Kiso Valley

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Nagano, Japan

Kiso Valley Nagano Reviews

ericskma ericskma
1 reviews
Meeting Traditional Japan Again 05/17-05/18/2008 May 25, 2008
I visited Japan in 1996 and found the sight of traditional Japan neighborhood very comfortable and appealing. In Shibuya, I could find traditional Japanese shops lining a long gentle slope and teenagers playing in a large soccer field. In 2007, when I went to Japan again, Tokyo has had a new facelift. In the same town of Shibuya, apart from the train station, I could not recognize most of the structures any more. Skyscrapers are commonplace, having replaced the two-story wooden buildings that were comforting and pleasant to see. It was ever so naive of me to attempt to find the same soccer field I saw a bit more than 10 years ago, and of course it was nowhere to be seen again -- land is very expensive in Tokyo. It has been more than one year since I lived in Japan. The initial disappointment turned into indifference and I just took for granted that Japan had changed forever and the past was to be forgotten. Not so fast, as you will see.

One day, I browsed through a travel book that I brought from the United States and found a nice plan in there: Kiso Valley Tour. Here is the description: The Kiso River runs through a picturesque mountain valley that was the route of the Nakasendo, one of the Edo-period post roads. Its 11 post towns, particularly Tsumago, Narai, and Magome, still retain much of that atmosphere, their narrow streets lined with wooden inns and stores. Parts of the old Nakasendo trail, especially between Tsumago and Magome, are as they wer ein the Edo days and can be followed past woods, farms, and milestones. More challenging hiking is found on nearby mountains such as Ontake.

Sounds great. I checked the weather in Nagano for the next weekend and it looked fine. I looked at the simple map in the travel book and figured maybe it would be a good idea to hike all the way from Magome to Kiso-Hirasawa, through the various post towns including Tsumago, Nezame-no-toko, Kiso-Fukushima, Torii Pass, Narai and Kiso-Hirasawa. The book listed "seven sights of wonder" and I must go to all of them. However, because of work, I could not do much preparation and figured I would just go there and figure what to do there over the weekend. No lodging reservation, no transporting planning, no return train ticket... I will only go with basic necessities, some cash, the travel book, a bus ticket to Magome, and a good sleep the night before. I checked out a general map of the area and it appeared there was a train line in the same direction. As long as I found the train line, I would be okay.

The bus departed from Shinjuku at 7:50am on Saturday. Except for a couple of rest stops, I was able to sleep through it pretty well. I opened my eyes occasionally and found the bus to be in a traffic road through open mountains covered with green vegetation. I thought to myself -- great, it's a change from Tokyo. The bus ran a bit late and I was at the Magome stop around 12:30pm. I got off the bus, was next to a highway and could not discern any landmarks that would lead me to a "traditional Japanese post town". I wondered if I was already lost. The bus stop was near a highway rest stop. I figured I could ask someone there. There was a large map of interests but I could not find any use of it as it did not show how I could find my traditional Japanese post town Magome.

There was a restaurant in the rest area. It was time to heal my hunger. After lunch, I began looking for someone who might understand my really broken Japanese. "Koko wa Magome. Nakasendo was doko desu ka." That gentleman's Japanese was relatively easy to understand. Basically he replied that where we were was not the real Magome; the real Magome was in that direction. He pointed somewhere high up in the hills, across the highway, and I looked out and could only see hills upon hills in that general direction. I thanked him, "Wakarimashita. Domo." I went back to square zero and tried to find out how I could hike up in that general area of hills upon hills to find my real Magome.

Still lost, I decided to ask the restaurant staff inside. I showed them my travel book and indicated that I wanted to go to Magome, and then onto Tsumago. The helpful lady took out a map of the Magome post town and its neighborhood, which was the kind of maps that a tourist information center would give out for free. On the most part, I could not understand their Japanese but using a highlighter, they showed me where I was and drew the path that I should take to get to Magome. I finally got some general idea. They spoke more Japanese but I did not understand it. I did not know how to respond either. I was just standing there. One lady finally decided to ask me to follow her to the outside and I followed. Walking to the side of the shop, she then opened a gate. That was it. It was in fact a secret gate that opened up the trail leading to Magome. She then said welcome in japanese and I thanked her in return. Off I started my hike.

On the most part it was an easy hike. There were signs in most of the turns. In case a sign be missing, I took the most probable path and I then got it right. I took quite a few pictures along the path and finally got to a place called Magomejuku, with many tour buses parked in its entrance. Magomejuku? Never heard of it. I walked around anyway. I walked up a gentle slope and had quite a sight up there. It was in fact the Magome post town. All buildings were traditional Japanese building structures and were very pretty. Windmills can always calm me and I found several of them along the post town main street. Shops sold traditional Japanese items too, certainly nothing like the things you see in Akihabara. I was finally there, I thought to myself.

Continuing strolling along the Magome main street, I met a vehicle pass and it hosted a sign that showed the distance to Tsumagojuku. By then, I knew -juku following a place probably just meant a town in that place. I continued my leisurely walk towards Tsumago and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of hills covered by lots of green vegetations, with farms here and there, and with a few wooden buildings the local people took residence in, all in a sunny weather. The scenery formed a completely picturesque landscape that a city dweller could only dream of. The walking trail was an experience with nature, with its path packed in dust, stones and wood. It still crossed a vehicle road at various points though so I occasionally had to cross vehicle roads but the overall experience was not really spoiled because of that.

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