by Andrew Thompson
Nakasendo - Magome Post Town
Magome Post Town is the forty-third station on the Nakasendo, located along the Kisoji, an authentic and well preserved section of the old route that passes through the Kiso Valley, close to the modern-day city of Nakatsugawa, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Magome Post Town is definitely worth a visit, and provides an excellent opportunity to find some interesting local and cultural souvenirs.
- About Magome;
- Walking Magome to Tsumago;
- The Tea House on the trail between Magome and Tsumago; and
- The Fascinating Museums of Magome
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) it was a prosperous post-town, however, after the construction of the Chuo Main Line railway that bypassed the village it fell into obscurity, poverty and neglect. In recent decades, following a fire, it has been restored as an Edo style post-town and is currently a popular tourist destination.
The post-town has been charmingly refurbished with the central feature being the restored row of houses along the former post road, a central stone pathway lined with carefully tended foliage. Each of the buildings is a functional house which creates an atmosphere of authenticity evoking its 400 year-long history. Various kinds of street vendors, soba shops, museums and souvenir shops are crammed together along this curated pathway, each with the ground floor open to the public in traditional Edo period shopping style.
Passing through Magome you will no doubt come across Shimazaki Tosan, the birthplace and childhood home of the renowned Japanese author, made famous through his acclaimed novel about the Kiso region, “Before the Dawn,” set between between 1929 and 1935. His novel beautifully captures what life was like along the Nakasedo during Meiji period Japan as caravans passed along the route between Kyoto and Tokyo. He is buried in the town's small cemetery.
At the top of the path, across from the soba shop, you'll see a Kosatsuba, or traditional Japanese notice board on which the bakafu (feudal government) would append the latest edicts. Among the rules and regulations posted on kosatsuba by the Tokugawa authorities were prohibitions against Christianity and rewards for turning in practising Christians.
The death penalty was enforced for cutting down any of the area's cypress (hinoki) trees, which were used for building the regime's castles and are still used for rebuilding Ise Jingu shrine every 20 years.
In fact it was also common back then to find some heads on spikes - those who went contrary to the demands of the government - as a deterrent just in case you were thinking of having an idea of your own!
At the top of this stone pathway there is a fine view of Mount Ena, which rises 2,190 m (7,185 ft). Panoramic views of the surrounding mountains can be enjoyed from above the main parking lot at Magome's upper end. From here you will be able to take stunning photographs of the picturesque mountain ranges before continuing on the trail over the pass to Tsumago Post Town.
Walking Magome to Tsumago
The path continues on from this observation area towards the next post-town Tsumago, approximately 8km away. This quiet portion of the original highway between Magome and Nagiso has also been preserved. It provides for a pleasant walk through forests and past waterfalls and is probably one of the most beautiful sections of the entire Nakasendo. It is well worth the pleasant walk over the pass.
I walked this section on a Japanese autumn day - it was drizzly with light humidity. It actually added to my experience as this was really the only rain I encountered on my entire hike along the Nakasendo from Kyoto to Tokyo. I borrowed an umbrella from the Visitor Centre in Magome and handed it to staff at the Tsumago Visitor Centre the next day. In a way, it would have topped off the experience if I had a bangasa (paper umbrella) with me that would have set the scene as an Edo Period pilgrim.
The Tea House between Magome and Tsumago
Be sure to stop at the Teahouse that you’ll find perhaps two thirds of the way to Tsumago. The tea is free, and the kind gentleman may also offer you fruits, local snacks and lollies. If you are lucky he may also sing a popular folk song for you too.
Chitoshi Watanabe, 61, a volunteer at the mid-route teahouse run by the citizens’ group, explained: “It all began when we were introduced in a BBC broadcast, but still I’m surprised at how quickly the number of visitors has risen.”
He’ll ask you to sign his guest book and you can marvel at the range of nationalities that you’ll find in it. Be sure to pop a few yen into the box on the table by the entrance so that he can replenish his supplies.
Aside from all of the vendors along the path there are other points of interest. If you are inclined to learn more about what life was like ‘back in the day’ there are a number of interesting museums that will fill you in with the amazing cultural facts.
The Fascinating Museums of Magome
Magome has a number of interesting museums worth exploring. The entry fee is often only a few hundred yen and they provide a fascinating insight as to what life was like on the Nakasendo. The Japanese do museums really well, often only taking an hour or so to complete. This is an excellent and interesting way to absorb local knowledge about Japan.
Honjin/Toson Memorial Museum
- Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 from December to March)
- Closed: Wednesdays from December to February
- Admission: 550 yen
The Honjin was the principal inn of a post town. Toson's father was the last person to oversee Magome's Honjin, and Toson himself was born there. Today, it serves as a memorial to the artist.
- Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
- Closed: December 25 to March 1
- Admission: 300 yen
The Wakihonjin was the secondary inn of a post town. This small museum is located where Magome's former Wakihonjin once stood. Inside there are displays pertaining to Magome's history as a Nakasendo post town.
- Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
- Closed: irregular closure in winter
- Admission: 200 yen
On the second floor, above a souvenir shop and restaurant, this small museum also focuses on Toson and has on display items of his family and the early Meiji Period.
- Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (8:30 to 16:30 from December to March)
- Closed: irregular closure
- Admission: 300 yen
A small museum that features hanging scrolls, pottery, clothing, and other goods and articles that belonged to residents of Magome.
Magome featured in Joanna Lumly’s Japan visit, with its many colourful vendors - no doubt you’ll end up with some authentic Edo Period souvenir from this post town . The refurbishment of the post town adds to the experience of the nakasendo. Magome has been successful in re-establishing itself as a relevant country town in modern Japan. It attracts busloads of visitors from around the world who drop in for a few hours to 'step back in time' and experience Edo Japan. There are also us walkers making our way along this now romanticised post route from Kyoto to Tokyo just like the Japanese did before us bringing a sense of fun and adventure as you wonder along the Nakasendo Way. What do you imagine your visit to Magome will be like – let us know below!