A gently-paced self-guided walking tour along Japan's greatest historic road aside the Pacific Ocean coast.
A self-guided gastronomic walking adventure introducing historic and modern Japan while exploring an ancient highway stretching from Tokyo to Kyoto. Easy to moderate walking through urban and rural countryside; traditional and modern inns, multi-course traditional cuisine.
A 6-day, 5-night tour starting in Hakone-Yumoto and finishing in Kurami Onsen, near Kakegawa. Tour accommodation is in Japanese inns, some with onsen hot spring baths, and hotels. For more information please contact us.
The Tokaido Wayfarer is a self-guided walking and gastronomic adventure following the central section of Japan’s greatest ancient highway, the Tokaido, in Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefectures. This historic road reached its apogee in the Edo Period (1603–1868), when the samurai dominated Japan. Travellers included the high and mighty on their way east to pay tribute at the Shogun’s court in Edo, now known the capital Tokyo, and also the everyday folk who were given permission to leave their villages, perhaps only once in their lives, on pilgrimage to the grand imperial shrine at Ise. The Tokaido played such a pivotal role in the social, economic and cultural development of the nation that it still resonates deeply amongst all Japanese to this day.
However, few now make the journey on foot along the old road and, instead, ride the Tokaido Shinkansen, Japan’s world-famous bullet train and 20th Century symbol of Japan’s economic and technological prowess. These speed regularly between Tokyo and Kyoto at 285km (177 miles) per hour and afford little time to contemplate its much older namesake. Your significantly more sedate, human-paced journey over six days connects some of the most interesting sections of the Tokaido in Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefectures, along quiet paths and minor roads that often belie the Tokaido’s former status as the nation’s major transport artery. Starting in Yumoto, the gateway to Hakone, an epitome of Japanese onsen hot spring towns, your journey takes you west through towns including Yui, Okitsu, Kanaya, and Nissaka. These once flourished as post-towns, where travellers found and can still find sustenance and shelter, but are now largely backwaters overlooked by almost all making the journey between Tokyo and Kyoto.
Among the many who did once set forth on the old highway was Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), who in 1832 made his way along the Tokaido’s 490km (305 miles) length from Kyoto to Edo. The experience culminated in his exquisitely detailed and elegantly stylistic Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido series of woodblock prints, which illustrate the daily life upon and aside the road in an earlier age. Best sellers since they were first produced, Hiroshige’s prints popularised the Tokaido, cementing its appeal in the collective imagination of the Japanese to this day. After being prized by the earliest western travellers, which include Basil Hall Chamberlain and Isabella Bird, to Japan in the 19th Century, Hiroshige’s prints influenced Manet, Monet and Van Gogh amongst others. Intriguingly, it is still possible to match today’s scenery with Hiroshige’s depictions and we use them as your historic visual companion to the Tokaido Wayfarer.
While most of the old inns, once found in all the post towns, did not survived into 21st Century, the essence of the Tokaido has been kept alive, in part, through meibutsu, literally ‘famous items’ that are, in fact, gorgeous morsels of food. Each post-town perfected one or more distinct and tasty meibutsu to tempt, then satiate passing travellers of old. These include sweetly fermented amazake rice drink, chikara mochi pounded rice cake, vividly pink sakura-ebi tiny shrimp, and tororo-jiru grated yam soup. Added to which, Shizuoka is the centre of Japan’s green tea production and it is used widely here as an ingredient and flavouring well-beyond the obvious use in making the classic beverage. So exceptional are the Tokaido’s meibutsu that they are are still relished to this day long outliving the heyday of the Tokaido itself and are, of course, a feature of your tour.
The Tokaido Wayfarer is an easily accomplished journey through the heart of Japan’s history, culture and society both by foot but also on Japan’s excellent public transport system. Your accommodation includes three nights at traditional Japanese inns, two of which include luxuriant relaxing onsen hot spring baths, and two nights at comfortable western-style hotels with ensuite facilities.
