A Visit to Magome, Japan

Last November I spent four nights in the preserved post town of Magome, which was one of the rest stations on the Kisoji and Nakasendo travel roads during Japan’s medieval era. Today, Magome (like neighboring Tsumago) offers Japanese and foreign tourists a chance to step back in time and see how people lived in samurai-era Japan.

Entry, Tajimaya

Like most visitors, I traveled to Magome by train and bus (see my directions in yesterday’s post). The closest train station is Nakatsugawa, a small but modern town in Gifu Prefecture:

Nakatsugawa (From Magome Bus)

From Nakatsugawa, I took a bus to the “lower entrance” of Magome:

Lower Entrance to Magome (2)

. The town itself stretches about a mile up the side of a hill, with preserved houses and shops lining both sides of the single, stone-paved road:

West End of Magome

Cars and buses are not allowed on the street; visitors who want to see Magome, or visit its shops and restaurants, must walk. This can be challenging for visitors staying in one of the local minshuku (family inns, smaller than ryokan, more similar to a bed and breakfast) because you have to carry, roll, or drag your luggage up the hill (or down it, if you disembark from a bus at the “upper” end of Magome) to your destination.

Lower Entrance to Magome (1)

I stayed at Magomechaya, a minshuku that sits near the center of Magome:

Magomechaya Sign (Front)

After rolling my bag up the hill, I met Maria, one of the owners (who speaks English – for those considering a stay in Magome but worried about communication). Although I arrived before check-in time, she let me leave my luggage at the office and explore the town unburdened.

Magome gets busy during the daytime (in good weather, at least) – one reason to spend the night is to see the town without crowds. (Most of my photos were taken in late afternoon or early morning, so I could get clear shots without the crowds.)

Magome (NE toward Magomechaya)

After leaving my bags at Magome, I walked through the town, enjoying the sights, including persimmons hanging from the eaves of Tajimaya minshuku (the traditional manner of drying the fruit before consumption):

Tajimaya Minshuku, Magome

And the old water wheel near the town’s lower entrance:

Old Water Wheel, Magome

I also sampled the local specialty, gohei mochi – rice balls marinated in a soy-sugar-walnut glaze and grilled over charcoal fires. The verdict: DELICIOUS.

Gohei Mochi

This shop near the lower entrance to Magome sells delicious gohei mochi, which visitors can either buy at tables inside or on-the-go from a window just past the entrance. There’s even a bench where you can sit outside to enjoy your treat:

Gohei Mochi Restaurant-Window

Everything in Magome closes down between 4 and 5 pm, and the streets clear out pretty quickly around that time. By the time the sun goes down, the town is almost empty:

Sunset, Magome

When people began to leave, I returned to my room at Magomechaya, where I had the good fortune to stay in the “annex” building across the street from the main minshuku. My room was lovely, quiet, and serene. (The bed actually isn’t lumpy in the middle – that’s me, being bad at taking panoramic photos. The futon was firm and well-maintained.)

Panoramic, Magomechaya Guest Room

After dinner, I left my room and wandered through the silent but lovely streets of Magome, imagining life as Japanese travelers would have seen it hundreds of years ago. (And doing research for an upcoming novel in my Hiro Hattori Mystery series.)

Late Afternoon, Magome

If you want to visit a lovely and unusual historical site that captures the look and feel of Edo Period Japan, without feeling overly ‘touristy,’ I strongly recommend a trip – or, better, an overnight visit – to Magome.