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Tsumago and Magome are two small villages along the old Edo post road which stretches from modern day Tokyo to Kyoto.  They have been historically preserved that residents are forbidden from selling, renting or destroying their property.  We had heard great things from our friend Ilene before we left, so we were really excited to check them out.  Getting there was a bit of a hassle and required several transfers, so we didn’t arrive to Tsumago until the early evening, when all of the local Ryokans were already fully booked.  We went to the tourist info center and the friendly lady working there found us a place in Otsumago, a couple km away across the bridge, and then drove us there!  When we arrived, we were a little nervous because we only saw an indoor open hearth, and tatami mat, in a room that looked a bit like a barn.  We were showed to our room by a raspy voiced lady who spoke zero english.  It turned out to be one of our favorite places that we stayed though.

It had rained earlier in the day, and I was hoping to get some good photo opportunities with the slick streets in the setting sun so I took off hiking back to Tsumago, while Amanda relaxed near the fire.  The lady made it clear that I had to be back by 6PM for gohan (literally rice).  6pm came and went and while I was out watching the beautiful sunset over the town, they called Amanda to dinner.  She eat with 4 old Japanese men and although they spoke zero English, they complimented her on her excellent use of chopsticks.  Everyone kept looking at their watches, and asking where I was, and one guy even offered to change out of his Yukata and get a flashlight to go look for me.  I finally got back around 7:30, and everyone made fun of me and said Amanda should beat me up which is probably true.  Dinner was delicious though and consisted of ramen, miso soup, pickled greens, tempura with mountain vegetables, mushrooms, rice and homemade nigori sake with the constancy of apple sauce and a kick like whiskey.  Far more than the simple bowl of rice I was expecting.

We woke up early to the smell of a delicious breakfast, and then set up for what we thought would be a leisurely 8km hike to Magome.  Most people drive to Magome and then hike downhill to Tsumago but we decided to go uphill from Otsumago to beat the crowds.  We passed through forests and the Odeki and Medeki waterfalls, where Musashi flew some golden chickens.  We stopped at a village that is known to give good luck to child births and had some tea at a rest house.  We got to Magome around noon and ate some gohei-mochi, rice balls on a stick dipped in sesame-walnut sauce.

At this point, most people go home, but we had a mission.  We knew that we needed cash to pay for our room and we were a bit short.  ATMs in Japan are a bit funny in that they only accept foreign cards at the post office or 7-11.  The post office in Magome closed 5 minutes before we got there, so we set off along the postal road to find the next town, Ochigawa where theoretically we could catch a train to a big city and find a 7-11.  I actually preferred this part of the walk more (Amanda disagrees and liked the first part slightly more), because it had some nice cobble stone roads, shrines, and ponds, and we saw a lot of real people working on their gardens and small farms.  It actually reminded me a bit of Switzerland.  When we finally got to Ochigawa, there were no ATMs and we couldn’t find the train station, but a gas station attendant drew us a map to the nearest 7-11 saying that it was “4 away”.  We assumed that “4″ referred to blocks or possibly stop lights, but after walking for over an hour, we realized it meant kilometers.  Tired and annoyed, we finally made it to 7-11. A nice man offered to drive us to Nakasugawa where could actually catch the train. By the time we sat down on the train, we had walked 10 miles (data courtesy of Amanda’s cool new pedometer iPhone app).

We arrived at Nagiso station at 5:30, anxious to get back to dinner by 6pm.  We allmost took cab but decided to wait for the bus. The bus didn’t depart until 6pm and we were freaking out.  Finally it dropped us off near Otsumago but we still had a 10 minute walk. We ran and finally arrived huffing and puffing to room full of diners – at max capacity of 14. The owner was just laughing at us.  I gave her some sake as a thank you/sorry present. Dinner was again delicious, similar to the previous night but this time there was a surprise:  a tempura date that we really liked. We met a nice lady whose daughter attended UC Irvine. She also complimented Amanda’s chopstick skills.

After dinner, we were invited to sit with the family watching TV by the hearth and were offered sake. They were really into watching ice skating.  We took showers, used the onsen and retired into our yukatas.

  • Mandy is happy to be in Tsumago
  • A fork in the road
  • Between our ryokan and Tsumago
  • Straw horse
  • TsumagoMagome-5
  • Tsumago
  • Tsumago
  • Tsumago
  • Tsumago
  • Tsumago
  • Tsumago at Dusk
  • TsumagoMagome-12
  • Odeki waterfall where Musashi used to hang out
  • Rest stop along the trail
  • TsumagoMagome-15
  • Sake ball!
  • Single serving wine--to go!
  • Waterwheel in Magome
  • Pond
  • Obtaining magical powers
  • Kicking it at the ryokan
  • All dressed up and ready for bath time
  • basic ryokan shower and onsen
  • Toilet remote control!
  • Futons on tatami mat in our ryokan room
  • Sweet lady who took care of us
  • Front of ryokan in Otsumago
  • Mandy on the trail
  • Nice view in Magome
  • Flower in Magome
  • TsumagoMagome-31
  • A backpacker's life
  • Pickle at the train station

Posted: May 11, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Japan

+1 Comment
  1. ilene says:

    Yeah! Love the pics. Takes me back :-) Miss you guys!

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