This past November I had the pleasure of traveling to Nakatsugawa city for a very short two-day trip.
There are two major attractions near Nakatsugawa city that are a must: the Naegi Castle Ruins, and the Magome-juku ~ Tsumago-juku hike. Luckily for me I was able to experience a little bit of both.
Magome-juku <>Tsumago-juku Hike
The Nakasendo Highway was one of the main highways between Kyoto and Edo (current-day Tokyo), used by both daimyo feudal lords and peasant travelers back during the Edo period(AD 1603-1868). Magome-juku, the 43rd of 69 stations on the way to Kyoto from Edo, is famous for being built on a hill. The ishidatami stone-paved road that runs through Magome-juku will take you past many crowded shops and inns that retain their traditional Edo-period appearance in this enchanting post town.
While I wasn’t able to hike the whole distance from Tsumago-juku to Magome-juku, I was able to see a lot of the scenic views along the way and learn about the history and culture. This 7km, moderately-difficult hike is very popular with both foreign and Japanese tourists alike, taking around three hours to complete (four if you go to Nagiso Station).
A very convenient feature about this hike is that there is a luggage transportation service from Magome-juku to Tsumago-juku (and vice versa) that costs 500 yen per bag, located at each post towns’ respective tourism information office. This service is available once per day from late March through the end of November, simply turn in your luggage from 8:30am-11:30am, and then pick it up at the opposite station after 1:00pm.
The hike itself is not too difficult, and has a plenty of rest areas, scenic views, and a few waterfalls along the way. You can start at either station, but depending on which one you start at you might feel like you are walking mostly uphill (from Tsumago-juku) or downhill (from Magome-juku). I started at Nagiso Station and finished at Magome-juku, the train ride from Nakatsugawa Station to Nagiso Station is about 20 minutes and the bus ride from Magome-juku to Nakatsugawa Station is about 30min (one or two buses per hour). There are also buses that go in between Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku for those who don’t want to hike. The trail is well-marked, and all of the signs include English. Please open the link below to see a very good map.
The Naegi Castle Ruins
The Naegi Castle Ruins should definitely on your list of places to visit in Nakatsugawa city. The only difficult part is getting there when you don’t have your own car. If you don’t want to drop money for a taxi (around 2000 yen one-way), then from JR Nakatsugawa Station take the Kita Ena Bus line towards “Naegi” or “Tsukechi” and ride for about 10min, getting off at the “Naegi” bus stop. From the bus stop continue a little bit farther up the street until you clear the bridge and then make a sharp 180° turn to the left down a small alleyway that goes along the bridge back towards the river. When you reach the road next to the river turn right, and follow the signs pointing toward the Naegi Castle Ruins (you should arrive at the Shijuhachi Magari 48-turn trailhead within 20-30 minutes).
While I didn’t actually end up doing the hike, it is on my list of things to do. It is the most direct route to the Naegi Castle Ruins, otherwise you have to take a much longer, round-about way. Because of time limitations I ended up driving to a parking lot around the back and walking from there.
While there isn’t an actual castle there anymore, the ruins of the giant rock walls and base of the mountain fortress remain. It is surprising how intact the ruins are, which help you get a good feeling of what the castle might have looked like during its heyday. I would recommend walking up to the observation deck located at the very top of the honmaru, or the place where the main castle keep would have been, in order to see a breathtaking view of the surrounding Ena Valley, Mt. Ena, and Nakatsugawa city (you can even see Magome-juku).
While I was only able to stay in Nakatsugawa city for two days, so I will definitely be back. If you don’t mind a bit of walking, the amount of Japanese culture and history among the natural beauty of Ena Valley is truly something that can’t be experienced in places like Kyoto or Tokyo.