Sunday 19 July 2015

Nagano - Tsumago (The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray - Part 1)

In January of this year, I took a trip to Matsumoto, and at the same time, spent a nice day in Narai.  I told myself that I wanted to come back and visit a couple of the other old villages in Nagano and walk along the Nakasendo.

The Nakasendo was one of the 5 old Edo Period (1603 - 1868) highways that linked Tokyo with various other areas of Japan.  There were 69 Post Stations along the Nakasendo that served as rest points and places for travellers to eat.  Two of these Post Stations were the villages of Tsumago and Magome.  There is a patch of the Nakasendo between these two villages (about 8 or 9 km long) that has been well maintained and is a popular hiking path.  It is (from all reports) pretty undulating so, for some, it could prove to be a nice challenging walk (I include myself in that group).  Last weekend was when I was finally able to make the much anticipated trip back to Nagano to walk along the historic Nakasendo.

I remember during secondary school (or high school depending on where you come from) reading the classic John Steinbeck novel "Of Mice and Men".  English was not my favourite subject at school but this book stuck in my head because of the tragic storyline.  The title of the book was taken from an even earlier poem by Robert Burns which contained the line (translated into modern English) "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray".  Basically the same as Murphy's Law, it doesn't matter how well you plan things, what eventuates doesn't always go according to your plans.  This trip started out as though it was following along that theme......

I got to my train station where I was going to catch a train to meet a few friends, Yuuki, Miwa and Lydia, who were also making the trip.  You know those moments you have as you are about to walk out of your door where you go over the entire contents of your bag making sure you have remembered every thing?  Well, standing on the train platform, I suddenly realised that I had left my pocket Wi-Fi at home.  Now, when I go traveling, my pocket Wi-Fi is indispensable, especially if the place I'm staying at doesn't have Wi-Fi.  Looking at my watch, I realised that I didn't have enough time to run back home to get it and still make it to meet my friends in time.  Oh well, maybe the ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) we were staying at would have Wi -Fi.

It might be prudent to point out here that at this moment there was a typhoon passing over central-western Japan.

I got to the Shinjuku station, where we were all meeting up, a little early and immediately heard an announcement saying that the train we had tickets for had been delayed due to the typhoon......  Pretty soon we were all together and Miwa spoke to the train station staff who told us that we could go to Tokyo station and catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano city and then switch to another train and make it to Tsumago (where we were spending our first night) only and hour and a half later than we otherwise would have.  Realising we didn't have a lot of choice we jumped on the Chuo line and raced across to Tokyo station.  We got there and were told that our tickets would be non-reserved so we dashed up to the platform to get in line so we could get seats all together.  Luckily we were the first ones in line!

It might have had a lot to do with the fact that we were lining up 50 minutes before the train was due to depart, but hey, we were going to get our seats!

Eventually our train pulled in to the station

we were happy that we had lined up early because there was now quite a line-up.

One of the simple pleasures of catching the shinkansen is the ekiben (train station lunch box).  The food is nothing special but it is a nice treat.  I forgot to take the plastic off on mine before I took the photo........sorry.

Needless to say, we all enjoyed our ekiben!

Fast forward a few hours and we finally arrived at Nagiso train station, the closest station to Tsumago 

where we caught a taxi to our ryokan, Daikichi Ryokan.

It was a lovely little Ryokan that had been chosen by Miwa.  The rooms were quite cozy but the food was amazing!!

Soon after we had arrived we were called for dinner.

Soba with vegetables in a vinegar sauce,

A few small dishes which included duck with a nice miso paste (on the left) and an assortment of vegetables (on the right) 

and in the middle........grasshoppers!

I had eaten these before, and in all honesty, they taste fine.  It just tastes like candied something.  They are cooked in a sweet soy sauce mix and the only problem a lot of people have is with the thought of what they are eating!

Next on the plate was horse sashimi (which tastes very good),


and a clear soup.

Of course, rice was also served with the meal.

Pretty soon all of the food had been devoured (it had been a long day!) and we got up and made our way out of the dining room feeling very satisfied.  Now, ryokans are very traditional style hotels, so be prepared to sit on the floor both in your room and in the dining room.  For those who cannot cross their legs very well (me included), it is fine to stretch your legs out under the table.

Next we decided to go for an evening walk around the village.  It was getting close to dusk and the street lamps were on which made for a really nice walk around the streets.

The buildings were old and beautiful, and similar in architecture to the ones I had seen in Narai and Hida Takayama.  I was looking forward to the next day when i would have a chance to see the same buildings in daylight before we made our way to Magome along the Nakasendo.

With each of us feeling all zen, we went back to the ryokan for a couple of drinks before bedtime, anticipation building inside of me for what the next day would bring.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoyed part one of this update.  There will probably be three, so keep checking back for the next 2 parts over the next week or two, or alternatively follow me or enter your email address for automatic updates whenever put up a new post.

See you again soon.


  1. Great to know Jason,you have started your trip to these quiet towns in the Kiso Valley,that have been attracting quite a bit of attention,since they have been redeveloped to capture the Edo Period.I started at Magome and thoroughly enjoyed the walk between here and Tsumago. Tsumago, to my mind felt more like the past.I am looking forward to more of your thoughts/snapshots of this journey,which will remind me of the wonderful day I spent in this region.Go the Bombers!

    1. Hi Noel,
      I remember you mentioned that you had enjoyed your time in this area. I agree with you, Tsumago had more of a rustic, authentic feel to it. Walking around the village at dusk was special. Everything was so peaceful!
      Time to get to work on part 2!

  2. Hey Jase, I have only just gotten around to reading this post in your blog and saw the horse sashimi which brought back memories of my first trip to Japan with you. :)

    1. Hey Matty,
      yeah, I remember that too. As soon as you heard what it was you were "Yeah I'm trying that"!