Friday, 17 July 2015

Samurai Postal Routes: The Nakasendo, Tsumago & Magome

In our last blog post we talked about the Gokaido, the five routes built in the Edo period of Japan, which connected the capital of Edo, modern Tokyo, with the outer provinces of the country. We also talked about the Tokaido, one of the two routes connecting the old capital of Kyoto with the new capital of Tokyo. The Tokaido was popular among poets and artists, and was the quickest way between the two cities, but also more dangerous because you needed to cross a number of rivers. What was an Edo period samurai to do, when he was worried about the safety of his family? This is where the Nakasendo comes in.
Unique Japan Tour Tokaido 1825
The Tokaido in 1825
With a distance of approximately 534km, the Nakasendo ran the length of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo, passing though the modern day prefectures of Saitama, Gunma, Nagano, Gifu and Shiga. The Nakasendo was an inland route, unlike the Tokaido, which followed the coast. Even though the Nakasendo is longer, many travellers preferred travelling the Nakasendo, as it didn’t involve any fording of rivers, thus making it a safer journey.

Tsumago & Magome

Before the Nakasendo officially came into existence in the 17th century, there were a number of smaller, postal routes throughout Japan, connecting towns and villages across a variety of distances. One such postal route, connecting 11 towns and villages was called the Kisoji. Even though most of the Nakasendo has been replaced with more modern roads and railroads, this portion of the route is still intact, between the towns of Tsumago and Magome.
A section of the Nakasendo between Magome and Tsumago.
Source: JNTO
The trail between the two towns is pretty short, clocking in at 8km, and is remarkably well preserved. Any markings on the road are in both Japanese and English, making it very friendly for anyone who is visiting. There is a town at either end of the Kisoji postal route, and you can go from one to the other in either direction.
Unique Japan Tours Tsumago Magome Hiking Trail Signs
Hiking between Tsumago and Magome

The town of Tsumago is one of the best preserved postal towns in Japan, and the locals put huge effort into maintaining the town’s historic feel. The old inns are preserved, looking the same as they would have during the Edo period, whole traffic isn’t allowed on the main street. In addition all cables, for both power and telephones have been concealed to add to the authentic “I’ve stepped back in time” feeling.
Magome is another well preserved town, but whereas Tsumago is a bit more rugged and authentic, Magome is slightly more modern in its preservation. Both towns can be visited in a single day, either by bus, or by hiking the historic postal route.
Unique Japan Tours Tsumago Magome Town
The town of Tsumago
Does the Nakasendo and the ancient towns of Tsumago and Magome sound like somewhere you’d like to explore? If so, you’ll love our Scenic Samurai Trails Tour. This tour will give you a taste of what life was like for someone who would have travelled these roads. You will be led by local mountain guides who will accompany you through forest trails and valley gorges on foot, by boat, and private vehicles, staying overnight in mountain lodges and traditional minshiku. Not only will you travel sections of the ancient postal routes, but you’ll also experience the incredible Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, for an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience.

A trip to the towns of Tsumago and Magome, not to mention the hiking between them, can also be included in any tailor made tour!

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