the early years of the Meiji Restoration. Magome felt slightly more touristy than Tsumago, both have souvenir shops and a few restaurants.
Baggage Forwarding Service
The Tourist Information Office in Magome (750m uphill) runs a Baggage Forwarding Service. If you drop off your luggage there in time, between 08:30h and 11:30h, they will take care of the transport to Tsumago for a small fee (¥500) while you walk the trail. Pick up is between 13:00h and 17:00h. The service is available between March 20 to November 30 (2019). Alternatively, there are some lockers at the souvenir shop near the bus stop (small backpacks only).
I was late. Luckily, I met my angels in disguise, a super friendly couple from Israel offering luggage storage in their car, walk the trail together and drop me off at my hotel afterwards!
Nakasendo Trail: Magome to Tsumago
From Magome, the first 3-4 km of the trail is up hill along some houses, the rest is relatively easy. The main part of the trail between Magome and Tsumago goes through a big green forest with tall trees, bamboo and flowing streams of water.
You come across warning signs for bears, but none crossed our path. Finding the route is not difficult; the signs are both in English and Japanese. Local school kids greet you along the way. Except for the first kilometer or so from Magome, we rarely saw anyone along the way.
After about an hour, you come across Tatebajaya Tea House (open at least 10:00-1500h). Halfway you can make a short bypass to visit the Otaki and Metaki (Male and Female) Falls.
At a few points you cross the asphalt road number 7, so careful! The total walk from Magome to Tsumago took us around 3 hours, other people manage to complete it within 2 hours.
Tsumago is the bigger, most charming brother of the two villages. Like Magome, Tsumago’s main street is car free, which strengthens the sense of really entering the Edo period. A lovely place to walk around on a lovely spring afternoon! Thirsty? Grab a coffee or tea at Sabo Ebiya for example.
Tsumago has a number of wooden craft shops, noodle restaurants, Japanese confectionery shops and historic inns. Just off the main street, there is Kotokuji Temple with an ancient cherry tree. I found the ruins of Tsumago Castle are not worth the walk up, there is just not anything to see.
Most likely you will either stay in Tsumago, return to Magome by bus or pre-arranged a hotel shuttle. If you need to catch a train, take the bus to Nagiso (35 min) or Nakatsugawa (via Magome, both only a few times a day). Or, if you have time and energy left, you can continue to walk the trail from Tsumago to Nagiso JR Station, which is another hour (3.5 km) and has a pleasant, rural atmosphere too.
Multiple day hikes
Hike lover and determined to see more? Expand your trip and see a bigger part of the Nakasendo Trail in 3-5 days.
- Day 1: Magome to Tsumago (8.3km, 3 hours), as described above
- Day 2: Tsumago to Nojiri (18.3 km, 6 hours), stay in Kiso-Fukushima
- Day 3: Kiso-Fukushima waterfall circular walk (7km, 2-3 hours), take train to Yabuhara (Chuo line, 14 min, 3 stops), hike from Yabuhara over Torri pass to Narai (6.2km, 3 hours)
- Day 4: take train from Kiso-Hirasawa to Karuizawa, walk from Narai to Hirasawa
- Day 5: Karuizawa to Yokokawa
Walking the complete old Nakasendo Trail all the way between Tokyo and Kyoto would take weeks.
Where to stay
If you want to start walking the Nagasendo Trail early in the morning or at least not arrive too late at the Baggage Forwarding Service, consider spending the night before in Magome, for example at Tajimaya or Guesthouse Nedoko. Or spend the first night in Tsumago and walk the other way, from Tsumago to Magome the next morning.
Since Magome and Tsumago have such traditional atmosphere and are located relatively remote, this is a perfect spot to stay at a traditional ryokan with onsen (Japanese Inn with hot spring) for a reasonable price. Elsewhere, in more touristy areas, this fantastic Japanese experience can be much more expensive (Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, etc.). It is lovely to be able to relax your muscles in a hot onsen bath after the walk.
Try to book a traditional ryokan/onsen in Tsumago as soon as you can. These are currently not (yet) available on regular hotel reservation websites such as booking.com. For options check out this website of Japanese Guesthouses. For each ryokan you will have to ask and wait for availability (email), which can be a time consuming process. Do not be surprised if everything is already full three months ahead, especially in high season like Golden Week and blossom season (March-April).
