It’s ~280 miles from Kyoto to Tokyo. On the bullet train, that’ll take you about 2.5 hours. But imagine how many days it would take if you had to walk it?
That’s exactly what people had to do in the old days, hundreds of years ago, if they wanted to travel from Kyoto, the imperial city, to Tokyo (Edo in those days), the seat of the Shogun’s power. They had to walk, or ride a horse, or if they were really important, they could ride in an ox-drawn cart. The path they would follow was called the Nakasendo, a long, winding, cobblestone trail dotted with 69 stations, where you could stay, water your horses, or have a cup of tea before moving on.
Luckily, we can still visit the Nakasendo and take in the vibe; a great place to do that is Magome, in the Kiso valley north of Nagoya.
My wife and I arrive just before sunset, hot and tired after a 5-hour train trip from Sendai. What strikes us about Magome is 1) It’s all built on a hill 2) the Nakasendo is very narrow. The town itself is lifted right out of a samurai movie. You can imagine warriors in robes and top knots, swords at their sides, strutting around the streets in geta, challenging each other to katana sparring sessions.
Travelers like us mostly come to Magome to take the 3-hour walk up and over the hill to the next station town, Tsumago. It’s a lovely forest walk, with an excellent waterfall along the way, but I find myself reluctant to say goodbye to Magome. The food is flat-out awesome, particularly the fresh-mushroom stew. The architecture is authentic. And there’s even a coffee shop with first-rate espresso. Sipping a hot mocha while watching the Magome sunset….wow.