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.

16 Reviews of Japan self guided walking holiday, Nakasendo Trail

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Reviewed on 26 Oct 2017 by

Experiencing a completely different culture was the highlight. Read full review

Reviewed on 10 Aug 2017 by

The walks through the ancient forests of Japan were above expectation, but the highlight I think was staying in the Ryokan - the charm and character of the inns and our hosts and the total immersion into a traditional Japanese experience with their tatami rooms, onsen baths and local cuisine. Read full review

Reviewed on 24 May 2017 by

Excellent, looking forward to traveling with you again. Read full review

Reviewed on 02 May 2017 by

We loved the beautiful walks and meeting the super kind inn keepers. A highlight was the tea house on the way to Tsumago, in the rain. Read full review

Reviewed on 28 Aug 2017 by

All the walking was memorable and parts (like seeing a bear and encountering leeches) were exciting. The food was exciting too! Read full review

Reviewed on 24 Apr 2017 by

We loved the whole thing - staying in the traditional inns, the self-guided hiking, the beautiful scenery, the hot spring bathing areas and, of course, the food. The hike meanders through forests, bamboo groves, and through villages and hamlets, so there is a wonderful glimpse of old Japan to see. Read full review

Reviewed on 30 Mar 2017 by

The trail was remote, stunning, quiet and interesting. The ryokans were spotless and the food fresh and continuing perfect. Read full review

Reviewed on 07 May 2017 by

Good walking, countryside/scenery, cherry blossom and Japanese Inns (Ryokan). Read full review

Reviewed on 22 Sep 2016 by

Superior! Read full review

Reviewed on 17 May 2016 by

Whilst the journey is a delightful walk, stop and enjoy the culture along the way. Read full review

Reviewed on 16 Apr 2016 by

Best bits: Walking the remote sections of Trail. Tour of Nara Read full review

Reviewed on 29 Sep 2015 by

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. Read full review

Reviewed on 01 Sep 2015 by

Great, the organisation was very good, the cultural immersion was inspiring and the landscape was surprising. Read full review

Reviewed on 08 Jun 2015 by

Best bit: Walking through remote woods and forests on the Nakasendo trail and coming across ancient shrines and stonework commemorating centuries old samurai battles. Read full review

Reviewed on 16 Sep 2013 by

It was all a very fine experience. Terrific organisation, didn't miss a beat anywhere; great choices of accommodation/food. 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. Read full review

Reviewed on 28 Apr 2013 by

Excellent...in every way. The most memorable parts were... 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. Read full review

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