Japan, also known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, is known for many things, from mouth-watering sushi, intriguing teahouses and lightning speed trains to ultra modern cities, ancient ryokans and extraordinary temples. Yet, it is Japan’s fantastic hiking that has caught our attention. Head of Asia Product, Kate, steps back in time on one of our favourite trails, the Nakasendo Highway.
The 332-mile-long Nakasendo Highway was originally built as a way of connecting the trading hubs of Kyoto and Tokyo together. This crucial lifeline between Japan’s largest cities has since been used by feudal leaders, messengers, pilgrims and everyone in between, confirming its place in history and making it an extremely popular route for hikers. A three day expedition takes you through charismatic towns and bamboo forests, past beautiful waterfalls and Shinto shrines, as well as enjoying pit stops in authentic ryokan accommodation.
Day 1: Magome to Tsmago
Day one began with a three-hour trek from Magnome to Tsmago, a famous route that weaves along small tracks through dense forest, postal towns, vegetable plots and paddy fields. Magome itself is a great place to pick up some last-minute drinks and snacks before you set off. At the start, the path was quite steep but it gradually became easier as we continued on to Touge, a small settlement located just before the Magome Pass. The route winds its way to the tiny town of O-Tsmago before reaching Tsmago (one of the best preserved postal towns on the route and where you will spend the night). We arrived at our ryokan just in time for dinner, a traditional affair that really hit the spot.
Day 2: Tsmago to Kiso Fukishima via Nagiso and Nojiri
The next day, we left Tsmago and headed to Nagiso on foot, passing through small valleys and pine forests along the way. From there, you have two options as to how you continue. You could either can catch the train to Kiso Fukushima (where your accommodation for the following evening is located) or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you could hike on to Nojiri, extending your walk by several hours. This longer journey is beautiful and takes you through fields, small settlements and dirt trails. From Nojiri you can then catch a train to Kiso Fukushima.
We opted for the easier route, mainly because we had been warned about a number of bears on the trail that morning! When we reached Kiso Fukushima we used our spare time for an optional walk to the picturesque Gongentaki Waterfall. That evening we ate in a lovely place called Hidatei – it’s worth noting that if you visit Japan very few things are open on a Wednesday!
Day 3: Kiso Fukushima to Yabuhara and Narai
Our last day started with a short train ride to Yabuhara, from which we pushed on through the Torii rouge pass to Narai. With it’s steep forest trails this is definitely one of the most challenging parts of the journey, but the beautiful scenery makes it worthwhile! From Narai you can then easily hop on a train to your next destination.
Adding the Nakasendo Highway into your itinerary is bound to be an unforgettable experience, and especially ideal for keen walkers and those looking to really get away from it all in Japan.