I know you posted this a few weeks ago, but I just spotted it whilst looking at something else. I walked the Nakasendo way between Tsumago and Magome 2 weeks ago, and whilst it's a very pretty walk I didn't feel at any stage like I was walking on a really important ancient highway. The route might follow the original highway, but there is very little of the original paving left along the way. There is a section of paving just after Magome, but having walked 7.7km by that stage in the heat, I'd had enough.
Both Tsumago and Magome are lovely little towns, beautifully preserved (or should I say restored), but at the weekends both are rammed with Japanese tourists. I saw only 3 other gaijin in Tsumago and none in Magome, which is a definite plus for me. If you decide to go, I advise going mid-week and/or staying over to appreciate at least one of the towns without the crowds. As breakfast was served at 7:30am, I was pottering round the village by 7:45 and managed to take some great photos without anyone getting in the way. I stayed in Shimosagaya in Tsumago, which was fine, but really quite modern.
Of the two towns I would say Tsumago is more geared to foreign tourists than Magome, both the taxi stand and bus station are signposted in the village and the tourist information office has an English phamplet on the town and the walk to Magome, whereas in Magome everything was in Japanese. Finding the bus stop for Nakatsugawa in Magome required asking a lady in the shop for help.
One other thing to consider is, if you plan to use the baggage forwarding service, your luggage isn't guaranteed to arrive until 1pm, which if you start walking at 8am might leave you hanging around waiting for it. I carried my luggage with me and then left it in the lockers in Magome while I looked around, but I'd only gone on a weekend jaunt from Tokyo. The walk involves an ascent of about 500 metres, it's not steep but it's certainly not flat were you to consider taking your stuff with you. Don't know what time of year you were thinking of going but the luggage forwarding service only operates at weekends at certain time of the year.
Final note, the distances walked and still to walk tend on the signs along the way go up and down like you wouldn't believe. It's best to ignore them and just enjoy the walk!
Thank you very much for your informative reply. I've since decided to pass on the hike in favor of spending that extra day in Kyoto. You answered the core of my question, which was trying to determine how historic does the trail really seem? Apparently, not very.
Thanks again for your feedback. It confirmed my decision and now I can proceed with no second-thoughts.
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