12 intense days in Japan: Tsumago

After a fully-Japanese breakfast (sorry, girls, no orange juice, no croissant) at the minshuku, on the agenda for today is a hike from Magome to Tsumago.





It is an 8-km hike and, at a leisurely pace under the 35° temperature, it should take us about 3 hours. The walk will take us through very beautiful forests of pine trees, bamboo trees, deciduous trees. The sound of cicadas is everywhere. All along the path, there are many spots with running water to cool off. Beautiful streams. We cross a number of small villages but we actually encounter few people, except for a friendly old lady who waves at us and seems happy to engage the conversation with us. She tells us lots of interesting things, no doubt, but which we cannot understand of course. Beyond ohayo gozaimasu (good morning), and onegai shimasu (please), we are limited in terms of Japanese words, and so we reply in French, which she does not seem to mind at all. It makes for a funny situation, each speaking in our own language and not understanding the other, but it is fun and we smile at each other. She agrees to be photographed.

The old lady makes me think about my beloved grandmother, in her garden in France, far away from here, but very close in my heart at this very moment….

We notice bright yellow signs which warn hikers against mountain bears. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we will not encounter any. Lucky!

We stop for a short rest at a relay house with a burning fireplace (but why, it is very hot today!), where we meet some very loud European tourists. We drink some green tea, relax the legs for a while, and off we go again.

We continue in the direction of Tsumago. We get a little bit lost a few miles before Tsumago, because signs are no longer written in English. A Japanese tourist couple helps us find our way, and we finally arrive at Tsumago.

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Upon arriving in Tsumago, we are immediately struck by the scenery. It feels like a samurai movie. The main street is bordered with very ancient wooden houses on each side. There is not one single modern building in this magnificent village. In a hat store, 2 elderly women are at work hand-making conic hats. A bit further down the street, I find a pair of very nice wooden sabots which I purchase on the spot.


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It is getting close to lunch time and we feel like we could use a break. We find a charming restaurant tended by a crew of old women. We enter, ask of a table for 5, and seat down. Inspired by the place, we shoot photos like there is no tomorrow (well, Francois takes the pictures).  The soba and tempura dishes are truly delicious. We finish up the meal with some green tea ice cream, homemade and simply exquisite. The old women waiting on us are so humble, friendly, and helpful. We communicate with signs and through our limited Japanese, but somehow we manage to understand each other. We appreciate this special moment to its full extent.

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In the afternoon, the girls wander around the town on their own while François and I visit the Okuya Kyôdo-Kan house. There we learn that the town developed a specialty in the manufacturing of straw hats, because agriculture could not be developed much due to the harsh winters and the steep-sloped landscapes.

This house used to host the daimyos (the powerful feudal lords in Japan between the 12th century and the 19th century) who would stop to rest while traveling to high places across the country. The house was rebuilt in 1877 following a big fire. An English-speaking guide walks us through the house. A nice opportunity to visit an ancient traditional Japanese house.



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Later we meet the girls and walk to the bus stop at the edge of the village. The bus will take us back to Magome for our last night before we leave for Kyoto. A delicious dinner of sushis at the minshuku.