Thursday 23 July 2015

Nagano - the Nakasendo and Magome (The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray - Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a weekend trip to Nagano.  You can read Part 1 here.

I woke up early in the morning the next day, the day I had been waiting 6 months for, the day I was going to walk along the Nakasendo.  I woke up to sounds that sent chills down my spine.  I woke up to the sound of rain.....very heavy rain.....  I opened the curtains and looked outside to see torrential rain and my heart sank.  It looked like the typhoon had done a 360 degree turn and come back to haunt us again.

We trudged downstairs for breakfast, an extremely good breakfast I must say!

We had a solemn discussion over dinner about what to do.  The problem was there was nowhere in town to buy a poncho to keep the rain off and not all of us had brought umbrellas.  Even then, a danger in mountain areas that have just received a lot of rain is that there is a small risk of landslides so we decided we had no choice but to cancel the walk along the Nakasendo.  It was a disappointing decision to have to make, but one that was unavoidable.  I immediately thought "Okay, this just means that I have to make another trip back here another time", and that was not such a bad thing.  I was in a beautiful part of the world.

Walking back down the stairs to my room, I glanced outside and it looked as though the rain might be lifting.

It was only brief, however as pretty soon it started up again.

We decided not to let ourselves be totally defeated by the rain and grabbing a loaner umbrella from the ryokan, we headed out into the rain to look around the village in the gloomy daylight.  Evidence of the amount of rain that had fallen came in the way of this.

The previous night as we were walking around, this wheel had not been turning at all.  Today it was spinning so madly that I feared it would come off and go racing down the street leaving a path of destruction in it's wake!

We walked further along the street and we passed what Miwa told me was a place for the upper class to stay on their journey along the Nakasendo in the old days

and a little further along, a place for the royals or the ruling class to stay.

All the way along the street there were examples of the beautifully manicured Japanese gardens that I love so much.

Soon we arrived at a temple that had been closed the previous night when we had been exploring and now we found it open so we walked inside

and poking our heads inside we found this.

Miwa got her temple and shrine book signed by the resident monk (who looked like he had just woken up.  I thought the life of a monk was a harsh life, with early starts and prayers under freezing cold waterfalls!) and we left the temple and headed back out onto one of the streets.  This street was quite beautiful, lined with rustic old houses dating back at least a couple of hundred years.


Continuing along the path, we began to hear the roar of the river, much louder than it had been the previous night, so we walked in that direction and soon enough, the river came into view.

There was much more water and it was flowing much more ferociously than it had been the previous night.  Another sign of just how much rain had fallen overnight.

Soon enough we decided that we had had enough of walking in the rain and found a coffee shop and wandered in and out of the rain.  The owner greeted us and totally surprised me with his perfect English.  He asked me where I was from and I said "Adelaide" to which he replied "Ah, the capital city of South Australia".  Now there are not many people who know Adelaide here in Japan, and even less who know that it is the capital of South Australia!  Naturally, I asked him why he knew that and he said that he had worked for SAFCOL (The South Australian Fisherman's Co-operative Limited) for 32 years!  Amazing, in the middle of nowhere to meet someone who I had a connection with was surreal.  We sat down and he left us to enjoy our coffee.

Most of the shops were now open (I guess they carefully coincide opening time with check-out times of most of the ryokan) and we came across a guy who was working a lathe and making beautifully crafted pens from a huge variety of different kinds of wood.  They ranged in price from about 1,000 yen all the way up to 10,000 yen, depending on the wood used.

We stopped for a quick snack of beef skewers and pickled cucumber

before jumping in a taxi and making our way to Magome.  As we were driving along the road, every now and then we caught a glimpse of the Nakasendo and a reminder of what we were missing out on.....

We arrived in Magome and while it was an old town, just like Tsumago, it had a completely different feel to it.  Part of the reason for that might have been that the rain had eased somewhat and the place appeared a little brighter.  Most of the reason was that Magome was a more polished offering.  It was a more pristine, tidy place, a place that had prepared itself to be an attractive tourist town whereas Tsumago had a much more rustic, authentic appeal to it.  While both were great examples of small country Japanese villages, I think I preferred Tsumago with it's innocence and "this is what life was really like" attitude.

We started out along the main shopping street that was lined with shops, ryokans, guesthouses and restaurants.

As you can see from those pictures, Magome really markets itself to a different kind of tourist than Tsumago does.  Each has their own special charm and while Magome had more of a small town Kyoto feel to it, Tsumago was more like a Takayama or a Narai.

At the end of the street there were some beautiful rice fields.

Stomachs had started rumbling by this time, however, so we made our way back up the street to a restaurant we had see earlier and sat down to a delicious (late) lunch.

The chicken and spring onion rice bowl was great, with the chicken having a beautiful smokey flavour to it.  We set about enjoying lunch being cooled by numerous fans (the restaurant had no air conditioning.  Well I guess that was authentic!), sweating away in the stifling humidity that is the Japanese summer.

Finishing up, we caught a taxi back to Nagiso station and jumped on a train to go to Nagano city.  At this point Lydia left us to make her way back to Tokyo, work beckoning her the following day.

Yuuki and I were able to get front row seats for the ride to Nagano!

A couple of hours later we arrived at Nagano and Yuuki and Miwa made sure I knew where to catch my bus before they headed off to nearby Ueda city where Miwa's parents live.  They were to spend the night there before meeting up with me the next day in Tagakushi which was to be my next destination.

I jumped on my bus for the one hour ride to Togakushi readying myself for the next phase of our adventure, hoping that Mother Luck would finally smile on us and we would have a trouble free day.

Thanks again for reading this update.  Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this post, and please join me back here again soon for my next post.  See you soon.


  1. Well Jason,those pictures really stirred the soul for me.The asa gohan looked inviting and the wood carving shop I visited as well.Both juku towns are similar in some respects and offer a contrast for visitors.The feelings you describe about their differences , I agree with.
    Meeting someone who is accustomed to our home state,must have been a thrill for both of you.Life is full of surprises!
    Just over a week a go , lunched at the Crafers Inn.Renovations are going on and they are doing an excellent job.Log fires in the dining rooms and bar,comfortable seating(booths and lounge chairs),craft and imported ales,top class vino and generous/tasty a reasonable price.
    The Dons seem to be on the right track at last.Looking much better and the signs are promising.Saw the whole match on TV against Port.Ironically,Ryder proved a matchwinner in the last quarter.Is that what they call "karma" I wonder.
    This month has been a coldy,but not a great amount of rain has fallen...but far better than in June.Dewa mata and all the best..Noel.

  2. Hi Noel,
    I am happy that you enjoyed these last couple of posts seeing as they were places that are special for you too. You are right, life is full of surprises and it was a pleasure to meet him and a pleasant surprise as well.
    I didn't know the Crafers Inn was undergoing renovations but any time you are having a winter lunch anywhere, a log fireplace is very welcome! We are sweltering through another hot and humid summer here at the moment. The temperatures are not as hot as in Adelaide, but the humidity makes the days difficult to handle. I am hoping that this will be a short summer!
    I had a bad feeling that Ryder would up his game against the Bombers. Fingers crossed for continued improved performances for them.
    Take care Noel.