Nakatsugawa to Magome
The Nakasendo trail follows parts of the old mountain trade route between Tokyo and Kyoto. It was mainly used in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it provided a well-trodden path for the merchants and other travellers going from town to town along the way. The villages that mark the route were called post towns. They were places where the merchants could spend the night and rest up before continuing to the next town. The Nakasendo trade route had 69 post towns along the length between the end points. In modern times, most of the trail been converted to roads and streets, or simply been abandoned, but there are stretches where you can relive the feeling of walking across Japan in the 19th century. The trail from Nakatsugawa to Tsumago is one such part. The old post towns of Magome and Tsumago have been kept from modern redevelopment, sort of, and offer wonderful insight into what villages used to look like.
The first part of our trail took us from the Nakatsugawa train station up into the mountains. The destination for the first day of hiking was the quaint little village Magome. The trail initially winds its way out from Nakatsugawa center and through some smaller and rather modern suburbs and the Ochioi post town. You walk along small roads and streets in these quiet areas, but the trail is dead-easy to follow: the asphalt of the trail has a different colour than all the others, as it has yellowish pebbles mixed in! There are some waysigns as well, but mostly you just have to check the tarmac to avoid getting lost.
Further up along the Nakasendo you cross the Yubunesougo River. Beyond the bridge the trail enters more remote and deserted areas, winding through deep forests and past rice fields.
The forest is rather deep and dark, but the occasional bamboo patch lets through the light!
This part of the Nakasendo trail isn’t too taxing for experienced hikers, but there are sections that are quite difficult if you have problems walking. The old 18th and 19th century pathstones in the forest sections are uneven and can be very slippery. The scenery along the trail is nothing but stunning. You get to experience wide vistas of the valleys with the mountains on the horizon, and combined with the tranquil beauty of small gardens, rice fields and temples along the way make this a world-class path. If you pause and know where and how to look, there are also a lot of birds, insects and plants for those inclined to stop and smell the flowers.
All in all, this is a true five star hike that has to be experienced!