A self-guided walking tour along a continuous route through central Japan.
Self-guided version of Walk Japan’s pioneering Nakasendo Way. An excellent, guided introduction to Japan following the mid-section of an historical road in central Japan; great walking through rural, hilly countryside with expansive views; atmospheric traditional inns, local cuisine and a wealth of interest.
Year-round. Subject to accommodation availability, it is possible to start Wayfarer tours on any date. For more information please contact us.
The Nakasendo Wayfarer is a self-guided tour suitable for anyone who can walk for more than four hours in comfort. In general, the route is gently undulating but also includes some short, steeper climbs. Please read more on Tour Levels here.
A 7 day, 6 night tour starting in Ena, near Nagoya, and finishing in Tokyo. Tour accommodation is in Japanese inns and hotels. Group size minimum one, maximum six. For more information please contact us.
Walk Japan’s Nakasendo Wayfarer is an unescorted walking tour exploring the historical Nakasendo Way between the town of Ena and Tokyo. This tour, which can be comfortably undertaken independently, utilises Walk Japan’s extensive expertise derived from pioneering guided walking tours of the Nakasendo Way and provides you with a unique, intimate experience of Japan and its people.
The Nakasendo Wayfarer takes you to the most enjoyable, scenic and best-preserved parts of the old highway, into the mountainous region of Japan’s Southern Alps via the delightful Kiso Valley and, finally, onto the giant metropolis of Tokyo. The tour also includes a visit to the picturesque Kaida Plateau, which justifies its reputation as one of Japan’s most beautiful areas.
In its heyday in the 17th Century, the Nakasendo Way was crowded with travellers including feudal lords, samurai, itinerant merchants, pilgrims and villagers. Now largely forgotten and quiet, the old road provides a delightful journey through scenic countryside and also the history of Japan, its society and rural life. The Nakasendo Wayfarer Tour traces the history of feudal lords, princesses, samurai, artisans, merchants, entertainers and farmers, who once made their way along the old highway.
The Japanese are a delightful, friendly and helpful people. You will have ample opportunity to meet and share in the stories of those who still live and work along the route as you walk in the footsteps of the travellers of old along country roads and forest trails; past paddy fields and remote farmhouses; over passes and through old post towns. Some of the post towns, which line the old highway, have been providing respite and refuge for centuries and still retain a charm of another age, the Edo Period and the days of the samurai. Here we find the traditional, wayside inns that provide you with friendly and atmospheric overnight accommodation at the end of a day’s walk. In an ambience reminiscent of the scenes found in the great artist Hiroshige’s woodblock prints, you relax in distinctively Japanese surroundings of paper screens and straw mat tatami flooring. Japanese baths, which in some inns are sourced from onsen thermal hot springs, are an excellent way to relax and luxuriate in at the end of the day. Your hosts provide you with a warm welcome and feasts of home-cooked, regional cuisine, many of the ingredients of which they will have grown or sourced from the surrounding forests themselves.
Starting in Ena, which is easily reached by train from Nagoya, the Nakasendo Wayfarer tour takes you through some old, picture-postcard post towns including Magome, Tsumago and Narai. En route an excursion along the old Hida Kaido spur road is included to take you to the beautiful Kaida Plateau. The volcanic Mt. Ontake provides a dramatic backdrop to the Plateau, which is dotted by hamlets surrounded by fields used to grow the soba buckwheat and blueberries the area is famous for. Finally, we cross from Karuizawa, a one-time post town and now upmarket mountain resort, over the Usui Pass to the Kanto Plain, before finishing your journey in central Tokyo.
The Nakasendo Wayfarer includes easy-to-follow, detailed instructions on how to join and prepare for the tour. The daily walking distance is between 10-24kms (6.2-14.9 miles) and options are provided to lengthen or shorten the daily itinerary to suit your energy levels. Several passes need to be negotiated along the route but these can be climbed at a comfortable pace and usually take less than 30 minutes to reach the top. Your main baggage, sent ahead by courier, is with you each evening for every night of the tour except one. On one morning a taxi is reserved to transfer you to the start of a more remote walking path. Also, a Japan Rail Pass Coupon, which is sent to you prior to your tour, is included to provide you with easy train transfer to the start of and for the duration of your tour to Tokyo.
Price: From JPY224,000 and single supplement JPY32,000 (JPY = Japanese Yen) per person. Please use the currency converter on the right-hand side of this page to find the current rate in your local currency. See Booking Conditions.
Group size: Minimum one person, maximum six persons.
What is included?
A Pre-Tour Pack. This is sent to you via email after receiving your booking and deposit payment. The Pack includes details on how to prepare for your Wayfarer Tour, how to travel from your arrival point in Japan to the accommodation at the start of your tour, weather advice, check list, etc.
A Wayfarer Route Booklet and Wayfarer Supplementary Information. The former, which is provided to you at your first night’s accommodation, is an easily portable small format book including detailed maps, photos, local site information (lunch recommendations, historical context, etc.), and precise walking directions. The latter is provided in a digital format for use on your own mobile device.
