This is Why a Magome Tsumago Day Trip is a Must Do
IF YOU ARE PLANNING A magome tsumago DAY TRIP, I'VE GOT THE PERFECT ITINERARY AND ALL THE DETAILS FOR YOU!
A magome tsumago day trip from Nagoya
One of my top destinations of our Japan trip were the post towns of Magome and Tsumago. They have been incredibly well preserved, and after reading Shogun, I wanted to immerse myself in that setting and soak in the history.
After our day in Nikko and stay at a ryokan, we took a shinkansen (bullet) train and stayed the night in Nagoya. It’s a great place from which to travel to Magome and Tsumago, which was our next stop as we made our way south. We stayed at a beautiful hotel, which is attached to the train station, and directly across the street from the bus station to Magome and Tsumago. From the hotel we walked across the street to the bus station to take an hour-long bus ride to Magome. We got the 7:00 am bus. From the bus stop it is a 1 km walk to Magome, but most of the walk is very scenic as well. Some of the trail was more modern. But most of it was very rustic.
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TRAVEL TIP: We left our bags with the hotel since we didn't want to take them with us, and we weren't staying another night. Unlike Nikko, there are no lockers where the bus drops you off to go to Magome or Tsumago because there is no station. They just leave you on the side of the road. There is a luggage transport service between Magome and Tsumago as long as you drop off your bags by 10:00 and collect them after 1:00, but keep in mind that you’ll be hauling that luggage 1 km up and down steps from the bus stop to the town (see the pictures below and mentally paste in your luggage). In Magome there are lockers by the bus stop that takes you to Tsumago, but that is a local bus. The regional bus we rode doesn't go through town. We used a locker to store our jackets before heading to Tsumago because it had warmed up, but all the lockers were small.
Magome and Tsumago were post towns on the Takasendo Road, which connected Tokyo (formerly a fishing village called Edo) and Kyoto. These post towns were for travelers to be able to stop and sleep or eat. No wheels were allowed on the roads because they ruined the road and left ruts, so the journey was a long one. Your options were to walk, ride a horse or be carried by people in a palanquin (picture below). Legally you had to be of a certain social status to ride a horse or a palanquin. At that time, merchants were below even peasants because to be concerned with financial gain was considered ugly. Wealthy merchants had to walk like the peasants. You couldn't buy your status.
Kyoto was the ancient capital of Japan for hundreds of years, and in the early 1600s the capital was moved to Tokyo (Edo) by the new Shogun, who was the political leader of Japan. The Emperor, who was the spiritual leader of Japan and had no power or money of his own, remained in Kyoto, so it continued on as the spiritual capital while Edo was the political capital. Connecting these two cities was critical because they both served important, but different, purposes.
We made it to Magome by 8:30, including the walk from the bus stop, and ya’ll, if you can do that I HIGHLY recommend it. The town doesn’t open/wake up until 10:00. It was EMPTY, and the streets were silent. No one else was there. We got to walk up the road (and I do mean up. The road through town is uphill.) ALONE. I love to be in a place and imagine it is frozen in time. It’s still the 1600s and we are weary travelers looking for food and lodging.
No souvenir shops were open. No tourists were taking pictures (except for me of course). No one was eating an ice cream cone or a seaweed sandwich. It was just. us. Just us and this unbelievable beauty frozen in time. We slowly made our way up the hill and just took in everything. We whispered because it seemed like the right thing to do. We didn’t want to break the spell. I’m so glad we had the town to ourselves. Around 9:30 other tourists started to trickle in, and the guests of the very few local ryokans (inns) emerged.
Most structures in Japan were made of wood and paper for a couple of reasons. There are earthquakes fairly often, and anyone inside of a stone structure would be crushed. The second reason is that a house made of paper and wood can be rebuilt in a couple of days. Reconstruction was fast. It was usually the fires caused by the earthquakes that did the most damage. I’ve mentioned this in the other posts, but reading the book Shogun before our trip really made the trip so much more interesting because I understood the history and culture of the period of most of what we wanted to see.
The weather was spectacular in late March. It couldn’t have been more beautiful. The day was perfect, and having the town to ourselves at first meant there were no photo bombers in our pictures. And the cherry blossoms! I can’t tell you how excited I was to see the cherry blossoms. The one modern convenience in town is this little building/room where there is free wifi should you need it, and a place to sit. We used it to Facetime with the kids since we had missed them the two days before.
The view from the top of the town! I have no idea what the symbol etched in the rock in the road means. I pretend it’s some ancient pearl of wisdom carved in centuries ago to enlighten future generations hundreds of years later. In truth it’s probably some obscenity scratched in by a teenager. I’ll stick with my version. The last picture is an announcement board where important information was posted for locals and travelers.
There’s also a small museum that’s worth stopping by. Bonus, it has a bathroom should you require one. The second picture is an incense clock that is measured in sticks and used to measure time. You could request a certain number of sticks of time with someone, and when the meeting started the incense was lit. Depending on who you met with, you might have to pay per stick. The third picture is the palanquin I mentioned above. Cozy. Can you imagine riding in that for days while human beings had to carry you? They often had fabric shades to protect the occupant from the weather. The last picture is a traditional living room. As I mentioned in the post about Nikko, the furnishings were sparse, even in a palace.
We had planned to hike the 7 km Nakasendo trail that goes between Magome and Tsumago, but I sprained my knee the day before. We did a lot of running up and down escalators in train stations to make connections, and I twisted it wrong. It really flared up that morning, and by the time we made it to the top of the hill that is Magome, I was in a lot of pain. No way was I making that hike, and I was really, really disappointed. I was looking forward to it. Every time I plan a hike like this, something goes wrong, like mud slides in Cinque Terre, Italy. I’m cursed.