The tour includes easy-to-follow, detailed instructions on how to join and prepare for the tour. The daily walking distance is between 8 – 14kms (5 – 8.7 miles) and options are provided to shorten the daily itinerary to suit your energy levels. There are some hill passes to be negotiated along the route but these are not high and can be climbed at a comfortable pace to the top. Your main baggage, which is sent ahead by courier, is with you each evening on each night of your tour.
What is included?
A pre-tour pack. 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, checklist and so forth. Pre-tour packs are sent as PDF attachments by e-mail no later than two calendar months prior to the tour start date but typically earlier than this, often upon receipt of a completed manifest form.
A Wayfarer Route Booklet, which is provided to you at your first night’s accommodation, is an easily portable book including detailed maps, photographs, local site information such as lunch recommendations, historical background, and accurate instructions for walking the tour route.
Click here for a sample of the Wayfarer booklet.
Click here for a sample of the Wayfarer Supplementary Information.
5-nights’ accommodation, 5 breakfasts and 3 dinners. You are never far from food on this tour - balance your walking with our recommendations for delicious lunches and snacks en-route, and a choice of local restaurants on the two evenings when dinner is not included.
Main baggage transfer between accommodation.
One private vehicle transfer.
In-country (Japan), 24-hour English-language emergency support.
What is not included?
Not included are flights, lunches and drinks with meals, two dinners and transfers other than those noted in the itinerary.
Day 1 Hakone-Yumoto
Your tour starts in the popular hot spring resort of Hakone-Yumoto, which is easily accessed by Japan’s peerless rail system. The aptly named Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train and Tokaido Main Line both follow, to a greater or lesser extent, the route of the old Tokaido highway from Tokyo Station. Alternatively, the intriguingly named Romancecar express train takes a very different route from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station.
Travellers of old also enjoyed rapid and easy passage, albeit on foot, from Edo, the feudal name of modern-day Tokyo, across the flat and expansive Kanto Plain to Yumoto. However, they would arrive with a sense of pleasure tempered with trepidation. This small town boasts onsen hot springs, the first found along the Tokaido, and here all would enjoy a therapeutic bathe while steeling themselves for what lay ahead. For beyond Yumoto lay the Hakone hachi ri; 32 kilometres of strenuous mountainous terrain, including the towering Hakone Pass, to Mishima.
Your accommodation for the night provides onsen baths for you, like travellers over the ages, to throughly relax in. Your hosts also serve excellent local cuisine for dinner, sustenance for an ideal start to your tour.
Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Dinner provided.
Total walking: N/A.
Total elevation gain: N/A.
Day 2 Tokyo – Hakone – Mishima
The climb to the Hakone Pass, which lies 846 metres above sea level, was considered the most difficult section of the Tokaido to traverse. Hiroshige’s print depicts precipitous terrain in one of his Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido, and a traditional local folk song proclaims:
The mountains of Hakone are the steepest in the world
Very high mountains with a bottomless ravines…..
Depending on the distance you choose to walk today, these lyrical boasts may not feel like such an exaggeration. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a regular local bus, the route of which intersects from time to time with the Tokaido as you make the climb. Your journey to the top is on forest trails, roads and also passes through Hatajuku, a peaceful hamlet where the inhabitants have specialised in yosegi-zaiku marquetry since the Edo Period.
Just short of the pass is Amazake-Jaya, an isolated but richly atmospheric thatched teahouse. Relax here while enjoying the first of the Tokaido’s meibutsu sumptuous morsels of food; amazake sweetened fermented rice drink and chikara mochi pounded rice cake.
A little further on the path is paved with ishidatami uneven stones, an indication that the top of the pass is close by. The descent from the summit quickly leads to an avenue of namiki cedar trees. Planted in the earliest days of the Edo Period, these trees have been towering for centuries over all who passed through here and make an impressive entrance to the site of the old post-town at Hakone aside Ashi-no-ko, a scenic caldera lake. Weather permitting, here one of Japan’s classic natural panoramas opens up across the waters to Mt. Fuji.
