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Japan: Tsumago

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Tsumago | Japan | Asia

[Visited: December 2010]

It was dark when our bus pulled up at a small bus stop on the side of the road. We were not in a village, and we hoped that the friendly woman on the bus had been right: she had called a minshuku and we were supposed to be picked up within ten minutes. Indeed, before time was up, a white car, of course Japanese, showed up, and an old man drove us to our place for the night, up a hill. An ageing woman was already busy in the kitchen, and we were soon invited to a tasty Japanese dinner, just like we had a delicious and varied breakfast the next morning. It had snowed lightly that night, but the sky was perfectly blue when we went to Tsumago. We found the village still very quiet, and quickly fell in love with this old post town on the historic Nakasendo, the traditional way between Kyoto and Tokyo. In fact, this valley had been prominent back in the Edo period in Japan, which had made the towns prosper. But the Chuo Main Line train finished that golden age, and only since the early 1970s, the historic value of the area was realized and efforts were made to restore the towns of the Kiso valley in their traditional Edo-era glory.

Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Street in the traditional village of Tsumago

The houses are constructed with dark-coloured wood, most of them only one storey high. Many doors had decorations on them, but we were not sure about the reason for this - perhaps it was related to the upcoming New Year celebrations. In any case, Tsumago had a very friendly appeal. We walked past the wooden water wheel and the bulletin board, until we reached the end of the town. Here, we had a nice view over the snow-covered roofs of the town, as well as the terrace fields, which seemed to be finely carved out of the landscape by snow. There was still hardly a soul around as we walked back into, and through, the town. The sun was now shining a fine winter light on the wooden houses of Tsumago, and we could already see the effects on the snow. We made a bigger tour through the town, and ended up on a remarkable cemetery. Here, we found quite a few Buddha statues covered in a delicate layer of snow. On the statues still in the shade, the crystals were still completely intact and gave the statues an especially serene feel.

Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Old street in Tsumago

Returning to the main street, which used to be the main post road in the Edo period in the 18th century, we took more streets and side-streets to get a better feel of Tsumago. More visitors, almost all Japanese, were now arriving, and we left the traditional Japanese town, only to come back at the end of the afternoon. By that time, Tsumago had changed almost beyond recognition. The sun had burned the snow away, and there was a different light and atmosphere in the town. More people walked the streets, and as the sky was getting darker, lanterns outside the wooden houses were being lit, one after one. Again, the streets quietened, and when darkness had taken possession of the attractive town with its wooden houses, we were the only ones left to enjoy the attractive view of the yellowish light from the lanterns giving Tsumago a fairy-tale like look. We would have loved to stay longer, but still had to walk to the nearest station to catch the train. Walking to the station, we were reminded of the reason for the decline of Tsumago - the train line does not directly serve the town.

Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Centuries-old wooden bulletin board in Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Early winter morning view of Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Natural decorations on a house in Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Typical view of Tsumago: wooden house and bulletin board
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Stone statues at the cemetery of Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Evening falling over the traditional town of Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): View over the village of Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Wooden houses in the main street of Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Traditional Rurisan Kotoku-ji temple in Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Street in Tsumago: stone stairs and wooden houses
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Detail of Tsumago cemetery: statue with fresh snow
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): One of the old streets with wooden houses in Tsumago
Picture of Tsumago (Japan): Decoration of a house: bundled apples

Around the World in 80 Clicks

Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tsumago (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tsumago.
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