Magome and Tsumago, Nakasendo
A thriving mountain post town reduced to ghost town after being bypassed by the newly invented railway — no this is not a tale from the wild west, this is Magome-juku, Japan. And although a tale of success to decline, riches to rags, it is also a tale of recovery, because this beautiful mountain town has shown how to bounce back from apparently fatal misfortune.
For hundreds of years Magome, nestled in the impressive central mountains of Japan, was an important way station on the Nakasendo road that linked the capital Edo (now Tokyo) with the ancient capital Kyoto.
Traders, scholars, pilgrims, priests, generals and royalty would ply this road, which was the nation’s main artery for wealth, culture and power.
In its prime, Magome, the forty-third of the total of 69 stations, was prosperous and cosmopolitan.
In the 19th century disaster struck when the railway came to Japan and the Chuo Main Line was built, bypassing the town altogether. There followed a long period of decline — the population shrank, the economy collapsed, businesses closed and people left.
However, it was the very bypassing of Magome that sowed the seeds of its recovery. Because there was little or no economic activity, there was little or no development, which meant little or no re-building as the town aged and Magome became a time capsule, just waiting in the mountains for the postwar economic boom.
Now the town thrives again but with tourists looking for a taste of Japan’s past and pilgrims in search of Japan’s heritage.
The main road of the town is composed of preserved Edo-age buildings that once again house businesses and families — and that main street is actually the old road, preserved for new generations of travellers and explorers touring Japan.
Stand on the cobbles and feel the history!
This is not the only preserved section of road. Another section links Magome to Tsumago-juku the next post town on the Nakasendo and which, like Magome, has been restored. The section of the old road takes the modern explorer across mountainsides, through forests and past waterfalls evoking how it might have been those centuries ago.
We vist here on our Fuji Paths Tour.
The preserved town of Magome, main street
The walk to Tsumago
The trail from Magome to Tsumago, or backwards, or why not even both ways is one of the highlights in a visit to the area. It’s around 8km from one town to the other and usually takes around 2 hours, although on one of our photography tours it took most of the day, there are many distractions on the way! The walk is not difficult, there are slopes involved but for the most the ground is good, if you don’t want to do the walk however, a bus or taxi can be taken instead.
Bells can be found along the trail to let bears know you’re passing through and you don’t taste so great.
Old notice board laying out the law
The same hairpin in winter
The preserved town of Tsumago, main street
Another highlight of an overnight stay is the meals.