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Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road

Duration

5 Days , 4 Nights

Activity Level

Start / Finish

Nagoya / Matsumoto

Technical Level

A walking tour along a continuous route in central Japan.

The abridged version of Walk Japan’s Nakasendo Way tour focuses on the mid-section of this historical road through the mountains of central Japan; great walking with many of the attributes that made the Nakasendo Way a classic tour of Japan.

Year-round.

The Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road is a fully-guided tour suitable for anyone who is an occasional walker and can walk for more than three to four hours in comfort. In general, the route is gently undulating but also it includes some short, steeper climbs. Please read more on Tour Levels here.

 

Tour accommodation is in Japanese inns and hotels. The small, intimate nature of the inns makes the maximum group size 12 people. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.

 

The Kiso Road is one of the most beautiful sections of the Nakasendo Way, our original tour that has become the classic walking tour in Japan. This short-stay, fully-guided walking tour follows the ancient Nakasendo Way through the Kiso Valley of central Japan and also reaches the high alpine Kaida Plateau. Our route takes us into a world far removed from the modern bustle of Japan’s megacities. We travel through some of the most picturesque and historical villages in the nation, stay in rural family-run Japanese inns and relax in onsen thermal hot spring baths. Meals are a treat of Japanese cuisine, and because we are deep in the rural mountains of Japan, ingredients include many locally grown vegetables, morsels foraged in the surrounding mountains and fresh-water fish caught in the nearby streams and rivers.

 

The tour starts in Nagoya, from where we travel by train to the Kiso Road section of the Nakasendo Way. Soon afterwards, we begin our walk in the traditional countryside of stepped paddy fields, shrines, farmhouses with carefully tended gardens, woods and hills. Further into the hills, our trail takes us through deep verdant forests, past fast-flowing mountain streams and waterfalls before we reach our destination for the night, an atmospheric inn in a remote hamlet. Here, physically and emotionally, we are a long way from the big cities into the old heart of Japan.

 

The following day our travels take us through beautiful Tsumago, probably the best preserved post town in Japan, and further north, into the southern end of the Central Alps of Japan, where some of Japan’s highest mountains are found. We visit the Kaida Plateau, which we reach over a high pass of the old Hida Trail. This trail once linked to the Nakasendo Way but today barely anyone other than ourselves walks this route. Once over the pass we descend onto the Kaida Plateau. The Plateau is considered one of the most beautiful areas of Japan, not least because of the spectacular backdrop of Mt. Ontake, a sacred mountain and one of Japan’s largest volcanos. The onsen hot spring baths at our inn for the night provide a delightful way to relax before our dinner, another feast, together. Our final day on the road takes us back to the Nakasendo Way and over the Torii Pass, one of the old road’s highest points. We descend to Narai, another delightful old post town. Here we spend some time before travelling on to Matsumoto, a city surrounded by the mountains of Japan's Central Alps.

 

More information about the history of the Nakasendo highway is available at our complementary website: Nakasendo Way: A Journey to the Heart of Japan.

 
This original year-round itinerary for the Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road is ground-only, beginning in the early afternoon in Nagoya and ending in Matsumoto. We walk a moderate 34km (21.1 miles) over four days for a gentle introduction to the sights and experiences of travelling the old highway.

 

Day 1 Nagoya – Ena


The tour meets in Nagoya Station at 2pm for transfer by train to Ena. Before retiring to our accommodation, our first Japanese inn experience of the tour, we pay a visit to a charming local museum. The Walk Japan tour leader holds a briefing over dinner, a beautifully presented kaiseki traditional dinner.

 

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Dinner provided.
Total walking: N/A.
Total elevation gain: N/A.

 

Day 2 Ena - O-tsumago


After breakfast, we travel by train and taxi to the southern gateway of the Kiso Valley. From here we begin our walk along the Kiso Road section of the Nakasendo Way and follow this ancient road past paddy fields and quiet farmhouses to the pleasant post town of Magome, which was the home of Shimazaki Toson. Toson wrote Before the Dawn, a novel set in the days of Japan’s change from a feudal country dominated by the samurai to a fledgling industrial nation. The book is considered to be Japan's first modern novel. We continue onto O-tsumago, for the classic hike over Magome Pass, through old forests and past pristine mountain streams. O-tsumago is a lovely hamlet of a few traditional houses and inns set in a valley, aside a fast-flowing river.