TRAVEL TIP: This is not a handicap accessible trip. Just to get to the town is up and down several sets of stairs. The roads in town are cobblestone and straight up. If you struggle with mobility or knee issues, this won't be a good stop for you. Going up was fine for my sprained knee, but coming down was really hard.
TRAVEL TIP: Fortunately, there is a bus that runs between the two towns. It only comes every few hours, so if you miss it, you will be waiting a long time for the next one. Our concierge printed out the bus schedule for us but you can find it online here. While the bus ride between the two towns isn’t nearly as beautiful as the walk, you do pass sections of the trail, including the bamboo forest. There are a lot of turns in the road, so most of it we passed so quickly I didn’t have time to snap a picture. We took our ginger candy to prevent motion sickness with all those switchbacks and a swaying bus.
Once we got to Tsumago, we wanted a snack. That first one looks tasty right? Like some sweet confection or something savory, roasty and crunchy? It’s neither. Those are rice balls (as in pulverized and compressed rice gumminess) and some nearly flavorless coating. It wasn't as satisfying as we'd hoped, so we tried steak on a stick, or yakitori. It was so delicious we came back for a few more and turned our snack into lunch. PROTEIN. STEAK. To top it off we had these steam buns, which are delicious. Nikuman have meat or veggies or both inside. The one we ate at the train station the day before was mostly bun and no meat. This one was much tastier and had a lot of filling. They are really delicious, and one of the things we enjoyed most as far as convenience food in Japan. Because the bun is steamed instead of baked, it is very soft. We sat and ate our gummy rice balls on a stick, steak, and steam buns and admired the view across the street. I love the tables in this little house/restaurant.
TRAVEL TIP: Don't expect to find a traditional restaurant in these towns. We walked up to the window (of their house) and placed our order, and over to the side was a door to go in an sit down at this one table. We were early, so we got to sit. This food is all meant to be portable.
Isn't this beautiful? Pine trees don’t just grow that way. They are cultivated and pruned that way all over the country. Tsumago was equally picturesque, quaint and glorious as Magome. I love gardens, and the thing I noticed about Japanese gardens is they rely heavily on greenery, water and rocks. Trees, both deciduous and evergreen, moss, bushes, rocks and water make up most of the gardens, and they are so peaceful and beautiful year-round.
TRAVEL TIP: Because we got to Magome so early, and most tourists go there first, we were leaving Magome when most others were arriving. We made it to Tsumago before most everyone else. The streets were fairly empty there as well. As we were leaving to go back to Magome more people were arriving in Tsumago, and when we got off the bus from Tsumago, the line at the bus stop to go to Tsumago was really long. We got back to Magome around 1:00, to give you an idea of the timing.
There is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing accidental about a Japanese garden. They are all very thought out and purposeful. Even the placement and direction of each rock has significance. Seeing the cherry trees everywhere was breathtaking. We loved them so much that we put three in our yard to remind of us the spectacular beauty of Japan during its most celebrated season of the year. This is the first year they will bloom and I'm so excited to see them!
TRAVEL TIP: If you are able to make the hike between Magome and Tsumago, allow about 3-4 hours for a leisurely stroll and picture taking. Also, starting in Magome is the less strenuous direction to go as it has the short uphill section before going downhill. It's also the easiest town to get to from Nagoya. Also keep in mind the return bus schedule from Tsumago unless you plan to hike both ways. The bus stops running in late afternoon, and if you get a late start, you could end up walking back whether you want to or not. Rumor has it there are a few taxis, but I never saw one to confirm.
magome or tsumago? Which one do you choose?
I was so excited to come to Magome and Tsumago. I wanted to see a traditional village from that time period, and these two towns are ideal because they are preserved so beautifully. If for some reason you are only able to go to one of them, go to Magome because it is easier to get to and from. Both towns are beautiful and worth seeing, but if you are short on time, Magome makes the most of it, and the two towns are very similar. Including a hike between the towns, this trip is an all day excursion, and well worth it. Since we weren't able to do the hike, it was a half-day trip for us. We arrived in Magome around 8:30 and caught the 1:00 p.m. bus back to Nagoya.
Returning to Nagoya
TRAVEL TIP: The bus stop to leave Tsumago and return to Magome is in a different spot than where we were dropped off.
TRAVEL TIP: The return bus stop to Nagoya is on the opposite side of the freeway, but there is a pedestrian bridge to get across. We only figured it out because we had a printed bus schedule from the concierge, and the timetable listed inside the bus stop didn’t match the one we had. The only thing on that sign we could read was the numbers. Adam went into the rest stop next to it to ask about it, and with lots of hand gestures (all polite ones), they communicated that we were on the wrong side. We had to run/hobble to the other side because it was almost time for the bus to come. Adam ran ahead of me so he could tell the driver to wait for me if needed, but fortunately I made it just before the bus, like with 30 seconds to spare.
Back in the Nagoya train station we stopped at the Marriott (which is connected to the train station and across the street from the bus station) and collected our bags before catching a train to Himeji.
Our Magome Tsumago day trip was everything I was hoping for, and actually more because we had Magome to ourselves. Sometimes you go to a place you’ve seen amazing pictures of, and think, “Wow, that photographer got just the right angle because that is the only good thing here.” But it's the complete opposit here. Magome and Tsumago are just spectacular at every turn.
Have you been to Magome or Tsumago? What was your experience like?