Magome & Tsumago in Kiso Valley – Magome is one of the popular restored Edo-period towns which nowadays attracts many visitors with its stone-walk, flora-lined streets and beautifully maintained historic infrastructure.
Back in its early days, Magome served as a ‘post town’, which meant that it was primarily built to service and accommodate those traveling along major highways, which, in Magome’s case, was the route between Tokyo and Kyoto called Nakasendo. Most post towns these days have been demolished, with only a handful of them still standing.
Tourists who visit Magome also consider Tsumago, a neighbouring post town and equally popular stop back in the day; however, there are differences between the two. Magome has been beautifully but obviously restored, so whilst the buildings, walkways, and all the little structures and gardens around the town look as though they’ve been plucked right out of a historic Japanese movie, it does lack a little authenticity, quite unlike its sister town, Tsumago. Tsumago has been, to a lesser extent, restored but with the goal of true Japanese post town ruggedness. In the 1970s, however, both towns introduced the rule of no vehicles through their main roads, and made an attempt to hide their power lines as much as possible to ensure the look and feel of the towns.
In saying that, it may be because of this that Magome draws an incredible number of people, both domestic and international tourists. Everything about this town makes for great picture opportunities, and it also caters more extensively to visitors, offering a larger number of souvenir stores and food stalls along its main route.
If you want to travel off the beaten path in Japan and venture outwards of the major cities to visit some truly inspiring and nostalgic traditional Japanese towns, a little visit to Magome and Tsumago might be on the agenda.
Magome And Tsumago – How To Get There
Magome sits in the middle of Honshu, in the Kiso Valley along the famous Nakasendo route. Magome sits in Gifu Prefecture, whereas Tsumago sits in Nagano Prefecture.
From Tokyo, you can first take the Shinkansen from Shinagawa Station or Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. This trip will take less than two hours if you use the Hikari train, which is covered by the JR pass, or if not, will cost just over 10,000 yen one-way per person.
From Nagoya, you will need to take the Shinano 5 Limited Express train to Nakatsugawa Station, which will take roughly 50-minutes and cost just over 3,000 yen. After that, you can catch a bus from Nakatsugawa Station to Magome. The bus trip takes 30-minutes and costs 560 yen. The buses depart hourly.
To get to Tsumago, we recommend you to take the Nakasendo trail from Magome (see below) but there are also local buses that link the two places.
If you want to visit Magome and Tsumago with a guide, you can also book this tour online. The transportation from Nagoya is included.
Magome And Tsumago – Where To Stay
Guest House Gaku
The Guest House Gaku Magome, located within the Magomefurusato School, is your option if you’re looking for an affordable, no-frills accommodation that’s both basic yet comfortable. Most guests will look at this place as just a place to stay whilst spending majority of their time out exploring the area, but consider that it does offer plenty of amenities for its guests. These include a spacious, fully-equipped kitchen that all guests can freely use to prepare their own meals (please note: there are no meals offered at this accommodation), comfy common lounge area to rest, and an upstairs sitting area that offers great views of the valley and the surrounding lush greenery – a great way to spend your first few minutes of waking up. All guests here also get a special price for the nearby bath facility.
Why Guests Love It: Guests loved the unique concept of this guesthouse being located within an old kids school – something different! It was great for those looking at something tranquil within the surrounding landscape, as the mountain views were great, and the activities for the area were very refreshing. Great price for a great space.
Book It Now: Guest House Gaku Magome
The Ryokan Hanasarasa is located in Nakatsugawa, within relatively close distance to Magome, and a great base to explore the entire area. It’s a premium ryokan that caters for all types of travellers. Solo travellers who want some peace and quiet, and the full Japanese experience with authentic onsen baths and Japanese kaiseki cuisine, this place has got it all.
Families who need some entertainment for their younger children, they offer a children’s playground onsite as well. The guest rooms are spacious and well-maintained, with both futon bedding and regular bedding styles to choose from, however, the best thing about this ryokan are the onsens – with both beautiful indoor and outdoor options, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Why Guests Love It: The buildings felt older, but they were well-maintained and authentic. It’s a very family-friendly ryokan, but even with other families staying there at the same time, it never felt crowded. The traditional Japanese breakfasts and the onsens were a dream.
Book It Now: Ryokan Hanasarasa
Ryokan Magome Chaya
It may seem as though staying right in the town of Magome is out of the question, given the amount of effort that the local people have put in to restore the town, but for those looking for a purely authentic experience, the Magome Chaya Ryokan is one experience that will leave you feeling as though you were a traveller back in the Edo period.
This ryokan is one of the most basic, non-embellished, natural ryokans you can come across. It hasn’t been restored or renovated to reflect modern standards, but that is just part of its charm. The simple guest rooms offer futon bedding with a tatami mat, shoji paper screens, and low furniture to rest on. All rooms, however, have an air-con, and it does offer a public onsen for its guests. The best thing about this ryokan is that it’s located a stone throw away from Magome town, and it also offers free Wi-Fi to all its guests.
