With its buildings perched on a steep slope, Magome (馬籠), 5km south of Tsumago, stands 800m up in the hills above the Kiso valley. Magome means “horse basket”, because this juku was where travellers were forced to leave their nags before tackling the mountainous stretch of road ahead. Plaster and wooden buildings line either side of the stone-flagged path – many of the wooden roofs are still held down by stone. Despite appearances, most buildings date from the twentieth century, the village having suffered a history of fires, the most recent being in 1915, when 42 houses burnt to the ground. Magome is famous for its native son, Shimazaki Tōson (1872–1943), whose historical novel Yoake Mae (Before the Dawn) put the town on Japan’s literary map. In the middle of the village, the Tōson Kinenkan (藤村記念館; daily 8.30am–4.45pm; ¥500) displays fragments of the author’s life; however, they’re all labelled in Japanese.
To start the hike to Tsumago, continue up the hill, past the kōsatsu, the old town noticeboard on which the shogunate posted rules and regulations, including the death penalty for anyone found illegally logging the forests’ trees. The steepest part of the hike is over once you’ve reached the Magome-tōge (pass), where there’s an old teahouse beside the road and a stone monument engraved with a lyrical verse by the haiku master Masaoka Shiki. From here, the route enters the forest and later passes two waterfalls, O-dake and Me-dake.
The closest train station to Magome is in Nakatsugawa (中津川), a 55-minute journey northeast of Nagoya by limited express. Buses to Nakatsugawa also run from Nagoya and the spa town of Gero (下呂) on the JR Takayama Line. Buses to Magome run from platform three outside Nakatsugawa Station (30min; ¥540).
Magome’s tourist information office, opposite the Tōson Kinenkan, has an English map of the area; staff speak Japanese only and can help with accommodation bookings at the village’s numerous minshuku. Two good places to stay are Magome-chaya (馬籠茶屋; ¥10,001−15,000), close to the tourist office, which also runs an attached restaurant, and Tajimaya (但馬屋; ¥15,001−20,000), a little further downhill – both places include two meals in their rates.