After a brief yet wonderful stay in Matsumoto it was time to board the train again (for more on Japanese transport advice, I've written up a guide right HERE) to head off to the tiny, rural postal village of Tsumago, which is on the Nakasendo route between Kyoto and Edo. The train from Matsumoto landed us at Nagoya station, where we then caught the local bus to Tsumago itself.
Tsumago would be our first experience of traditional Japanese living and culture, from bathing, sleeping, dressing, and dining.
The village itself is noted for being “stuck in time”, and remains as faithful as it can to its lifestyle and ways from back in the Edo Period. Cars are not allowed on the main street in the day (but can be seen tucked away in camouflaged garages late evening, and it was explained to us that phone lines and power cables are deliberately kept concealed in order to recreate the vibe of the village, as it were, between the 16 and 1800s. The village itself is only around half a mile long at best too, and lined only either side with its small and traditional buildings, many of which are small convenience stores and gift shops selling local produce and crafts.
There is also a museum to visit too, called the Nagiso-machi museum, which consists of history surrounding a restored and preserved Honjin (an inn for government officials and other people of high importance), as well as a Waki-hon-jin (Basically an additional inn of the same type), and a historical materials museum.
Tsumago is even closed to the public after 6pm, and only visitors who are staying at lodgings in the village itself may roam the road there after.
All lodgings in Tsumago are, as I say, 100% authentic in Japanese culture. Travellers can expect to stay in beautiful tatami floored rooms (Japanese flooring traditionally made from rice straw) , provided with their own Yukata (traditional Japanese “comfy robe”. You wear these when you’re relaxing at home), with meals provided by age old authentic Japanese cuisine and hospitality.
Lloyd and I stayed at the divine and highly reputable accommodation named “Fujioto Ryoken”. This place has a longstanding reputation for both Japanese and international travellers alike, with the owner and his family running their establishment (of which they live in too!) as one of the most highly regarded traditional lodgings in Tsumago.
Above: The entrance, gardens, and our lodgings at Fujioto Ryoken
Offering full a traditional Kaiseki dining experience (many dishes served in a specific order) for the evening meal, Fujioto Ryoken take pride in their huge 13 course, individually hand crafted menu created by the mother of the household’s own hands, with her small family team helping to support her, as well as serve. Her daughter was telling us that her mother was actually very shy of her talents, and is often always nervous when aiming to please her guests. On occasion, she would pop out from the kitchen to smile at the room and make sure that everything was ok, and you could sincerely see that she had ever hope it would be. We were also told that the mother loved to hear international visitors make attempts to speak in the Japanese language, so I couldn’t help throwing out a little “Oishi” when I caught her eye (meaning “delicious”). The look on her face would have melted the coldest of hearts, and the gratitude for such a fumble of a word from me was the most immense I’ve ever known.
After the evening meal, we were encouraged to enjoy the quiet street of Tsumago by moonlight in our Yukata, before returning to our beds for lights out at 10pm (another Tsumago tradition kept). Before that, however, there was time to relax in a traditional onsen style bath on the ground floor.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super sad to leave Tsumago the following day. The hospitality and isolated, natural setting in contrast to the metropolis of Tokyo was like a cold water splash in the face, and I do miss it massively.
On waking the next morning there was only a final hour or so to pack and walk one last time along the Tsumago street before hopping back on the local area bus to Nagoya station.
See you in Kyoto!