Magome-juku and its neighbor, Tsumago-juku, were once shuku-machi, important post towns in Gifu Prefecture on the ancient Nakasendo road from Tokyo to Kyoto. Today, both towns are perfectly preserved "open-air museums" connected by an eight-kilometer stretch of the original path.
Access to Magome-juku is most convenient from JR Nagoya Station.
From Nagoya take the Shinano Express on the JR Chuo Mainline to JR Nakatsugawa. From there, a regular bus goes to Magome-juku, which in turn is connected to Tsumago-juku by bus.
Alternatively, you can take a regular train at JR Nakatsugawa that goes to JR Nagiso Station. Buses at JR Nagiso go to both Tsumago and Magome.
For the adventurous, the walk between Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku is between 2 and 2.5 hours.
The Nakasendo was the northern, mountain road between Tokyo and Kyoto (as opposed to the Tokaido, the southern coastal road and route of the Tokyo—Kyoto shinkansen). There were 69 post towns which served as overnight stopping points for travelers, providing lodging, food, and entertainment.
Once ignored by guidebooks and considered too far off the beaten track, Magome-juku was number 43 on the route. It has been perfectly recreated as an authentic Edo period (1603-1867) town to give visitors a glimpse into pre-modern Japan.
A bus from JR Nakatsugawa Station drops you at the beginning of the cobbled road that winds uphill through the town. From seasonal flowers through street-side waterways to enormous working waterwheels, photo opportunities abound.
Plenty of shops sell local products from ceramics to sake as well as a number of cafes and noodle shops. Across from the Tourist Information office, a museum dedicated to local novelist Toson Shimazaki lends a personal dimension to town history, though English signage is very limited. Some of his books are available in translation if you’re looking for some local color.
Magome-juku is still a living, functioning town. Each house is a real residence and that gives the area and atmosphere an unforced authenticity and helps evoke it's lively 400 year history.
It also means you need to be aware when exploring and photographing that private residences aren’t exhibits. Signs clearly marking which buildings are open to the public and which are private dot the walls.
There is a guesthouse midway between Nagatsugawa and Magome-juku, so if you are on a more relaxed schedule, it is really a treat to see the town devoid of visitors as the sun sets and rises behind the dramatic peaks.
The best place from which to observe the area is the viewpoint at the top of the hill as you leave town. From here, the Nakasendo twists through forests and rice fields, passing powerful waterfalls, beautifully preserved farmhouses and waterwheels.