Key information: Nakasendo Way
- The Nakasendo Way was one of Japan's great ancient highways, the road "through the mountains" (its name), from Kyoto, an ancient capital and cultural epicentre of Japan, to Edo (now Tokyo). Various stretches of it are still well preserved and truly rural, indeed, deep in the mountains.
- In its heyday in the C18, the Nakasendo pullulated with travellers', and was lined with 69 Post Towns. Much of it now a backwater, it is an enjoyable route through scenic countryside and, also, an insight into the history of Japan.
ANYONE GOT ANY GOOD PHOTOS? WE WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO POST THEM!
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest13
- Human interest16
- Negative points2
- Total rating87
- Length: Variable (e.g up to 11 days selected highlights)
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
The Nakasendo Way was one of Japan's great ancient highways, the road from Kyoto, an ancient capital and cultural epicentre of Japan, to Edo (now Tokyo). It travelled "through the mountains" (its name), whereas the Tokaido route stayed by the coast. Various stretches of it are still well preserved and truly rural, indeed deep in the mountains.
Established in the 8th Century, in its heyday in the C18, the Nakasendo pullulated with travellers, including samurai, merchants and pilgrims, and was lined with 69 post towns. Much of it now a backwater, it is an enjoyable route through scenic countryside and, also, an insight into the history of Japan. You will pass through amazingly preserved post towns as did the Japanese traveller of old, still staying in high grade traditional inns (ryokans) or minshuku, family homes so more relaxed, friendlier and cheaper but atmospheric nonetheless. You will eat like gods and soak in hot spring water.
Most expeditions meet in Kyoto and travel through some or all of Hikone, Sekigahara, Magome, Tsumago, and Narai in the Kiso Mountain Region before perhaps finishing the journey along the Nakasendo in Tokyo itself.
Your baggage can go by taxi, except when you travel by train. You will cross several not-too-demanding passes.
In the summer you can hit higher ground, checking out some of the most scenic and enjoyable sections of the ancient Nakasendo Way, and digress to the beautiful Kaida Plateau and Matsumoto, a pleasing city dominated by a proper castle.
Our friends, the excellent Walk Japan, do a selection of fascinating Nakasendos.
Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor . You should get good, current views on this walk/area.
This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
Books on this walk
The Nakasendo Way – John and Alison Kilford
Japan – Lonely Planet – has a section on Nakasendo
A History of Japan- Conrad Totman. Maybe because it was so isolated, but Japanese history seems to be periods of stability interspersed with centuries of factional fighting between incomprehensible cliques, with little reference to events in the outside world – but producing sublime art and artefacts…
Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence – Andrew Juniper. Fascinating subject and insights into Japanese aesthetics and their influence by Zen Buddhism, occasionally irritatingly written.
In Praise of Shadows – Janichiro Tanizaki, written in the 1920s. Very idiosyncratic but fascinating insights.
Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival – David Pilling, much admired overview of modern Japan
The Narrow Road to Oku – Matsuo Basko. The great haikuer’s classic account of his travels in C17 Japan
Looking for the Lost (Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan) - by Alan Booth - “The best travel writer in Japan”(Ian Buruma)
The Roads to Sata (A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan) – by Alan Booth -“The best travel writer in Japan”(Ian Buruma)
The Wages of Guilt – Ian Buruma
There are a lot of good maps available for most walking areas. But most (all) are in Japanese, which doesn’t render them useless to the foreigner, but a bit harder to use.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Spring and early Summer for flowers, including the famous cherry blossom in mid Spring. June and July are rainy season. Summer is hot and humid. Bright mid-autumnal colours.
As above. (And come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather at any time of the year.)
Fly in to Tokyo or Osaka. Train to/from Kyoto.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
Rail travel is excellent but not cheap – although it is reasonable with a Japan Rail pass, which must be bought overseas. Booking seats is also advisable.
The bus network is good, reliable and reasonable value – although it can be hard to get about if you don’t have some Japanese.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
·Changeable weather: rain, cold and wind are possible on the higher ground at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Cold in winter.
·Heat, strong sun and humidity in summer. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently.
Some people (foreigners) form or join organised/supported expeditions. A knowledgeable guide would add a heap of interest. Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital.
Expedition organizers include:
- Walk Japan – real experts and our partners. They now do self-guided and guided tours.
- Okujapan.com – do an excellent looking 4 day Nakasendo walk which also visits Nara, Yoshino, Koya-san and Kyoto.
Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.
PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Ryokans and other accommodation. The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are various accommodation websites.
See what the commentary on the dreaded Tripadvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.
A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.
Other information and tips
Make sure you have lots of cash when away from the cities – machines can be hard to find.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
·www.Japan-guide.com is excellent for general travel information.
·Nakasendo Way: A journey to the heart of Japan
·www.wikipedia.org. Has starter information, and some relevant links on to (eg) En-no-Ozuno.]
·Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
·Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor – you should get current views on this walk and area.
Other things to do in the area
Japan, being largely mountainous, has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
Endless cultural fascination, and a lot of other fun and interest.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more