Nakasendo map, Japan

Maps in Japan are an art apart. Even the simple ones just by the roads are detailed, beautifully painted and hyper practical. It’s an art mastered through centuries. I still can’t forget the kilometers of map from the Edo period, we saw in one of the castles. Every single house, barn and bridge was painted on it and the undisturbed line of a trail was continuing throughout the meters of paper. It looked very simple but that’s where the charm of the country is- in its simplicity and perfection.

Later on we were given a map inspired by these old maps in a tourist information shop in Nagoya. The enthusiastic woman was going on and on about how stunning the old Nakasendo route was and the villages that we would pass on our way. Nothing convinces us like someone else’s enthusiasm so we decided to walk a small part of the trail.

Nakasendo route was one of the five most important paths connecting the empire in the Edo period and one of the two linking Tokyo with Kyoto. Out of over 500 km we chose the most popular 8 km in hope for a bit time- travel experience.

We started in Magome which was one of the post towns along the way. What didn’t survive the fight with time, was restored and Magome is now a charming, little town focused along one street on a slope of a mountain. Thankfully the amount of tourists is inversely proportional to the meters above sea level and so the top part of the village is far from crowded. Lower part is another story… there the amount of flashy-dressed, loud Chinese would drive a saint mad, not to mention them in combination with selfie sticks. It’s a shame as the old houses recreate a feeling of Japan from centuries ago and it is really magical.

We were happy to leave the crowds behind and start walking through the forest to Tsumago, another post town on Nakasendo. Entering the hike we got excited by frequent bells that we needed to hit to scare the potential bears away. Soon we realized that seeing any animal could only be a miracle… The path was far from secluded and it was constantly crossed or paralleled by a road where cars were passing all the time. Even though we tried to turn our heads around and listen to the sounds of the forest and waterfalls… we just couldn’t get the cars out of our mind. Sadly the map was prettier than the hike itself.

Fortunately it wasn’t all lost, it’s Japan after all. We passed some lovely houses, few of which were open… Those who know me are familiar with my passion of sneak peaking in people’s houses so that little treat made my day. We also visited an old “rest house” where we enjoyed smoking in an open fire with a cup of green tea and some Japanese sweats. Just like in the olden days the house was there to greet the travelers and help them recharge before heading further. A bit of sugar and tea managed to lift our spirits and get us back on track.

After a 3 hour walk we completed the tiny part of Nakasendo and ended up in Tsumago, the best award we could hope for. Tsumago was an oasis of piece and it really brought us back in time. The residents did their best to preserve and since late 60s to rebuild the houses and enchanting spirit of the past. Now a whole street of restored buildings as well as some back allies made it feel bigger than Magome. We felt we could emerge in the past and the fact that cars are forbidden on the main street and electricity cables are concealed helped our imagination even more. Strolling through the streets we imagined how it must have been to travel in Japan in those days. How crazy is it to think that a few hundred years ago many didn’t even know much about anything outside of their village…

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