First Trek! Making the Acquaintance of an Old World Road
I have the sakuras to thank for this.
Because they bloomed much earlier (3 weeks early) than anticipated, Takato castle 高遠城 had to be dropped from the plan. So what then? What could I fill that empty day with? Up till the eve of d-day, there was still no answer. Then, I found out about the Nakasendo.
The Nakasendo 中山道 was a mountain route, linking Tokyo (Edo) and Kyoto and formalised by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1716; more than a trade route, it functioned as an intelligence network for the shogunate too. And by law, it could only be traversed on by foot. Horses, vehicles were forbidden.
So they said. In fact, it was not a newly carved route but a link-up of existing trade routes some which had been in existence since the 8th century. Post towns were established during the Edo era to cater to the travellers. and the Kisoji 木曽路, that part of the Nakasendo that laid between Nagano and Gifu prefectures, had 11 such post towns ie narai, magome, tsumago, which still retained its original designs.
So a new plan was made: hike from Magome 馬籠宿 to Tsumago 妻籠宿 (8km). Stop at Narai on way back if there was time. Here’s how we did it:
0630 hrs – reach Matsumoto 松本 train station
0704 hrs – take train to Nakatsugawa 中津川 (77 mins) (tourist office opens at 0830 hrs)
0910 hrs – take bus to Magome (25 mins, 540 yen)
0930 – 1530 – walk from Magome to Tsumago
1600 hrs – take bus from Tsumago to Nagiso train station
1720 hrs – take train from Nagiso to Narai (66 mins)
1941 hrs – take train from Narai to Matusmoto (41 mins)
Shuppatsu! 出発する (Let’s go~)
The Matsumoto train station was a sleek modern-looking spacious building. I liked it very much. It was so spacious, 3 people could do cart wheels there without bumping into one another. And, the view from the station was splendid.
Before you pass through the gantries, do pause and say hi to this little guy on the right. He’s a beautiful 30cm rendition of the famous samurai warrior – Taira no Kiyomori 平 清盛 .
We got a nice little English map from the lovely ladies at the tourist information centre outside Nakatsugawa train station. They also sell various omiyage (souvenirs) and local pastries, so you could fill up your stomach here before setting off for the day’s long walk.
We got on this bright, cheerful green bus headed to Magome. 25 mins later, we arrived at the Magome bus station. The first thing we saw were trees full of blooming sakuras. We had given up on them and here they were, waiting for us in their full glory???
The village of Magome was neatly laid out on both sides of a steep mountain path. I imagined those samurai travellers of yore would have been very glad to reach Magome after a long day’s walk. Luckily for us, we were dropped at its entrance.
Magome wasn’t a long walk but we dawdled here for hours. We tried their snacks, peeped into their souvenir shops, took lots of pictures and had a drink at a teahouse. The trek’s not started yet, but the feasting had begun.
At the end of Magome, we crossed the road and headed up to the viewing platform and got a panoramic view of the mountains, valleys and a glimpse of the village.
From the viewing platform, we followed a sign that led to the walking trail. It was an interesting trail. the old juxtaposed with the new. Sometimes we walked in the forest, sometimes on the pavement next to the highway and sometimes passing by someone’s backyard. Along the way, there were many strategically placed bear bells. We rang each and every one.
So, of course, we didn’t meet any bears.
Tsumago has a very strong old-town vibe. It would have been very easy to while away time here too. only, we had whiled away a lot of time during our walk there and we were tired. And in the late afternoon, we were more nostalgic for rest and home. But if i were to come again, I’d come here first (but be prepared for a more exhausting hike back to Magome as there were more upslopes).
From tsumago, we took a bus to nagiso station. Strangely, when we got there, the counters were closed. we got worried – might there still be trains back to matsumoto? Thankfully, the trains were still running. since we had some time to spare, we stopped by at Narai. Narai was really convenient because it was just a short walk from the train station. I heard it gets really crowded in the day.
But it was late. Night had fallen, the streets were deserted, and no shops were open. We didn’t meet a single person on the street. I thought, this would be a perfect place to shoot a period drama. But, only 3 fools were present and none was a film director.
That night, we were the only people waiting at the Narai train station. There was a real chance no train would stop for us. so we waited at the platform. Just so the train captain could see us and stop.
Good thing was, the train came. And it stopped for us.