Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.
Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!
We started from Magome, which is technically in Gifu prefecture just below the border. It can be reached from Nakatsugawa station via the Magome line bus (about 30 min.). The morning was quiet and cool with a few tourist groups passing in and out of the souvenir and food shops.
Just above Magome is a wide viewing platform that faces the Ena mountain range. Saturday was the perfect day to visit.
The trail wanders through the woods of the Kiso Valley and occasionally pops out onto quiet roads. Since we were traveling in winter we also had to be careful of the ice and snow! Here Jamie is posing next to some discrete, well-placed bathrooms.
At one point the woods open up into a small field with a beautiful old Japanese house. The owner greets us warmly and lets us in for tea and snacks. Lots of people stop here on the way between Magome and Tsumago, and it’s a nice chance to chat with other travelers.
An old wood stove keeps the house warm and smoky, and light filters in through the wooden slots in solid, sharp beams.
Shortly before Tsumago is another small cluster of buildings with a beautiful view of the mountains. Even more so than Tsumago or Magome, these scattered buildings made me feel like I had stepped back into another time.
Finally we reached Tsumago, a long lane of 200-year-old inns and restaurants.
Soba is one of Kiso’s most popular dishes, but Gohei Mochi is my favorite. The rice is lightly pounded, basted and grilled. The sauce may contain miso, walnuts or egoma seeds depending on the area and has a salty-sweet flavor.
It was almost 3 pm at this point, so we took a cab to Nagiso Station to catch the next train (buses also run between Tsumago and the station). Several of our group headed directly home, but Jamie and I stopped in Kiso Fukushima to catch the Kiso Ice Lantern festival. It’s held during late Jan. to early Feb. of every year, slowly making its way down the Kiso portion of the Nakasendo from north to south.
I, like the group of 10 or so other photographers squeezed in front of this picturesque street, tried my best to get a good shot. My wobbly tripod and patience, however, were not up to the challenge.
Hundreds of lanterns decorated the streets, bridges and riverside of Kiso Fukushima. The warm lights and hot sake (of which Kiso Fukushima’s two makers, Nanawarai and Nakanorisan, are especially delicious) kept the cold at bay. After walking through town and relaxing in the foot bath for awhile, we headed back to the station and made our way to Nagano.
For people who are interested in experiencing a lesser known side of Japan and enjoying its beautiful nature, I highly recommend the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo. Come during Spring and Autumn for cherry blossoms or fall foliage, or come in summer or winter to beat the crowds.
The locals are friendly and you’re sure to meet some interesting people along the way!
There are plenty of other blogs and resources about the Nakasendo if you’re interested in learning more. Check out some of these pages below!