Hiking the Nakasendo Trail

November 24, 2009

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

I first heard about the Nakasendo Trail from the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

Not that I actually own a copy of the book or have even read the book. That would just be too much pressure for my perpetually slow traveling self. l already have a list of about 20 places I want to see before I die and considering the fact that I travel at the same pace as continental drift,  I better not die until I’m about 420 years old!

Some friends who were visiting me in Japan had told me about the trail having read about it in the book, and ever since then I’ve wanted to do it.

That was two years ago. The trail is only about 5 hours more or less from my doorstep via various modes of transportation, but yet it’s taken me two years to get around to doing it.

Do you understand why it’s best I don’t get it in my head to visit 999 more places?

The Nakasendo trail is the 310-mile Edo period post road that connected Kyoto, the capitol at the time, with Tokyo, an up-and-coming economic center.

Obviously, these days, there are quicker ways to get between Kyoto and Tokyo, but portions of the road are still preserved and serve as popular hiking trails.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

Sign for the hiking trail

The five-mile portion of the trail that we were planning to hike connects two restored villages,Tsumago and Magome. These towns have been called Japan’s version of Colonial Williamsburg. They’re chock-full of old-timey houses, shops and inns. TV antennas and electric wires have been tucked out of sight, and city ordinances have been passed to prevent the selling or destroying of any of the original buildings in the towns.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

The adorable, old-timey streets of Tsumago

Getting to Tsumago requires taking a number of trains from Nagoya. And seeing as small towns in the backwoods of Japan operate on a whole different time table than Japan’s bustling metropolises, it can take a lot of time to get there. My friend and I found ourselves waiting in one train station for an hour and a half just to catch a train that would take us only four stops.

When we finally arrived in Tsumago, it was too late to start the hike but we had plenty of time to explore the town, which was, as promised, chock-full of all quaint, old-timey buildings and quaint old-timey cobble-stoned streets filled with quaint, old-timey people. Or, umm, just really old people. As the average tourist to Tsumago is about ninety-billion years old.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

Strolling through the streets of Tsumago

After a pleasant stroll through town and a relaxing night at our inn in Tsumago, we woke up bright and early to begin our hiking expedition. The easy, five-mile hike was covered in beautiful fall leaves and took us past a few waterfalls, a small tea house and a couple cute little villages.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

Along the hiking trail

We finally hit Magome, which was also chock-full of quaint, old-timey buildings and quaint, old-timey cobble-stone streets and quaint, old-timey (or, err, old) people.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

The equally adorable Magome.

And a quaint, old-timey vending machine or two.

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail / Unbrave Girl

Ye olde vending machines of Magome

Tsumago and Magome may not exactly be “The Colonial Williamsburgs of Japan.” I mean, you just try to get yourself a Coke Zero in Williamsburg!

They were more like “The Japan of Japan”: beautiful old buildings and pleasant surprises tucked in between some vending machines and parking lots and a few Ye Olde Tour Buses.

All in all, the trip made for a very pleasant two days — made all the more pleasant by the fact that I didn’t have to deprive myself of my daily Coke Zero fix!


For more information on hiking the Nakasendo Way, including how to get there, check out this post on Japan Guide. 

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means I can earn a small commission for any purchases made at no extra cost to you. Which means more donuts for me! Yay!

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