|It was nice to see some green mountains again as we caught our train up into the beginning of the Japanese Alps. Unfortunately we only had two nights to spend here so decided to visit two old postal towns. In the Edo period there were several old 'postal' roads between Edo (present day Tokyo), and Kyoto. Along these roads were various stations where travellers would stay in local inns etc. The postal road through the Japanese central alps was called the Nakasendo - and this is where we had come to. We had booked two nights in one of the old postal road stations called Magome, in a ryokan.
On arrival we soon realised we had to walk up a very steep cobbled street looking for our ryokan and by the time we had arrived there, we were rather hot and sweaty. However we quickly dumped our bags and spent the afternoon wandering along the cobbled street of Magome. The buildings here were all in Edo-style with dark lattice woodwork and there was a sream running beside the main road and even a few water wheels. The fire safety system essentially comprised a big open tank of water with carp in it along the main street! There were several souvenir type shops and the only other tourists were Japanese so it was a rather nice afternoon with the mountains around us.
The local speciality here is goheimochi (skewered rice dumplings coated in a walnut and sesame sauce - rather like satay). They were pretty good actually so we tried them a few times at different places along the main street. We had heard that all the shops etc shut up by 4.30pm so luckily we had bought ourselves some bento boxes from Tokyo for dinner that evening. As sure enough, at 4.30 the little town was like a ghost town.
The following day we decided to tramp along the postal road to the next 'station' called Tsumago. This is a 7.8km walk along a small track through the forest passing by several shrines and two waterfalls along the way. It is obviously quite a popular thing to do as we passed several foreigners as well as Japanese tourists.
Tsumago is definitely the more spectacular of the two towns as the majority of buildings in it date from the Edo period and have all been preserved - actually the town has been used in several movies and tv programmes. The dark-wood latticed fronted houses really were quite impressive and a lot of them now contain souvenir shops (most of them selling wood products which were very expensive). We had lunch at a little restaurant which consisted of local trout (which they grow to about 10cm long before serving it up to you!), and of course the rice dumplings again. Instead of taking the bus back which we had intended to do, we decided to get in some training for Nepal and walk back up over the pass to Magome passing by a trout farm, rice paddies and up the forested mountains.
We highly recommend these two towns to anyone who is heading to this area in Japan - they really are quite stunning and well worth the visit and makes a nice change from the cities.