Leg 2 of my winter holidays found me in Gifu. This part of my journey was definitely one of my highlights of travelling in Japan and I hope that I can do justice in explaining why. Stepping out of the train station at Nakatsugawa, I was hit by the silence of the small town. It’s true, I had just come from Yudanaka, which seemed smaller but not quieter. Nakatsugawa had an air of quiet about it. I hopped on the bus, as per my directions and got off at Magome. I was instantly awed by the quiet beauty of the place. The stunning backdrop coupled with the quiet was heavenly tranquil and peaceful. I wondered up the Magome slope that wound it’s way through the town and up to the guest house where I was staying.
The guest house ( Magome Guest House ) was a lovely wooden style building. I was greeted by a very friendly young woman, who spoke perfect English. She asked if I was doing “The hike” in the morning. “Sure”, I replied, “What’s the hike?”. I had been drawn to the town because of the picturesque views, the beautiful looking small town and I had heard it was good for hiking, but I hadn’t known there was A HIKE. The woman explained that Magome was a post town on the Nakasendo way. An old highway which goes from Tokyo to Kyoto. The route from Magome to the next post town, Tsumago has lots of historical importance and is a widely popular route for tourists and locals alike. I was sold at “So,are you doing the hike?”
That first evening I went for a stroll to the observatory at the top of the sloped town. I arrived just around sunset and was blown away by the majesty of it. I know it’s kind of cliche to say, but the photos really don’t do this place justice. It was essentially a 180 panoramic view starting at the sight of the old town sloping into the setting sun, then scanning to the left a series of mountains rose high,almost out of no where. The clouds were low ( or perhaps it was mist ) and was settling in the vast drops of the valleys.
I set off at 9 am the next morning, and hardly saw anyone until I reached Tsumago. The path was amazing, a lot of different style paths, mostly through woods and tiny towns or maybe clusters of wooden houses is a more accurate description, and across a few roads. I came across ancient trees, shrines, waterfalls, beautiful views and rivers.
Amusingly, every so often you come across a bell with a rope. There is a notice in Japanese and underneath it reads in English “ring bell hard against bears” I guess they worked because I didn’t see any bears… then again I did ring the bells pretty loudly, you know, just to be sure!
It turned out I had set out a little to enthusiastically and it was still pretty early when I arrived at Tsumago, I was also enjoying the lonesome quiet in the beautiful countryside too much and wasn’t quite ready to go back the the hostel, so I continued my hike to Nagiso station an extra 3km. I think in total Magome to Nagiso is around 10k. From Nagiso I took the train back to Nakatsugawa and then, still not quite done I walked a further 3 is km to the Naegi castle remains, locally nicknamed as the Machu Pichu of the north ( 北のマチュピチュ）. A slight exaggeration there, but the view was pretty amazing.
Kita no Machu Pichu was a little harder to find with a lot less signage on the way. It seems more like the kind of place people drive to rather than hike… anyway as I was walking up the forever winding road that went up and up, I suddenly saw a tiny sign post at the side of the road pointing to something that looked like some kind of opening and a trail … of sorts .. I decided this must be a shortcut for hikers as most of the kanji matched that from the picture on my tourist leaflet. After a 20 min scramble at a fairly decent incline, I saw an opening and kind of burst of a bush right at the foot of the castle, much to the surprise of a middle aged Japanese couple who had driven up and were enjoying a leisurely stroll!I was both so grateful and disappointed that I discovered this part of Japan at the very end of my time there. Disappointed because I wish I had more time to explore ( which I do, there is no doubt in my mind that I will go back to visit ), but grateful that I ended on such a great note. It’s hard to say where it comes in my highlights of Japan but it is certainly near the top. If your visiting Japan, please please visit Gifu !!!
I am, as of now back in the UK for the foreseeable future, I have one last adventure to catch you guys up on. That will be in my next post all about Koya San! And then I shall probably continue with some blogs of my UK adventures 🙂