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JAPAN GUIDE: Magome to Tsumago Walk

Japan Alps
Tsumago Street

Magome-juku is a small town in the hills of Nagano Prefecture, located in the Kiso Valley. This forest valley is surrounded by the Japan Alps, and is on the route of one of the old post roads that connected Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto in the Edo period. The other road, the Tokai-dou, passes through Okazaki. This one is called the Nakasen-dou and had 69 stations along its length. To ensure the safety of travellers, these post-towns were built. They served as way stations where travellers could stop for food and rest, and also secured their safety at night. The ancient roads were particularly busy, as the Daimyo (ancient warlords) were required to spend alternate years in Edo - it is claimed that the aim was to drain their resources by the cost of maintaining second houses in Edo, and to prevent them being in one place long enough to plan a rebellion.

Tsumago-juku another post-town, and is a protected heritage village preserving a feeling of ancient Japan. There are no telephone poles, tv aerials, modern buildings or modern signs in the town - it is exactly as it and many other towns in Japan used to be during the Edo period.

Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943, real name Shimazaki Haruki) is perhaps the most famous person to come out of the Kiso area. Born in Magome, son of the head of the village, he wrote several important works, among which Before the Dawn (1935), a tale based on the life of his father and considered one of the masterpieces of modern Japanese Literature and depicts the conflict between the modern and the old in a Meiji Japan struggling to modernise as fast as possible. As a result, many thousands of literary pilgrims visit Magome every year.

You can walk between the two villages, which takes about 3 hours altogether. This is a pleasant way to see the mountain scenery and to stretch your legs before or after lunch. There is a luggage delivery service twice a day (about 500 yen per item).

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