Click here for a sample of the Wayfarer booklet.
Click here for a sample of the Wayfarer Supplementary Information.
6-nights' accommodation, 6 breakfasts and 6 dinners.
Main baggage transfer between your accommodation.
Seven-day Japan Rail Pass Coupon, which is sent to you pre-tour. This is for train travel to the tour start point in Ena, throughout your tour and to its end in Tokyo.
One reserved taxi transfer to the start of a walking path, which is otherwise inaccessible by public transport.
In-country (Japan), 24-hour English-language emergency support.
What is not included?
Not included are flights, all lunches and drinks with meals, taxi transfers other than those noted above.
Please see the Itinerary for this tour by clicking on the button found further up this page.
Further information about the history of the Nakasendo Way is available at our complementary website Nakasendo Way: A Journey to the Heart of Japan.
Please note that on Day 6 your main baggage will be shipped in advance overnight to your post-tour accommodation. On this day all items you require for overnight will need to be carried by yourself and your daypack should be sufficiently big enough to accommodate these items.
Day 1 Ena
The tour itinerary starts upon check-in at your accommodation in Ena. Once a post-town on the Nakasendo Way it is now a small, regional town and provides a convenient point to begin your tour. Your stay overnight here is in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Aside the Nakasendo Way, the inn was founded in 1624 and your hostesses comprise three generations; respectively the 13th, 14th and 15th of the original innkeeper’s family line.
An early arrival in Ena is recommended to allow a visit to the informative and entertaining Hiroshige Museum of Art. Dedicated to the famous woodblock print artist, who depicted many scenes of Edo Japan including all the post-towns of the Nakasendo Way, the museum displays many of his prints and provides a hands-on exhibition of print making. Though be sure to make it back to your inn in time for dinner, the first feast of your tour.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: N/A.
Total elevation gain: N/A.
Day 2 Ena - Nakatsugawa - Shinchaya
This morning after breakfast you step out and begin your walk of the Nakasendo Way. Just over 12km distant along largely quiet country lanes over gently undulating terrain is Nakatsugawa. En route are many of the first wayside temples, shrines and stone statutes and markers that are typical of all the ancient roads of Japan. The scenery changes from town to rural and back to the town as you approach Nakatsugawa. On a clear day, along the way you may see in the far distance Mt. Ontake, the volcano that becomes a near neighbour on Day 4.
Nakatsugawa has many different restaurants to enjoy lunch at including an excellent one that serves the local delicacy, eel. A large supermarket also provides an interesting look at daily Japanese life and multi-varied foods to select from.
From Nakatsugawa, the route is akin to a helter-skelter combining a series of steep climbs and descents. No ascent takes longer than 5-10 minutes with the exception of the final long ascent, which takes about 40 minutes. This afternoon the scenery opens up for views across valleys before the route follows traditional ishidatami stone paving through a forest. En route you pass through the quiet post-town of Ochiai, which still retains its honjin top-class inn. A rare feature, it has remarkably survived into the modern age, though unfortunately is no longer in business. At the top of the final climb appears your inn, a pretty establishment in an idyllic, rural setting. Inside a warm welcome awaits you from the host and hostess, as does a refreshing bath to relax in. You will also find here your main luggage, which was brought here from Ena by vehicle. Dinner is compsed of many dishes of local delicacies, both grown and caught by your host. Afterwards an evening stroll in traditional geta wooden clogs along the road is recommended.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: 18 km (11 miles).
Total elevation gain: 425m (1,394ft).
Day 3 Shinchaya - Magome - Tsumago
Following breakfast, the first 30 minutes takes you through bucolic surroundings of paddy fields set against a backdrop of mountains and past farmhouses with neatly tended gardens strung along your route. Magome, a post-town set unusually on the side of a mountain is your initial destination this morning. The first of several elegant villages you visit on this tour, it was the birthplace of Shimazaki Toson, Japan’s first modern novelist and author of Before the Dawn. His novel eloquently describes Japan's transition from feudal to modern society in his home town.
Today, few of its many visitors stay in Magome but there are many cafés to relax in and shops to browse through. Enjoy expansive views across to Mt. Ena before continuing on the Nakasendo Way up the appropriately named Magome Pass.
From the top your route now gently meanders downhill, on a forest path, through cedar forests, past clear running mountain streams and waterfalls. An Edo-period teahouse in a clearing in the forest still exists much as it would in days of old and provides a picturesque place to rest and take refreshment. Eventually, you reach Tsumago post town. The inhabitants of Tsumago take great pride in their town and preserve it much as it would have looked like in the Edo Period. Tsumago is delightful to stroll through and the post-town’s high class inn, once reserved only for the top samurai, is now a museum providing an informative look at life here over the ages. An option this evening to go either straight to your inn or make a detour by taxi to the local onsen thermal hot spring baths. Your inn tonight is just outside Tsumago in a lovely hamlet aside a river.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: 10km (6.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: 461m (1,512ft).