During the Edo Period, Hakone was widely-known for its sekisho, a barrier checkpoint that straddled the Tokaido and regulated passage. Directly controlled by the Shogun, it was a place to be feared on pain of death by any lacking the appropriate documentation or concealing contraband. The sekisho has been reconstructed and, together with the excellent associated museum, is well-worth a visit for the fascinating glimpses into Edo Period history and life on the old highway it provides.
Having safely secured passage this far, the remainder of the journey to Mishima is made comfortably on a local bus. Hiroshige’s print of Mishima includes mist-shrouded torii gates, the sacred entrance to Mishima Taisha grand shrine. Constructed by the great warrior Minamoto Yoritomo in the 11th Century after his prayers for victory over the rival Heike clan were answered, it became a popular site of pilgrimage for samurai, especially in the Edo Period when it was patronised by the ruling Tokugawa shoguns.
Your accommodation for the evening is a nearby hotel in the centre of town. This evening provides the opportunity to explore the local nightlife for dinner. We provide our selected choice of local establishments, which includes restaurants specialising in unagi grilled eel, Mishima's specialty meibutsu. Alternatively, you may prefer an izakaya, where the large and varied menu caters to everyone's tastes.
Meals: Breakfast provided.
Total walking: 8km (5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 610m (2000ft).
Day 3 Mishima – Kambara – Yui – Okitsu
After a leisurely breakfast, a short stroll brings you to Mishima Station for transfer by local train on the Tokaido Main Line to Kambara Station. From here, a gentle walk brings you to the old post-town of Yui and the excellent Tokaido Hiroshige Art Museum. The museum contains a collection of over 1,400 original woodblock prints by Hiroshige and other contemporary print makers of his time. The museum exhibits the prints in rotation, either in their original series or grouped by themes. It also has a permanent exhibition describing how prints are made and you may try your hand at making some of your own.
Our recommendation for lunch is a delightful family-run restaurant that has been serving dishes featuring Yui’s vividly pink and tiny sakura-ebi shrimp meibutsu for over 100 years. The restaurant is close by the shore of Suruga Bay, the sole source of sakura-ebi in Japan and the largest one of only two in the world. Suruga Bay, which plunges to 2,500m, is also one of the deepest bodies of water anywhere on the planet and from these hidden depths rises Mt. Fuji, which towers 3,776m over the bay. Hiroshige superbly depicted this scene in another of his print series, the Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji.
The Tokaido continues on through an urban landscape, but one that still retains a feel of an older age, before reaching an easy climb through citrus groves to the Satta Pass. Here the views open once again to Mt. Fuji, this time over the open seas of Suruga Bay. Not surprisingly, Hiroshige made the most of the opportunity and depicts the spectacular scene in the Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido.
Beyond is Okitsu, a post-town brought to the fore by Oliver Statler in his book A Japanese Inn. As Minaguchiya, the inn celebrated by Statler, has long been closed, your accommodation tonight is another but no less interesting inn, which has been welcoming guests for over 200 years through seven generations of the same family. Amadai tilefish is the meibutsu speciality here and, the day’s fishing catch permitting, it will feature in your evening meal, a traditional multi-course feast.
Accommodation: Japanese Inn.
Meals: Breakfast and dinner provided.
Total walking: 12km (7.4 miles).
Total elevation gain: 227m (744ft).
Day 4 Okitsu - Mariko - Utsunoya - Fujieda
After a hearty Japanese breakfast, you board another local train on the Tokaido Main Line that whisks you to Abekawa. Here a pleasant walk aside a river brings you to Mariko, once one of the smallest post-towns on the Tokaido. Mariko still retains a charming atmosphere that is epitomised by Choji-ya, the historic thatched restaurant that Hiroshige featured in a print.
Choji-ya has been run by fourteen generations of the same family since 1596. Although famed for its tororo-jiru grated yam soup, Choji-ya’s menu also provides other delectable dishes for a satisfying lunch in a historic setting. The restaurant also has its own large collection of Hiroshige woodblock prints, and a selection of these are always on display to be enjoyed before food is served.
