Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A walk in the past

Today I took a journey I've been wanting to do since my first trip to Japan in 2008.  I never seemed to get around to it on my previous trips but this time I made certain that I made this journey.  Between Nagoya and Nagano there is an area called Kiso Valley in the Central Alps of Japan.  Starting about 400 years ago this area became part of the Nakasendo, the "path through the mountains", one of the two routes between Kyoto and the new capital Edo (Tokyo).  Because of this flow of commerce along the Nakasendo post towns developed every few kilometers to give travellers places to eat, rest and find a place to sleep at night.  Two of these post towns, Magome and Tsumago, have sections that have been preserved and restored to appear as they did during this time and they are connected by a maintained section of the former Naksendo.  It's an 8km hike I've been waiting 6 years to make.


First stop is the town of Magome.  About an hour train ride, followed by a 30 minute bus ride outside of Nagoya.  I arrived about 9:30am and the town was just starting to wake up.  Only a few shops were open.  There were a few tourists in the town, some of whom had stayed overnight in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns).

Official notice board containing decrees from the Shogunate.

And away I go!


It is a slightly easier walk from Magome to Tsumago.  About 3km uphill until you crest the mountain and then about 5km mostly downhill to Tsumago.  It is a very beautiful walk and for the most part I was alone on the path with only the occasional traveller heading past me making the opposite trek from Tsumago to Magome.

Every once in a while there would be bells on posts with signs reading "Ring the bell hard.  Against bears."  I never did because I figured that any bears in the area are probably used to the sounds of the bells by now.  So rather than being a deterrent it would just tell the hungry bear exactly where its next meal was located.

I stepped off the path to enjoy a few minutes walking in a bamboo grove.   Can't do this at home.

There were a few other little villages along the path.  Not much there, just a few houses and no one around.  It was a little eery the first time I came across one to just walk through with neither sight nor sound of another human being.

At one point I popped out into a clearing and found a little teahouse at the side of the path.  It was run by a friendly Japanese man who offers free tea and a chance to sit and rest to travellers.  He only asks that you sign his book with your name and where you are from.

Two trees that are nearly 300 years old that have grown together into one tree.

About half way.


I arrived in Tsumago after a 2 ½ hour walk.  It was about 1:00pm and there were a few busloads of tourists in town but it was still pretty quiet.