Day 4 Tsumago - Nagiso - Kiso-Fukushima
A morning walk of approximately 6km from Tsumago to Nagiso follows the old highway through picturesque hamlets and fields. In the late morning, you can take one of two routes to Kiso-Fukushima, your final destination today.
Course A, the first route, is a long walk of approximately 15km up and over the Nenoue Pass, through scenic mountain countryside before descending to Nojiri. From here trains depart for Kiso-Fukushima.
Course B allows for a relaxed day by taking the train from Nagiso to Kiso-Fukushima allowing you ample time to explore both Nagiso and Kiso-Fukushima. The former has an intriguing footbridge bridge spanning the Kiso River and a small museum, which was once home to Momosuke, who built the bridge, and his partner Sadayakko, one time geisha and a colourful character. She travelled to the USA and Europe and, creating a sensation, appeared on the front of the Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1900. Kiso-Fukushima has an excellent soba buckwheat restaurant, a famous lacquer shop and a Buddhist temple containing one of Japan’s largest Zen rock gardens.
Your accommodation tonight is in a modern ryokan in the centre of town. Onsen baths and a sumptuous evening meal also await you here.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: Route A: 23km (14.3 miles); Route B: 8-10km (5-6.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: Route A: 714m (2,340ft); Route B: 107m (351ft).
Day 5 Kiso - Kaida Plateau
In a deep valley and at the confluence of two rivers, Kiso-Fukushima was an ideal strategic defensive location and known throughout the land for its sekisho checkpoint, which controlled all traffic along the Nakasendo Way. A reconstruction of the checkpoint provides interesting insights into it use by the Shogun to maintain his power.
A reserved taxi transfers you from your inn to the Karasawa-no-taki, a towering waterfall, and the beginning point of today’s walk. From here a forest trail takes you over the Jizo Pass and down to the beautiful Kaida Plateau in time for lunch. Restaurants include a café, run by a lovely couple retired here from city life, and a soba noodle restaurant. Your route across the Plateau passes through a horse ranch, which specialises in breeding the stocky, local Kiso horse. From here a bus to your inn or, for the more energetic, an afternoon walk up and over the Nishino Pass, which on a clear day, offers spectacular views over the Plateau to imposing Mt. Ontake, and Japan’s Central and Northern Alps.
At your inn, another family-run concern, relax in onsen baths before yet another sumptuous dinner.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: 10-14km (6.2-8.7 miles).
Total elevation gain: 673m (2,200ft).
Day 6 Kaida Plateau - Narai - Karuizawa
A bus and train transfer to the start of today’s walk at Yabuhara post town. From here a 9km (5.6 miles) walk through forests, up and over the Torii Pass before descending into Narai, another scenic post-town. Narai is known for its unique architecture, boxwood combs and lacquer ware. The town’s pleasant ambience is matched by the congeniality of it townsfolk. Transfer from here by local train and the Shinkansen Bullet Train to arrive early evening at your accommodation in Karuizawa. More hot baths and another feast await you here.
Accommodation: Japanese inn.
Total walking: 9km (5.6 miles).
Total elevation gain: 373m (1,220ft).
Day 7 Karuizawa - Yokokawa - Tokyo
Your walk this morning is a gentle climb consisting of many switchbacks through beautiful maple forest to the top of the Usui Pass. From here on a clear day, views are afforded of yet another volcano, Mt. Asama. After visiting the Kumano Kotai Jinja, a shrine at the top of the Pass dedicated to the founding gods of Japan, a long descent along a forest trail brings you to Yokokawa station. Fromhere a local train and Shinkansen Bullet Train whisk you to Tokyo.
Accommodation tonight in Tokyo is not included in this tour but we are happy to provide recommendations if required.
Total walking: 16km (10 miles).
Total elevation gain: 438m (1,440ft).
The nearest airport to the starting point of Ena is Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport, with access easily achievable from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport and Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda International Airports.
FROM NAGOYA’S CENTRAL JAPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (NGO)
From Nagoya’s Central Japan International Airport Meitetsu Line trains depart to Ena via Nagoya. The journey takes approximately 1 hour 40 minutes.
FROM OSAKA’S KANSAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIX)
From Osaka’s Kansai International Airport Haruka Express trains depart to Shin-Osaka Station, from where Shinkansen bullet trains then depart for Nagoya. Change here for the JR Chuo Line train to Ena. The journey takes approximately 3 hours 15 minutes.
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. Change here for the JR Chuo Line train to Ena. The journey takes approximately 3 hours 20 minutes.
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. Change here for the JR Chuo Line for Ena. The journey takes approximately 4 hours 10 minutes.
Tour participants are advised not to book themselves out on a flight on Day 7 of the tour, as it ends in the evening in Tokyo.
After receiving the booking and deposit we will provide detailed instructions for travelling to the start of the tour, complete with a map of the vicinity of the first night’s accommodation.
Your personalized hard copy route booklet will be waiting for you at the front desk of the first night’s accommodation.
The Japan Rail Pass will be delivered to your home address. The Pass is designed to cover transportation on JR lines for the duration of the tour.