Walk this historic trade route to glimpse japan of a bygone era
The Nakasendo Highway, connecting Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period, offers a unique opportunity to experience Japan as it was in the past. This historic trade route, dating back to the 17th century, takes travelers through the picturesque Kiso Valley in southwestern Nagano Prefecture. Wander along the trail and visit the well-preserved “post towns,” resting stops for weary travelers, to catch a glimpse of Japan’s rich history.
During the Edo period, the Nakasendo Highway played a crucial role in connecting the political and cultural centers of Kyoto and Tokyo. It was one of the five major highways established by the Tokugawa shogunate to maintain control over the country. The Nakasendo Highway stretched for approximately 534 kilometers and had 69 post towns along its route. These post towns served as rest stops for merchants, samurai, wandering monks, and other travelers, providing them with accommodation, food, and entertainment.
One of the best-preserved sections of the Nakasendo Highway is the trail through the Kiso Valley. This picturesque route offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and takes you through charming post towns such as Magome, Tsumago, and Narai. These post towns have retained their traditional architecture and offer a glimpse into the daily life of the Edo period.
Magome, located in Gifu Prefecture, is a popular starting point for exploring the Nakasendo Highway. From here, you can embark on a 2 to 2.5-hour walk to Tsumago, another well-preserved post town. The trail between Magome and Tsumago is a scenic route that takes you through beautiful forests and offers panoramic views of the Kiso Valley. Along the way, you’ll encounter Jizo statues, Buddhist Bodhisattva and roadside guardians, as well as Dosojin, Shinto icons believed to protect travelers.
Tsumago is a particularly charming post town with its well-preserved wooden houses lining the main street. Spending a night in one of Tsumago’s local inns allows you to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Edo period. Take an evening stroll among the old buildings illuminated by lanterns, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
Continuing your journey along the Nakasendo Highway, you’ll come across the post town of Narai. Once the wealthiest post town on the highway, Narai is known for its well-preserved traditional houses and historic sites. Explore the checkpoint station at Kiso Fukushima, a significant checkpoint during the Edo period, and hike over the Torii-toge Pass, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
The Nakasendo Highway can be reached by train or highway bus. If you’re traveling from Tokyo, you can take the shinkansen to Nagoya and then transfer to the JR Shinano Limited Express. Alternatively, you can take limited express trains such as the JR Azusa via Shiojiri Station, which will take you along the Kiso Valley route. The famous post town of Magome is easily accessible by bus from Nakatsugawa Station.
While walking the entire length of the Nakasendo Highway can take four to five days, some hikers choose to complete it in three days. The trail can be walked in either direction, but many prefer to start in Magome and proceed north, as more of the journey is downhill. If you get tired along the way, there are train stations at various points where you can catch a train to the next town.
Signage along the Nakasendo Highway is available in both English and Japanese, making it easy for international travelers to navigate. Additionally, luggage forwarding services are available, allowing you to travel light and enjoy the hike without the burden of carrying heavy bags.
The Nakasendo Highway offers a unique opportunity to experience Japan’s rich history and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Kiso Valley. Walking this historic trade route allows you to glimpse a Japan of a bygone era, with its well-preserved post towns, traditional architecture, and stunning natural landscapes. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a unique travel experience, the Nakasendo Highway is a must-visit destination.
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