Trek Notes - Japan

Nakasendo Way

The Nakasendo Way is a unique walking exploration of Japan, its history and culture. This 12-day tour explores one of the old highways of Japan, the Nakasendo. Once a main thoroughfare of feudal Japan, today the Nakasendo provides a delightful excursion through scenic countryside.

The Nakasendo Way tour provides us with a fascinating insight into the world of feudal Japan, the samurai and, also, village life today. We start in the ancient capital, Kyoto, and gently find our way through rural Japan and the central mountains to Tokyo. We follow some of the most enjoyable and best-preserved parts of the old highway. On route we stay in beautiful old inns, enjoy fine regional cuisine and share life with the Japanese, some of the most polite and friendliest people in the world. We rate this as a level 2 walk, which is suitable for anyone who is an occasional walker and can walk for a couple of hours in comfort. In general, the route is gently undulating but also includes some short, steeper climbs.

Nakasendo Way is now better than ever. We have upgraded it to be fully guided, including more walking and travel from the Nakasendo’s beginning in Kyoto to its end in Edo, modern day Tokyo. The Nakasendo Way is the pioneering walking tour of Japan. A best seller for over a decade, this tour provides a unique, intimate experience of Japan and its people. 
The Nakasendo Way explores one of Japan’s ancient highways, the Nakasendo - literally ‘the road through the mountains’. The tour starts in Kyoto, an ancient capital and cultural epicentre of Japan, and follows some of the best preserved parts of the old road deep into the mountains.
In its heyday in the seventeenth century, the Nakasendo was crowded with travellers, including feudal lords, samurai, itinerant merchants and pilgrims. Now largely forgotten and quiet, the road provides a pleasant path through scenic countryside and, also, the history of Japan. We pass through and stay in picturesque, old post towns on route in much the same way that the Japanese traveller of old did. Charming, traditional inns, which have somehow survived into the modern world, provide us with friendly and atmospheric overnight accommodation. In the evenings, in an ambience reminiscent of Hiroshige's woodblock prints of feudal Japan, we relax and enjoy excellent meals.
The Nakasendo Way follows the most enjoyable, scenic and best preserved parts of the old highway. Seventeenth-century travellers insisted on a reasonably easy route for their journey and so do we. This is a walking tour not a trek. The average daily walking distance is a moderate 10-26 kilometres. Transport, however, can be arranged for those who desire a more relaxed day. Baggage goes by taxi, except when we travel by train. We climb several passes, but they have fairly gentle inclines and can be taken at a comfortable pace.
We meet in Kyoto and travel through Hikone, Sekigahara, Magome, Tsumago, Narai (the last three, difficult to find on a map, are to the north and east of Nagoya) and Karuizawa before arriving in Tokyo. Detailed instructions are provided on how to get to Kyoto and travellers make their own arrangements to get there.
The small, intimate nature of the inns makes the maximum group size fifteen, including guide.

This itinerary for the Nakasendo Way trip is "ground only," beginning in Kyoto and ending in Tokyo. After receiving the booking and deposit we will provide detailed instructions for getting to the meeting point in Kyoto from Osaka's Kansai Airport (KIX) and Tokyo's Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) Airports. Arrangements can be made for extra time in Japan before or after the trip. At the end of the tour, travellers are advised not to book themselves out on an early morning flight as it can take up to 90 minutes to travel from the Tokyo accommodation to the Narita Airport and up to three hours 30 minutes to Kansai Airport. Haneda Airport is a 45 minute journey. Domestic transport by Japan Rail to Kyoto Station or by air to Osaka's Itami Airport also gets travellers to Kyoto easily.

Please note that on Day 2 and Day 10 the main baggage will be shipped in advance overnight. On these days all items you require for overnight will need to be carried by you and your daypack should be sufficiently big enough to accommodate these items.

For those who wish to spend more time in Kyoto you may be interested in our Kyoto Tour. This tour runs over the two days from the day before to 5 PM on Day 1 of the Nakasendo Way tour (the Nakasendo Way tour group meets on Day 1 at 6 PM). In addition to the Kyoto Tour is our Tokyo Tour, which runs over the two days after the finish on Day 12 of the Nakasendo Way tour. Both the Kyoto Tour and Tokyo Tours are open to anyone but we provide a discounted price for those joining the Nakasendo Way tour.

Day 1
Meet in Kyoto in our lodging's foyer at 6 pm for tour briefing. The briefing is followed by dinner with the guide in a nearby restaurant. We will eat at a hospitable local, restaurant in the Pontocho district, a popular area of restaurants, bars and pubs. Here, on occasion, one or two of the famous geisha of the Gion district may be seen on their way to an appointment. En route we will visit Sanjo-ohashi, a bridge that marks the
beginning of the Nakasendo highway.