Following lunch, a short journey by bus covers the ground to Utsunoya, another charming hamlet, and the start of a circular walk over and around the Utsunoya Pass. Here the original trail has been continually evolving since the Edo Period as new roads were built, each superseding the other to create an intriguing network of braided routes. The outward journey follows the original Tokaido to the top of the pass, and en route a short diversion leads you to the first ever toll tunnel in Japan. Long closed to road traffic, the now abandoned tunnel provides silently evocative surroundings, quite unlike anything else on this tour, to stroll through. Further on, you circuit back to Utsunoya along a narrow river valley and through mixed forests following the Tsuta-no-hoso-michi, a path of much greater antiquity than the Tokaido.
Another local bus for onward journey to Fujieda and your evening’s hotel accommodation. Dinner is not included this evening, but once again we provide our select choice of local establishments for you to make the most of your evening.
Meals: Breakfast provided.
Total walking: 8 km (5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 319m (1050ft).
Day 5 Fujieda – Shimada – Nissaka – Kurami Onsen
This morning another train transfers you to nearby Shimada, for a walk across the Oi-gawa, one of a number of very wide rivers that the Tokaido traverses. A Edo Period song intones that:
With horses anyone can cross the Hakone hachi ri, (The 32 kilometres of mountain trails you explored in part on Day 2) but crossing the Oi River in any circumstance is no simple matter.
During the Edo Period, the Shogun used the Oi-gawa as a natural line of defence, prohibiting the construction of bridges and the use of boats. Instead, travellers were physically carried across on the backs of porters, who waded from one shore to the other. However, as the porters were subject to penalties for poor service, which included execution for dropping and losing a customer to the currents, they would only attempt the crossing in favourable conditions. Consequently, any extended bouts of rain would leave travellers stranded on the banks until the river flow had subsided sufficiently.
Today, regardless of weather conditions, crossing the Oi-gawa is easily accomplished over a bridge, beyond which you rejoin the old highway and walk as far as the post-town of Nissaka. En route you pass through pristinely maintained tea plantations and over another section of original ishidatami stone paving. At Nissaka, a private-vehicle transfer awaits to ferry you to nearby Kurami Onsen and your accommodation, an atmospheric traditional inn, for the night. The building dates from 1894, and is notable for the craftsmanship of its construction. The evening is completed after a rewarding dip in the onsen baths by a sumptuous feast, the final dinner of your tour.
Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast and dinner provided.
Total walking: 11km (6.8 miles).
Total elevation gain: 309m (1014ft).
Day 6 Kurami Onsen
Your tour ends after breakfast in Kurami Onsen. Before departing, however, you may like to enjoy a stroll in the surrounding environs. A local bus connects Kurami Onsen with nearby Kakegawa, a regional city with a sensitively-restored castle and pleasant ambience. Shinkansen bullet train depart from Kakegawa for super fast onward travel to elsewhere in Japan.
Meals: Breakfast provided.
Total walking: N/A
Total elevation gain: N/A.
This itinerary is subject to change.
The airports closest to the tour’s start in Hakone-Yumoto are Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita International Airports. Transfer is also easily made from both Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport, and Osaka’s Kansai International Airport.
FROM CENTRAL TOKYO
From Tokyo Station, shinkansen bullet trains travel to Odawara, from where it is a short transfer on the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone-Yumoto. The journey takes approximately 90 minutes. From Shinjuku Station, the Odakyu Railways Romancecar makes the journey directly, taking a similar amount of time.
From Nagoya Station, shinkansen bullet trains travel to Odawara, from where it is a short transfer on the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone-Yumoto. The journey takes approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.
FROM OSAKA AND KYOTO
From Shin-Osaka and Kyoto Stations,shinkansen bullet trains travel to Odawara, from where it is a short transfer on the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone-Yumoto. The journey takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes
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 a morning flight at the end of the tour, as the journey from Kurami Onsen to the nearest international airport is approximately 3 hours.