• 03 . 04 . 06
  • Magome is a small town in the mountains on the border of Gifu and Nagano prefectures that sits on the old Tokaido route which was heavily used in the Edo period. It was originally built as one of a number of rest posts for weary travellers making the long and dangerous journey from Kyoto to […]

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Mountain Town

Magome is a small town in the mountains on the border of Gifu and Nagano prefectures that sits on the old Tokaido route which was heavily used in the Edo period. It was originally built as one of a number of rest posts for weary travellers making the long and dangerous journey from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is one of those rare places in Japan that has managed to preserve its old-world feel and nowadays gives a glimpse into what Japan looked like at the time of the samurai and shoguns. It’s described by those who’ve been as having the feel of Takayama but without the crowds, so when I was offered the chance to stay there for free with a friend, I jumped at it.

The town itself can’t be more than 600m long and is set on a steep incline on a cobbled street. I was staying at Magomechaya, a really friendly family-run guest house halfway through the town. Being a traditional minshuku, you are expected to put out your own futon and showering and bathing is in a communal bathroom. In reality, though, there weren’t so many guests and there was never anybody in the bathroom at the same time as me, so it wasn’t much of a problem. There isn’t much English there, but we got by with hand gestures and maps and the posters and signs at least were in English. In fact, one of the main reason I was able to stay there was to check and correct all the English on the signs and website (though it doesn’t seem to have been updated yet!).

On the first evening, we went up to an onsen in another local hotel which had huge open bay windows that looked out over the surrounding forests and valleys. While we were there, a massive thunderstorm came up, which gave us great views of forked lightning over the mountains. Deciding that inside was too safe for us, we ventured outside and sat in the outdoor onsen for a few minutes with the storm raging around us, but we lost our nerve pretty quickly. Sitting in a giant conductor in a lightning storm probably wasn’t the cleverest thing I’ve ever done, so it was ironic that, having returned safely, I promptly slipped and nearly broke my arm on the stone floor indoors. It was only because I slipped with such great momentum that I cleared the steps and fell all the way into the water. I just have a giant bruise on my arm to show for it. Instant karma from the thunder god maybe.

Magome probably isn’t suited for people looking for high adventure, but is great as a base for hiking in the mountains and does have stunning views of the surrounding mountains, including the huge Mt. Ena. The food at Magomechaya was traditional Japanese food, with lots of variety and large portions. Eating rice, soup, fish, meat and potatoes for breakfast was strange, but a great way to get ready for hiking up to Tsumago, the next town over, which we did on our second morning. The path between the two towns is the original Tokaidosen route that takes you past waterfalls and through forests. It’s really a beautiful area and very relaxing and we were lucky that once the storm broke, we had good weather for the rest of our time there. If I had time, I’d definitely go back, but it’s going to be impossible what with preparations for leaving. I’m glad I got to see it before I left and before it became popular, which I’m sure it will in a few years time. It couldn’t possibly sustain a huge tourist industry, because it’s such a small place, but I’ve no doubt that people will want to come here once they hear of it, if only to escape the crowsds and find a little corner of Japan that’s truly relaxing.