Staying in the heart of Tsumago? Go out and walk through the lovely village streets in the evening or early morning hours.
Should all good ryokans in Tsumago be already full, a great alternative is available in the nearby mountains of Nagiso.
- Hotel Fuki no Mori is a very nice hotel with six different types of indoor and outdoor hot spring baths (onsen), sauna and a traditional restaurant.
- Should Hotel Fuki no Mori be full or over budget, consider staying at the more basic Tokonamiso, baby brother of Hotel Fuki no Mori across the street. The owner is very nice!
Both of these hotels in Nagisp offer free shuttle service and onsen experience. Soon I will try to post a separate article about my onsen experience in Japan a.s.a.p.
When to go
Intrigued to walk the Nakasendo Trail between Magome and Tsumago? The best months to do so are March, April, May, June, September, October and November. Try to avoid national holidays and weekends. Between October and April there can be snow on the trail. In March and April the blossom is blooming on the trees, the exact dates vary per year.
In summer it can be pretty hot and humid in Japan, 35 degrees Celsius is not an exception. If you go in July or August start your walk early in the morning. Take a hat or cap, sunscreen, plenty of water and some snacks with you. Do not expect to be able to buy any water along the trail.
How to get to Magome
Should you want to go to the old village of Magome, make sure you look for ‘Magome, Nagatsugawa, Gifo prefecture’ or Magome-juku. Not Magome Station in Tokyo! For Tsumago, look at Tsumago Azuma or Tsumago-juku. For example when searching in Google Maps. Juku means postal town.
- From Kyoto Station (36-53 min): take the shinkansen to Nagoya. Total trip app. 2.5 hours.
- From Shinjuku Station in Tokyo (min. 2 hours 10 min): take JR train to Osaki, switch train to Shinagawa, switch train to Nagoya. Total trip app. 4-5 hours. Or 3 hours if you can take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi (not covered under JR Pass).
- From Mount Fuji (Lake Kawaguchiko): take train from Kawaguchiko Station, Fujikyu-Highland Station, Fujisan Station or Gekkouji Station to Otsuki Station, switch train to Shiojiri Station or Matsumoto Station, switch train to Nakatsugawa Station. Total app. 5 hours.
- From Nagano Station (2 hours): take the JR Shinano train (direction Nagoya), get off at Nakatsugawa Station (6 stops).
- From Nagoya Station (50 min): take the JR Shinano train (direction Nagano), get off at Nakatsugawa Station (4 stops).
- From Nakatsugawa Station (25 min): take the bus at track 3 to Magome (¥560 one way, cash only, 12x per day).
Tip: bring sufficient cash to pay for the bus, food, souvenirs etc. in Magome and Tsumago. ATM in 7Eleven near Nakatsugawa Station.
Bus Tsumago – Magome
There is a bus that runs between Tsumago to Magome, Google Maps does not seem to know about (yet). Follow the signs to the bus station (Parking 1.2). The bus goes only a few times a day, at 08:42h*, 10:12h, 12:47h, 14:22h and 16:42h (*only from April 28 to May 6 & from July 7 to August 31) and the ride takes 15-20 min. The price is ¥600 one way, cash only. There are also buses from Tsumago to Hogami and Nagiso Station. Check in advance whether your accommodation has a shuttle pick up service.
If you would like to join a guided group tour, the following could be an option for you. Not all include walking the whole trail!
- 2-Day Walking Tour Nakasendo Trail with English speaking guide
- 1-Day Walk and Cycle tour old Nakasendo road: Magome to Ena Gorge (excluding Tsumago)
- 1-Day Nakasendo Walking & Cycling Tour of Magome-Juku and Kashimo (excluding Tsumago)
- 3-Day Self-Guided Nakasendo Walking Trail starting at Magome with ryokans and pick ups
- 5-Day Self-Guided Nakasendo Trail
Map Magome Tsumago
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. To customize the map to your interests, simply (un)select categories. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.
Going to Japan? I wrote 13 other, detailed articles about it full of tips! Check all my Japan articles in the Japan Blog Archives.
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