Japan self guided walking holiday, Nakasendo Trail

“Walking along one of Japan’s oldest trails, stay at traditional inns and enjoy abundance of hot spring baths. An eastern edification if ever there was one.”

Highlights

Four days of village-to-village walking on Nakasendo Trail | Kisa Valley walks | Imperial Nara | Kyoto | Tokyo – Sacred Mount Koya | Stay in shukubo temple lodging – Stay in ryokan inns | Hot spring baths | Traditional meals

Description of Japan self guided walking holiday, Nakasendo Trail

The Nakasendo Trail is not only one of Japan’s most ancient thoroughfares, it is also one of modern Japan’s most aesthetically exquisite walking trails. Used since the 8th century by feudal lords needing to traverse this magnificent, mountainous terrain between Kyoto and Edo (today’s Tokyo), this itinerary includes five days of walking along the trail, from one ancient ‘post town’ to another. Walks range from two to six hours long, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the traditional ryokan inns and minshuku guesthouses that the Nakasendo Trail is so famous for. Here you can soak in traditional Japanese baths and even thermal springs but also in the culture, always so enlightening for visitors who come to enjoy these unique walking trails in Japan. The best tastes of Japan will come from the dinners that will be lovingly prepared for you along the way.

Linking up with train networks along the Nakasendo Trail, this holiday starts in Kyoto and ends in Tokyo, with several days to enjoy both of these fascinating cities, with a private guide to lead you on one of the days. There is plenty of flexibility built into the itinerary to accommodate how much walking you would like to take on, and with walking terrain varying between paved paths going through post towns or more remote, rugged mountain ways, the Nakasendo Trail is accessible to many.

The best time to go walking on the Nakasendo Trail is between April and November, although it does rain from mid June until mid July, but with showers that are usually manageable. The Trail does get very busy during Japanese holidays, however, such as New Year (29/12-4/1), Golden Week (29/4-5/5) and the O-Bon Buddhist Festival in August. We welcome any enquiries to assist you with this walking holiday, but especially regarding pricing during these peak times.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1:Arrive in Kyoto and check in city centre hotel.
Day 2:Tour of Kyoto with your own expert local guide.
Day 3:Free day to explore Kyoto in more depth or you may want to also visit Nara, site of Todai-ji temple and much more.
Day 4:Your first day on the Nakasendo Trail, taking the train to the Kiso Valley, visiting Magome village at 800m overlooking the valley. Hike 9km to Tsumago over the Magome Pass. Stay in a family-run minshuku guest house where dinner will be served by your host.
Day 5:Walk 18km from Tsumago to Nojiri where you will take a train to a stunning ryokan overlooking above Kiso-Fukushima. After bathing in its hot springs, enjoy many courses of fine, traditional Japanese fare. A shorter walking option of 4km is also available today.
Day 6:Take the train to Yabuhara to start today’s 7km hike over the Torii Pass to Narai, which was traditionally the half way mark on the Nakasendo Trail for ancient travellers. Still stunningly well preserved, this ‘town of a thousand houses’ is where you will rest for the night in a traditional minshuku guest house, with another superb dinner served at the end of your walking day.
Day 7:Take time to explore the ins and outs of Narai, and then walk 2.5km to Hirasawa where you can pick up the train to Karuizawa. At 1000m, this is a lovely mountain resort town, where you can stay in one of its luxury hotels or opt for the more traditional ryokan inn again.
Day 8:A 16km finale walking over the Usui Pass to Sakamoto-juku is the perfect send off for your last day on the Nakasendo Trail. Say goodbye to the mountains and forests, and take the train at Yokokawa into the very different world of Tokyo, where you will stay in a city centre hotel.
Day 9:Explore Tokyo – you might choose a Sumida River cruise, strolling around and shopping in the uber fashionable Shibuya or Shinjuku districts, with plenty of opportunities to sample some of the city’s fine cuisine.
Day 10:Last day of trip flying out of Tokyo, or we can arrange an extension to visit other regions in Japan.

Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

01273 823 700

Departure information

This trip can be tailormade at a time to suit you and can be adapted to suit your interests, budget and requirements as necessary
Our top tip:
Make the most of the hot spring bath facilities and immerse yourself in divine Japanese culture.
Trip type:
Self-guided tailor made trip, with varying lengths.
Activity level:
Easy to moderate, with some very gradual ascents. 5 days of walking on 10 day trip.
Accomm:
minshuku guesthouses and ryokan inns. One night in temple lodgings. Hotel in Tokyo/Kyoto.
Included:
Accomm., breakfasts, Trail dinners, train tickets, map, Kyoto guide.
Solos:
This trip can be tailored for solo travellers at extra cost.
Vouchers
Accepted

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Japan self guided walking holiday, Nakasendo Trail

Environment

You will experience the ‘satoyama’ landscape of rural Japan, the border area between arable flat land where rice is grown, and the mountains. Managed sustainably over centuries, it is biologically diverse and supports a wide variety of wildlife. The presence of small-scale tourism in the Kiso Valley has encouraged the conservation of these areas, and discouraged the development of golf-courses and other projects which have negative effects on the local biodiversity. We support conservation through the Nature Conservancy Council of Japan.

Community

The villages you will visit along the Kiso Valley section of the Nakasendo trail were, until the 1970s, falling into disrepair and with few jobs, young people were moving to the cities. The villagers then began a concerted conservation and restoration effort, repairing the old wooden houses, and turning some of them into small ‘minshuku’ guest houses. Over the past 30 years this gradual conservation has continued, and the Kiso Valley villages have enjoyed a steady stream of income and sustainable development from the visitors who come.

You will be staying at these traditional ‘machiya’ houses, some over 200 years old. They are owned and run by several generations of one family, and all income from visitors stays in the village and brings the benefit of jobs for the younger generation. Your food will be prepared from locally-sourced fish, meat, and vegetables. Many owners also grow their own vegetables and rice. We support The Japan National Trust which helps protect the traditional buildings of rural Japan.

Reviews of Japan self guided walking holiday, Nakasendo Trail

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 22 Sep 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Hiking the Nakasendo trail, seeing smaller towns, and staying at the ryokan in Kiso-Fukushima were extraordinary.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Do it! But, don't carry a heavy pack; the trail can be challenging. Use the luggage courier services and train station lockers when possible.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Low impact is encouraged in many ways. The trail preserves history and culture. Its use respects that history and provides some economic benefits to trail towns.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Superior!

Reviewed on 17 May 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being immersed in the history surrounding the Tokugawa Shogunate period whilst enjoying the culture and hospitality of modern Japan in this beautiful mountain region.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Whilst the journey is a delightful walk, stop and enjoy the culture along the way. There are several museums in each town which will give you the historical exposure. Also, make sure you schedule the time to visit Matsumoto Castle. There are often locals whom provide a free tour escort service such that they can practice their language skills (other than Japanese) and you get a thorough understanding of the history.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Absolutely! In the towns of Magome, Tsumago and Narai through which the Nakasendo trail passes, the locals made the commitment some decades ago to preserve the history of this wonderful region. The visits by we tourists support their decision to conserve and maintain the past and enables them to continue for the benefit of future generations. We stayed in family inns which had been so for over 200 years with the sixth and seventh generation now looking after you.
Furthermore, on this holiday you use, entirely, your own legs or local public transport.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent

Reviewed on 16 Apr 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Walking the remote sections of Trail.Tour of Nara

