Tsumago is the only post town on the Nakasendo Way that has survived intact from its inception. The charming main street and its buildings are authentic having survived without the threat of fire and somehow managed to skip the industrial revolution altogether. Lodge in one of the hatago or minshuku (Edo Period lodging for travellers)  to really experience Japanese culture and enjoy the many dishes of local cuisine (okazu) and soak in a beautiful cypress bath.

In this post we cover the following:

  • About Tsumago
  • Tsumago festivals
  • Tsumago attractions
  • Conclusion

About Tsumago

In many ways it is a testament of the areas incredible success story. In 1968, a time of industrial expansion in Japan the local council decided to preserve the main street of the town for posterity. Cars are prohibited on the main street during the day and phone lines and power cables have been hidden from view to enhance the Edo atmosphere.

While many may associate Japan’s castles and temples as popular edifices of Japan’s elite past, Tsumago’s main street of humble wooden houses and vendors provides a small insight into what life was like at a grass roots level. The honjin is well worth a visit, the photo from this establishment displayed on the front page, a staff member poised over the iori, or hearth, to light it. The visitor centre is well worth dropping in. The staff member there was all too happy to shop me an intricately decorated map that folded out of a book and extended the whole length of the visitor’s centre. It was amazing to discover that this was only a small portion of the entire nakasendo. You may have seen this on Joanna Lumly’s visit to the region.

Tsumago Festivals

Tsumago's festivals include a parade on November 23 with participants in Edo period dress, including monks and samurai warriors carrying palanquins, and others recreating a wedding procession. The Wachino Shrine Festival takes place July 23-24 and the Taimatsu Torch Festival on the fourth Saturday of August in the ruins of Tsumago Castle. (Japan visitor website)

Tsumago Attractions

Tsumago has a number of wooden craft shops, noodle restaurants, Japanese confectionery shops and historic inns or hatago. Walking along the main street visitors can see the different ranges of accommodation that were on offer for Edo period wayfarers, from plain wooden floors, to tatami mats to the grandiose Honjin and Waka-honjin. The uma-ya, or stables, have also been renovated and restored. Tsumago's main temple is Kotoku-ji, which is believed to date originally from 1500.

Honjin

  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
  • Closed: December 29 to January 1
  • Addmission: 300 yen
  • 700 yen combo ticket includes Honjin, Wakihonjin and Rekishi Shiryokan

Tsumago's Honjin was reconstructed in the 1990s, but great effortshave been taken so that it resembles its condition in the 1830s, when it servedas an inn.

Wakihonjin

  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
  • Closed: December 29 to January 1
  • Admission: 600 yen, includes entry to Rekishi Shiryokan
  • 700 yen combo ticket includes Honjin, Wakihonjin and Rekishi Shiryokan

In contrast to the Honjin, the antiquity of the Wakihonjin is entirely genuine; with the main building dating back to the 19th century. It now serves as a museum, and tours are held in Japanese. On the second floor ofone of the complex' other buildings lies a nicely-done museum with various artefacts and displays relating to the history of the area.

Kotoku Temple

  • Hours: 8:30 to 17:00
  • Admission: optional donation

Kotoku Temple (Kotokuji) is a Buddhist temple which is believed tohave been built in 1500. It is not particularly remarkable, but still quite pleasant.

Castle Grounds

TsumagoCastle were demolished hundreds of years ago, but the site of its ruins affordsan exceptional view of the village below. The former castle site is located ona hill about a kilometer north of Tsumago's main street.

Conclusion

In many respects Tsumago is the ideal post town experience.  It has survived intact and has been preserved for prosterity.  Vechicles are also forbidden on its streets that contributes to its authentic atmosphere.  The minshuku or hatago are of high quality and staying a night really adds a dimension to understanding Japanese culture.  The wakihonjin is well worth visiting, if only to take a unique picture in front of the iori with the light filtering in through the window and smoke to create a beautiful effect.  You’ll be able to take that quintessential snapshot in this picturesque post town for sure.  Have your visited or plan to visit any of these post town on the Kisoji?  What was it like or what are you looking forward to?