During my recent research trip to Japan I spent four days in Magome-juku, a preserved post town on the Nakasendo travel road that was once a popular northern travel route between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto.
Although not as famous as its southern counterpart, the Tōkaidō, the Nakasendo was the primary northern route for people and goods during the Edo period (1603-1868). The road had 69 stations, or post towns, where visitors could stop for the night (or for a meal).
Magome-juku (sometimes simply called “Magome”) was the 43rd station, counting from Edo toward Kyoto, and the first of the stations in Gifu Prefecture.
In addition to its role as a station of the Nakasendo, Magome was also the final stop on the Kisoji, an even older travel road that dates to at least the 8th century. Like the other stops on the Kisoji, Magome (and Tsumago) were absorbed into the Nakasendo during the 17th century.
Today, both Magome and the 42nd station, Tsumago, are restored and preserved as examples of Edo-period post towns. Visitors can come for the day or spend the night in one of the minshuku (essentially, Japanese-style bed and breakfast inns) in Magome or Tsumago. I stayed at Magomechaya, a lovely, welcoming minshuku near the center of Magome:
(I’ll blog more about Magomechaya in the days to come, but I recommend it highly for visitors wanting to spend a night in Magome or to walk the preserved section of the Nakasendo between Magome and Tsumago or Nagiso. The owners are friendly and welcoming, and do speak English – making Magomechaya an excellent choice for visitors who don’t speak Japanese.)
Magome sits on the side of a hill. A single stone-paved road runs the length of the town, from the “lower” entrance (roughly at the southern end) to the “upper” entrance, which leads to the preserved section of the Nakasendo that runs between Magome and Tsumago. The road is steep in places:
And there are no buses, cars, or other vehicles allowed on the road. Visitors have to walk the hill in order to see the town or to reach the minshuku – including Magome. (Again, more on this in the days to come.) While it’s not an arduous hike, the trip to Magome is definitely a physical activity. Be prepared!
Magome (like Tsumago) is a popular destination for Japanese tourists and visitors, but less well-known to foreign tourists than other historical sites, like Nara. While Magome lacks major shrines and temples, it’s one of the best places to get a feel for life in medieval Japan, and if you’re planning a trip, Magome is definitely worth a visit.
Getting to Magome:
From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen (Tokyo-ShinOsaka Line) from Tokyo Station to Nagoya, and transfer to the JR Chuo Line bound for Nakatsugawa. From Nakatsugawa, take a bus (the stop is located directly across from the train station) to Magome.
From Kyoto, take the Shinkansen (Okayama-Tokyo Line) from Tokyo Station to Nagoya, and transfer to the JR Chuo Line bound for Nakatsugawa. From Nakatsugawa, take a bus (the stop is located directly across from the train station) to Magome.