Nakasendo trail (中山道 – literal translation “middle mountain way”) is the old route that connected Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. The section of the trail that winds through the Kiso Valley passes through two exceptionally pretty and well-preserved old Japanese towns—Magome and Tsumago—and makes for a nice day trip from Nagoya or as part of rustic retreat for a few of days.
The hike is a gentle 5 mi with only slight elevation change, and should take a leisurely 3-4 hours. No special footwear or equipment is necessary; comfortable flat-soled shoes (no heels!) like sneakers should be fine. There’s a nice tea house rest stop and public toilets along the way.
Starting the Trail in Magome
Magome (馬籠 “horse and basket”) is 43rd of 69 old post towns in the city of Nakatsugawa. It’s a beautifully preserved old town situated on hillside, along a winding cobble path which takes you up to the Nakasendo path to Tsumago.
You’ll find delightful little eateries, snacks and souvenirs shops, and ryokan (Japanese inns) along the path, so before you start the hike be sure to take your time and sample some of Magome’s wares. Once you reach the top of the cobbled road, take stock of the view and continue along the sign posted Nakasendo path to Tsumago.
Japanese Wifi – Free, Fast and Fastidious
There’s also a free wifi rest stop at the top of the hill, which bizarrely allows you to connect up to 20 times per day, but for only 15 minutes each time. In the video above myself and Andres from Boutique Japan test it out.
Sugi, Irori and Shiba
The trail continues through light cedar (sugi) forest after Magome, and about halfway through there’s a nice little rest stop, featuring a traditional irori (Japanese sunken hearth). It also features a very friendly local gentleman who will serve you green tea and likely burst into traditional song.
Further along the path, there are numerous traditional wooden houses, and a small amount of village industry. You’ll also be greeted by one or two furry locals, like this little guy:
Eventually the path reaches Tsumago (妻籠 “wife and basket”), which is a truly enchanting village of traditional Japanese wooden houses, shops and ryokan. Once again, there are plenty of souvenirs to be had, many local crafts/craftsmen—including a tailor making rather gaudy flared trousers, the kind of trousers Elvis (should he still be alive) would wear to a rave.
For lunch/eats, Yoshimura Soba serves a selection of cold/hot soba dishes (the buckwheat flour is milled and kneaded into noodles on premises). And for dessert there’s a rather old school matcha tea shop across the road for Japanese tea and Japanese sweets.
Coming from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, the 1,280 yen Express train takes 1hr 15mins or the 2,940 yen “Wide View Shinano” train takes 45mins. You can then catch the bus to Magome, which takes about 30mins.
(Alternatively if you stay at the recommended lodgings below, continue on a local train to Nagiso, and Takimi House will pick you up from the station.)
For the return journey, there’s a 15min bus (or 45min walk) from Tsumago to Nagiso from which you can catch a local train to Nakatsugawa and then change to an express back to Nagoya.
Staying There – Good Value Luxury
For an excellent value deluxe experience, we recommend Takimi House, a rustic and family-run onsen/ryokan—only a short drive from Tsumago. Takami House will drop you off and pick you up at either end of the hike, plus the private onsen makes for a great soak at the end of the trip. It’s midrange pricing, but with your own personal chef, onsen and the whole setting it’s hard to beat the price.
Bonus Tip – Baggage Forwarding
There’s also a handy baggage forwarding service at either town—drop your baggage off at the information center between 8:30am and 11:30am and for 500 yen (per item) they’ll forward your item(s) to the other town’s information centre. Only available from mid-March to late November.