In 2019, Oku Japan became the first and only tour operator to open a branch office in the Nakasendo post-town of Tsumago. After more than a decade of working with the local community to ensure our tour activities align with the preservation goals of Tsumago, the community welcomed us – we renovated an old kominka home to serve as space for our team to operate daily activities and be available to both locals and any guests that may drop by.
Becoming a part of the community in Tsumago
While the members of the community are warm and friendly to visitors, the community is widely viewed as being 'closed', because they deeply value and seek to preserve the traditions of the town which date back hundreds of years. In principle, the preservation of this Edo Period post-town comes first and serves as the basis for a great majority of activities and events within the community. This extends to business, and outsiders are widely excluded from operating within the town in order to ensure that the preservation of Tsumago is at the heart of all endeavours.
As a result of Oku Japan’s close ties to the community, we received permission to operate our branch office activities and were absolutely humbled and overjoyed at the opportunity. This has allowed us to further strengthen our ties in Tsumago, confidently introducing international guests to this beautifully-preserved post-town while aligning with Tsumago’s preservation goals and receiving feedback from locals each step of the way.
In July 2019, shortly before the official opening of our office, we were kindly invited to participate in the yearly Wachino Jinja Festival. Our team member Shinya had spent months living in Tsumago, and then on the first night of the festival, joined the local men in carrying the mikoshi, the miniature portable shrine often seen at festivals which carries the deity as it is transported to its shrine.
Oku Japan’s team in Tsumago
Yasushi and Noriko are a husband and wife couple on our team and have been serving as our base in Tsumago since the opening of our branch office. Yasushi and Noriko are regularly invited to join local club activities and have had the joy of experiencing both the big and small moments of togetherness in Tsumago. Noriko was invited to join a soba noodle-making activity with a local club, and the pair often take part in small celebratory drinking parties after important events.
Working closely with the Tsumago Lovers Association, Yasushi and Noriko are involved in the various activities the association operates, helping out in any way possible with local preservation efforts and also maintaining the relationships we have built over the years, so we can feel confident that everything we do aligns with the needs of the post-town while also bringing value to our guests who visit Japan with us and experience hiking on the Nakasendo.
One such activity was a local clean-up organised by Yasushi. During autumn, he recruited volunteers from within Tsumago as well as from surrounding towns, and everyone then gathered in Tsumago to engage in trail maintenance for the portion of the Nakasendo Trail near Tsumago. Clearing overgrown shrubbery and removing debris, everyone worked together to improve the safety of the trail. They then turned toward Tsumago itself, cleaning up the public toilet and street.
Visit Oku Japan while you’re on the trail
Our Tsumago office is a bit different from our Chikatsuyu office, located on the Kumano Kodo, in terms of functionality. In Chikatsuyu, our office also serves as a place for some of our guests to stay the night. In Tsumago, this type of business activity is strictly reserved for the community members to maintain the traditions of the town.
However, our office will greet you as you arrive into Tsumago after walking from Magome, and we are there to welcome you with tea and a chat as you rest. Yasushi and Noriko are there to provide you with more information about Tsumago, answer any questions you may have and introduce you to neighbours should they stop by.