Dinner provided. Internet access available.

Day 2
Travel by train to the feudal-period castle town of Hikone; walk through the city to see the structure of a castle town and visit the castle, one of only a few in Japan that retains its original, spectacular keep. Train to Sekigahara, in 1600 the site of, arguably, the most important battle in Japanese history. It heralded the start of the 270-year Tokugawa dynasty and Edo period. Stay in traditional inn. Total walking approximately 6km (3.7 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided.

Day 3
Trains to Mitake followed by our first walk on the Nakasendo to Hosokute post-town through rolling countryside. Stay in 17th century inn. Total walking approximately 10km (6.2 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided.

Day 4
22-kilometre walk to Ena along ridge-top route dating from the 8th Century. Picnic lunch near Okute, home to a 1,300-year old cedar tree. Visit the excellent Hiroshige Print Museum in Ena. Stay in a modern, comfortable hotel; private rooms with en-suite bathroom.  Total walking about 22 km (13.8 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided. Internet access & coin laundry facilities available.

Day 5
Our day's walk begins across rolling countryside to Nakatsugawa, an old post town and now a pleasant regional town. Leisurely time here before our afternoon walk in hilly countryside to Shinchaya teahouse, now a refurbished inn. Total walking about 16 kilometers (9.9 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided. Wi-fi internet access available for those bringing their own computer.

Day 6
Walk to Magome post-town, home of Japan's first modern novelist, Shimazaki Toson (author of Before the Dawn). Then on to O-tsumago, a small cluster of inns, through verdant forests. Stay in traditional inn. Visit the old, high-class inn, now museum, in Tsumago and enjoy an evening bath at a mountaintop hot spring. Total walking of about 14 kilometres (8.6 miles)

Breakfast and dinner provided. Internet access available for those bringing their own computer.

Day 7
Walk about 6 kilometres through the post town of Tsumago to Nagiso. Then another 18 kilometres through farm land, forested hills and over a steep pass. Take a train to Kiso-Fukushima and stay in a Japanese inn with thermal hot spring baths. Total walking about 24 km (14.9 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided.

Day 8
Transfer part-way by local bus to Kaida Plateau. Our morning walk today is along an old path, which we follow up over Jizo Pass and then down onto the Kaida Plateau. The plateau is dominated by Mt. Ontake, an active volcano that is considered sacred by a Buddhist sect. After a picnic or lunch of soba (buckwheat) noodles, a speciality of the area, the afternoon walk is an excursion over another high pass that, on a clear day, provides views high over the plateau to Mt. Ontake. We descend from here to our lodgings, a delightful modern inn with hot springs. Total walking about 10 km (6.2 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided.

Day 9
Return to Kiso-Fukushima to visit the reconstructed barrier station there, before transferring by train to Yabuhara. Walk over the Torii-toge pass to the lovely post town of Narai. Here we have free time to explore, relax in cafes, and shop in Narai. We overnight in a famous inn of ancient lineage. Total walking approximately 8 km (5 miles).

Breakfast and dinner provided. Wi-fi internet access available for those bringing their own computer.

Day 10
After breakfast transfer by train, through the grand mountains of Japan's Central Alps, to the beautiful Shioda Plateau. Visit an onsen, thermal hot spring, baths before staying the night in Ueda, an old castle town and now a small, regional city. Total walking approximately 11 km (6.8 miles).

Breakfast provided. Internet access available.

Day 11
Transfer by train to Karuizawa, where we rejoin the Nakasendo for a 14 kilometre walk over the Usui-toge Pass. We lunch on the way to Yokokawa before continuing on and taking a local train to Takasaki, where we change to the Shinkansen 'Bullet' Train for Tokyo. These trains mostly follow the route of the Nakasendo into the capital. After arriving late afternoon in Tokyo we walk the last two or so kilometres to Nihonbashi bridge, where the Nakasendo terminated, for a fitting finale to the walk. Our final night's lodging is a pleasant hotel close to Nihonbashi and just a few minutes' walk to Tokyo Station. Also, the Ginza, Japan's shopping heaven, is a five-minute taxi ride away. Total walking approximately 16 km (9.9 miles).

Breakfast provided. Internet access available for those bringing their own computer.

Day 12
Breakfast provided, after which the tour ends.

Departure Dates for 2012
7, 14, 21, 28 March
04, 11, 18, 25 April
02, 09, 16, 23 May
05, 19, 26 September
03, 10, 17, 24, 31 October
07 November

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