Tsumago

Today, I woke up quite early as my train from Matsumoto to Nagiso left at 7:41 in the morning. But, it was ok since I still haven’t fully adapted to the drastic time difference and I have been waking up around 5 anyway. I scarfed down my first Western breakfast (which even included pancakes!) since I have been here, and quickly walked down the street to Matsumoto Station. I boarded my train and settled in for the two hour ride to Nagiso. Tsumago was a short 10-minute bus ride away. Tsumago is a beautiful town nestled firmly in the mountains in northern Nagano Prefecture, however, that is not why I visited the town today.

During the Edo-period, Tsumago was a small post town along the Nakasendo road, the road which connected Edo and Kyoto. These post towns were an important place for daimyo and their samurai to rest when making the long journey from one city to the other. However, after the Meiji Restoration and the advent of railroads, the road, along with the post towns, fell into obscurity. The Meiji government ordered most of the post towns to be destroyed, however, in Tsumago and some of the neighboring post towns, they decided to preserve the town as a historical asset and tribute to the Edo period. This decision led to an interesting dynamic within the modern-day life of the Tsumago residents. Since the town is still inhabited, the residents are not allowed to alter their houses in any way that would not be done in the Edo period. The Tsumago residents, therefore, go about a modern lifestyle while still somewhat trapped in the Edo-period. Most of them are devoted to a life of making crafts to sell to tourists.

Through Tsumago and the other local post town, a good portion of the Nakasendo road still exists. On the pamphlet I had talking about the town, it showed that there was a waterfall about three and a half kilometeres from Tsumago through two other post towns. I decided that since I had about five hours in Tsumago until my train back to Matsumoto left, I might as well walk the path and see the waterfall. I started walking and I found out it was quite a demanding hike, most of it uphill through the forest. However, as the hill I climbed cut back several times, it led to a few good scenic lookouts.

As I was walking, I got kind of excited thinking about the fact that hundreds of samurai and daimyo had walked this very same path a few hundred years ago. The difference being, that while I was walking for about an hour and a half, they walked it for weeks. After I had walked about half way, I came across a sign that I found quite interesting.

But the only bear I found, I fought off with my bare hands (pun intended). It was only another twenty or so minutes from there when I reached the waterfall. It was nothing too remarkable, but the area around it was extremely peaceful.

When I walked back, it was around noon and I stopped at a tiny restaurant for lunch. I ordered cold buckwheat noodles since that’s what the woman said was her best. The noodles are cold, but they are served with a bowl of some kind of broth which is piping hot. The proper way to eat the noodles is to gradually throw a chopstick’s worth of noodles in the little bowl and eat them with the broth. As I was the only customer in the restaurant at the time, the lady was observing me and, after I was done, she complimented me on my skill with chopsticks, which I was very happy with.

Since it was only about 12:30 and I had until 3:30, I walked around Tsumago a little more with my guide in hand. One of the buildings open for tours was called the Waka-honjin. This building was the inn for those of the samurai caste when they stayed in Tsumago. It was preserved almost exactly as it was in the Edo-period. Across the street was another building called the Honjin. The Honjin was specifically for daimyo, while his warriors would stay in the Waka-honjin. Since these buildings were designed for those of higher status they were very nice inside. The back doors slid open to two Japanese-style gardens with koy ponds in the middle. They were very peaceful for sitting and resting. Almost immediately after I had walked in the Waka-honjin, a large group of elementary students came rushing in to the building apparently on a field trip. Noticing that I am clearly not Japanese, they immediately threw every English word at me that they had learned in school, attempting to make sense. I attempted to respond in Japanese, but as soon as I did, they assumed I was fluent and spoke some of the fastest Japanese I’ve ever heard. I had no idea what they were talking about. But every time, I tried to take a picture of the Waka-honjin, they insisted that I, instead, take pictures of them.

However, the woman who was apparently part of the family who owned the Waka-honjin did find me and offer me a free tour in English because of the distraction. She showed me around and taught me how the family that owned the Waka-honjin would stay in a very small part of the actual building and the rest was reserved for the daimyo and samurai. She took me upstairs and showed me that there was a secret third floor behind two sliding doors. These doors were coated with a material which absorbed sound and daimyo used the top floor as a conference room to meet in secret. I never would have learned these things walking around by myself, so I told her I was grateful. Once I walked outside, the city had been completely overrun with elementary school students. Tsumago was apparently a very popular field trip destination. Since the sky was looking heavy and the streets were now packed with students and teachers, I decided to go back to the bus stop and read a book while I waited until 4 to return to Matsumoto.

Tomorrow I move to the Gifu Prefecture and stay in Takayama for a night and then it’s on to Ise and the Wedded Rocks. See you soon!

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