 

Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
Total walking: 10km (6.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: 461m (1,510ft).


 

Day 3 O-tsumago - Kaida Plateau - Kiso-Fukushima


After an early breakfast we set off again along the Nakasendo for nearby Tsumago, a beautifully maintained, traditional post town. We spend a little time exploring before continuing on our way for about 6 kilometres (3.75 miles) to Nagiso. Here an interesting footbridge provides us with a hint of two colourful people once associated with the area; a geisha, who appeared on the front cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1900, and her tycoon partner, who built the first of the many hydro-electric power stations found in the Kiso Valley.

 

We catch a local train to Kiso-Fukushima for the beginning of our walk over a pass on the Hida Road, an old trail that connected with the Nakasendo Way that leads us through forests to the Kaida Plateau. The plateau is dominated by the sacred Mt. Ontake, an active volcano that provides an impressive backdrop to one of the most picturesque areas of Japan. We return to Kiso-Fukushima and our accommodation, a delightful inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths, for the night.

 

Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Total walking: 12km (7.5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 371m (1,215ft).


 

Day 4 Kiso-Fukushima - Narai - Matsumoto


After breakfast, we transfer by local train to Yabuhara, from where we rejoin the Nakasendo Way to climb the Torii Pass. The pass is named after the Shinto torii gate, which marks one of four protective sites surrounding Mt. Ontake. At 1,197 meters, the Torii Pass is also the second highest point on the Nakasendo. Our descent from here takes us along narrow mountain paths until we emerge at the outskirts of Narai, a lovely post town. Here we have free time to explore, relax in cafes, and shop in this well-preserved and atmospheric town before transferring by train to Matsumoto. We walk to our hotel, a charming and comfortable establishment in the centre of the city, where we enjoy our last dinner together.

 

Accommodation: Hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
Total walking: 10km (6.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: 373m (1,220ft).


 

Day 5 Matsumoto


Breakfast is followed by a guided visit to Matsumoto Castle, the keep of which is an impressive structure, symbolic of the powerful samurai clan that once controlled this region. Now a rarity, it is one of only four keeps listed as National Treasures in Japan. The tour finishes after visiting the castle but the city has plenty more to explore if you wish to do so, including the Matsumoto Art Gallery, which has an excellent permanent collection of work by Kusama Yayoi, probably Japan’s most famous living artist.

 

Express trains connect Matsumoto to Tokyo and Nagoya, where onward Shinkansen bullet trains speed to Kyoto. Your Walk Japan tour leader will be on hand to help you purchase your train tickets for your onward journey.
 

Accommodation: N/A.
Meals: Breakfast provided.
Total walking: 2km (1.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: N/A.


 

This itinerary is subject to change.

 

For more information about the history of the Nakasendo highway is available at our complementary website Nakasendo Way: A Journey to the Heart of Japan.

 
Map image
The itinerary for the Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road tour is ground-only, beginning in Nagoya and ending in Matsumoto.

 

The airport closest to the tour’s start at Nagoya is Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport. Transport is also easily made from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport and both Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.
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FROM NAGOYA’S CENTRAL JAPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (NGO)
From Nagoya’s Central Japan International Airport, Meitetsu Line trains depart to Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY1,340, per person and takes approximately 40 minutes.
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FROM OSAKA’S KANSAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIX)
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, Haruka Express trains depart to Shin-Osaka Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY8,300 per person and takes approximately 2 hours.
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FROM TOKYO’S HANEDA AIRPORT (HND)
From Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, Keikyu Line trains depart to Shinagawa Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY11,090 per person and takes approximately 2 hours.
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FROM TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT (NRT)
From Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Narita Express trains depart to Tokyo Station, where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Nagoya. The journey costs about JPY13,470 per person and takes approximately 3 hours.

 

The pre-tour pack includes detailed instructions, including a map, for travel to the accommodation at the start of the tour.

 

Tour participants are advised not to book themselves out on an early morning flight at the end of the tour, as the journey from Matsumoto to the nearest international airport takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.

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