Why Guests Love It: The staff members were amazing and friendly, and the views from these rooms were incredible! The vibe was super comfortable, and the cleanliness can’t be faulted. The traditional meals were delicious, a must if you’re staying here.
Book It Now: Magome Chaya
Walk the Trail from Magome to Tsumago
Connected via the Nakasendo trail, you can visit Magome and Tsumago both in one day if you’re willing to walk the trail. As they’re both two beautifully preserved yet unique towns that offer insight to what Edo-period style post towns were like, we recommend dedicating a day to spending some time at both towns. You’ll get refreshing exercise out of it as well!
The distance between the two towns is 8km, which is quite do-able on foot for most people as it’s not too steep. We recommend going from Magome to Tsumago (not the other way around) because there are less inclines during this route. Some might balk at the distance and the time it gets to get to the other town – it will roughly take 3-hours for most people walking at a regular pace and stopping by the various stops.
However you simply must consider that the route not only takes you from one point to another, but offers a series of beautiful sights along the way, including quaint farmland, luscious forest trees, temples, smaller towns still, and even waterfalls. Around the half-way point there is a rest-stop area where you can enjoy snacks and Japanese tea by traditionally-dressed staff. Whilst they don’t necessarily cost anything, a donation is highly encouraged. There are also signs along the way, both in Japanese and English, to ensure you’re heading the right way.
If you are not returning back to Magome, there is a baggage-forwarding service that you can organise at the town’s tourist centre, so that you don’t need to lug your suitcase with you. It will be waiting for you when you get to Tsumago after 1:00pm, if you drop it off at the Magome Tourist Center between 8:30am-11:30am on the same day. It’s affordable, at 1,000 yen per item, and is available throughout the year except during December – Mid March.
Magome Tourist Centre: 4300-1 Magome, Nakatsugawa, Gifu 508-0502, Japan
Visit Tsumago Village
This sister village of Magome is equally as beautiful, but in a slightly more rustic manner. The main street of Tsumago is lined with an abundance of authentic wooden Edo-style inns and shrines, and with the surrounding forests and mountain peaks in the distance, it makes a wonderful backdrop for pictures. Whilst it doesn’t have as many shops and restaurants catering for tourists, it does have quite a few sprinkled throughout the town which you can stop at for a meal or to purchase souvenirs.
Magome Japan – Toson Memorial Museum (aka Toson Kinenkan)
Magome was forever placed on the map for Japanese citizens when it birthed the famous author Toson Shimazaki. Toson spent most of his childhood in Magome, and thus wrote much about his early life in his novels, with one of his most famous works being ‘Before the Dawn’.
The Toson Kinenkan is a small museum that is dedicated to Toson Shimazaki and his life. Here you’ll be able to witness 6,000 items including documents, scripts, and personal items donated by his oldest son Kusuo Shimazaki. You’ll be able to gain a bit of insight on how this literary master’s turbulent life came to be, and some of his processes for his masterpieces.
- Address: 4256-1 Magome, Nakatsugawa, Gifu 508-0502, Japan
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: Adults: 500 yen, Children: 400 yen
Magome Japan – Have a Photoshoot in the Early Hours of Winter
If you haven’t already gathered, the beautifully restored streets of Magome make for incredible photos indeed. If you’re looking for a time and place that will accentuate the unique aspects of the infrastructure of the Edo-style inns, then we recommend winter, a time when the silence of the town will seep into your photography.
During winter, the snowfall will cling onto the roofs of the inns, and line the walkways and the streets, and the lanterns will provide a subtle glow along the streets, and if you make the effort to wake up early enough, in the wee hours of the morning, we guarantee you will be presented with one of the best sights you’ll ever come across in Japan. Make sure you’re up just after sunrise so that you can get the best lighting of the day, and ensure you wear something nice and bright to stand out from the glorious white snowfall.
Magome Lookout Point
For a scenic panoramic view of Magome village, head to the free observatory which is located at the end of the village. It’s not the flashiest of observatories, so you won’t spend more than an hour here, but we definitely think it’s worth visiting for a unique perspective on the small town as well as its surrounding landscape. There are some gorgeous Japanese signboards up there that make for quite a rustic photo opportunity, and several benches for you to rest and simply breath in the fresh air of the mountainside.
You can stop into this observatory on your way towards Tsumago, if you are trying to complete the trail.
Address: 5447 Magome, Nakatsugawa, Gifu 508-0502, Japan
Magome is a seemingly quiet, historic town, but it’s full of character and well worth your time if you have an appreciation for authentic Japanese culture and history. For those who want a few days of countryside Japan for that R&R you’ve been seeking, a stopover in Magome is just what the doctor ordered.
If you want to explore more this area of Japan, you can visit the stunning Narai-Juku also in Kiso Valley or Gero Onsen in Gifu prefecture.