A Visit to Magome, Japan

(To start this series from the beginning with a night in a Japanese guest house, click here!)

Magome (also called “Magome-juku”) is a preserved post town in the Japan alps which was once the last of the stations on the Kisoji, an ancient travel road that passed through the alps from north to south. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1868) Magome served as the 43rd station on the Nakasendo–the northern travel road connecting Edo (now Tokyo) with Kyoto.

View South from Magomechaya

Today, Magome and neighboring Tsumago (the next post town to the north along the Kisoji and Nakasendo routes) have been preserved and restored to their Edo-period state, allowing visitors to experience a taste of life in historical Japan.

Magome hugs the side of a fairly steep slope, with buildings along both sides of the former travel road.

Lower Entrance to Magome (1) 

Vehicular traffic is not permitted on the road that runs through town, so visitors have to see the sights on foot–exactly as they did when Magome was a thriving post town on the Kisoji and Nakasendo.

 Looking south from north Magome

Wealthy samurai could travel by palanquin:

 Palanquin (Magome)

And bearers still carry them through the streets on occasion, although now they’re just for show.

Palanquin, Magome

Visitors arrive by bus at either the “upper” or “lower” end of town. I arrived at the lower end, where I discovered a restaurant selling the local specialty, gohei mochi: pounded rice flour formed into balls and grilled in a sauce made from soy sauce, sugar, and walnuts.

 Gohei Mochi

I ate many of these during my time in Magome, and at approximately $1 a skewer, they’re an excellent bargain.

After leaving the restaurant, I started up the hill. Right after the initial curve, the road passes by an old water wheel and sawmill:

Old Water Wheel Magome

Since the entire town is restored to its Edo period state, a walk through Magome feels like stepping backward in time, from the shops selling souvenirs:

Shop Garden, Magome

To the restaurants (note the traditional menu, which has the day’s offerings painted on wooden slats and on paddles hung outside, to the left of the door):

Masuya Restaurant, Magome

And the minshuku (family inns) like Magomechaya (where i stayed) and Tajimaya (below), which even had persimmons drying from the rafters on traditional racks.

Tajimaya Minshuku, Magome

There are also many restored buildings that don’t house shops or restaurants, which function as family homes, museums, or merely sites of architectural interest.

Restored house, Magome

At the upper end of town, the medieval signpost where the shogun (the military leader of Japan through most of the medieval period and into the Edo period) posted notices still exists – and though it no longer has information about new laws or wanted men, it’s still a fascinating piece of Japanese history.

Imperial Signpost

Beyond the signpost, the Nakasendo winds through the mountains and across a pass to Tsumago, the next town north of Magome and another stop along the Kisoji and the Nakasendo.

Hikers often walk the route–as I did, during my stay–but that’s a story for another day.

Do you think, if you visit Japan, you’d might visit Magome? I hope you do!