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Trip requires good level of fitness both on the trail and city tours.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Post town shopping assisted local merchants and restaurants.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Reviewed on 29 Sep 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Walking the Nakasendo Trail and staying in the traditional Ryokans.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Do not worry if you do not want to undertake the walks you can find alternatives to do during the day. We met one older American couple who decided not to walk at all but simply explored the villages. We managed the walks with rucksacks even at our age. 66 and 71. Just take it slowly and pace yourself. Walking in the high temperature was not too much of a problem because most of the route is through the forests. We only gave up on the last walk when we reached the top of the pass due to the heavy rain. This also meant that the local cafes were closed and the local bus did not run.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, we gave employment to local people and transport. Our only comment would be that we hoped the leftovers to our delicious meals would not be wasted but put to good use.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


A great experience. We felt we had a very good introduction and understanding of Japan. We liked the combination of historic city, modern capital contrasting with rural Japan. Very well organized.

Reviewed on 01 Sep 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Experiencing the sincere and warm hospitality of Japanese Riokans and trekking by the wild forests of this uneven populated country.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Summer weather conditions are tough. If possible better go during autumn or spring months.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Local providers were clearly benefited and, the use of public transport reduced environmental impact.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Great, the organisation was very good, the cultural inmersion was inspiring and the landscape was surprising.

Reviewed on 08 Jun 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Walking through remote woods and forests on the Nakasendo trail and coming across ancient shrines and stonework commemorating centuries old samurai battles.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take your time on the walks - it's an easy schedule.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes - used local inns and restaurants. Low footprint when on the trail...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent - thank you.

Reviewed on 16 Sep 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The abandoned bus on the way down from Usuitoge; the last hour of the climb up Nenouetoge; the fabulous variety of the accommodation; the (very amusing) shock of Kuruizawa after four days in the bush and most previously the quiet
dignity of Narai. Eating fubu. The tour of the rafter structure of the ryokan at Narai. The nightly feasts.

But that's the short list.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you take every opportunity to walk. The two long walks are both, for different reasons, outstanding experiences. They're not talked up in the notes nearly as well as they should be.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Probably helped the ryokans with off season trade. Quite a lot of cheerful interaction along the way. Apart from train travel, very limited environmental impact. Conservation of the natural or historical social environment? Probably limitd
impact either way.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was all a very fine experience. Terrific organisation, didn't miss a beat anywhere; great choices of accommodation/food. It was our fourth week in Japan which made it easier, but it also was a consummate way to finish up. The combination of physical, topographical and cultural stimulation provided by this sort of travel is very very hard to beat. There were several occasions where I was simply floaty with delight. A knockout.

The five star criterion suggests uniqueness, but we've had other wonderful experiences doing similar things in other parts of the world. Equal best. Wonderful. A '5' if I can say that.

Reviewed on 28 Apr 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing the old villages and towns along our walk - meeting so many friendly and helpful people in surroundings completely different from our own.
And the food - different, flavorful, every meal exquisitely presented and excellent.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


The monastery at Koya San is NOT centrally heated, but very efficient kerosene heaters are provided. It is not as basic as was anticipated - the welcome, onsen bath surroundings were great and the cuisine though vegetarian was superb

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Certainly benefitted local people. Our environmental impact was hopefully minimal.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent plus. Logistically, gastronomically, scenically - in every way

Popular similar holidays

Kumano Kodo walking holiday, Japan

Kumano Kodo walking holiday, Japan

Village to village walking in the sacred Kii Peninsula

From £2615 9 days excluding flights

Kumano Kodo trail self guided walking holiday, Japan

Kumano Kodo trail self guided walking holiday, Japan

Self guided walking on the Kumano Kodo Trail

From £740 - £1585 9 days excluding flights

Nakasendo Trail walking tour, Japan

Nakasendo Trail walking tour, Japan

Village-to-village walking on the historic Nakasendo trail

From £3350 12 days excluding flights

Shikoku Pilgrimage self guided walking tour, Japan

Shikoku Pilgrimage self guided walking tour, Japan

Shikoku 88 Pilgimage route self-guided walking

From £885 - £1725 10 days excluding flights

Convert currencies