Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!

The Post Town of Magome.

We started from Magome, which is technically in Gifu prefecture just below the border. It can be reached from Nakatsugawa station via the Magome line bus (about 30 min.). The morning was quiet and cool with a few tourist groups passing in and out of the souvenir and food shops.

Mountains beyond Mountains.

Just above Magome is a wide viewing platform that faces the Ena mountain range. Saturday was the perfect day to visit.

Is he dancing or trying not to slip?

The trail wanders through the woods of the Kiso Valley and occasionally pops out onto quiet roads. Since we were traveling in winter we also had to be careful of the ice and snow! Here Jamie is posing next to some discrete, well-placed bathrooms.

A short rest between post towns.

At one point the woods open up into a small field with a beautiful old Japanese house. The owner greets us warmly and lets us in for tea and snacks. Lots of people stop here on the way between Magome and Tsumago, and it’s a nice chance to chat with other travelers.

Owner of the Teahouse chatting with us about the differences of Japanese & English.

An old wood stove keeps the house warm and smoky, and light filters in through the wooden slots in solid, sharp beams.

Otsumago in the Kiso Valley.

Shortly before Tsumago is another small cluster of buildings with a beautiful view of the mountains. Even more so than Tsumago or Magome, these scattered buildings made me feel like I had stepped back into another time.

Quiet during the winter months.

Finally we reached Tsumago, a long lane of 200-year-old inns and restaurants.

A must-try snack in Kiso.

Soba is one of Kiso’s most popular dishes, but Gohei Mochi is my favorite. The rice is lightly pounded, basted and grilled. The sauce may contain miso, walnuts or egoma seeds depending on the area and has a salty-sweet flavor.

It was almost 3 pm at this point, so we took a cab to Nagiso Station to catch the next train (buses also run between Tsumago and the station). Several of our group headed directly home, but Jamie and I stopped in Kiso Fukushima to catch the Kiso Ice Lantern festival. It’s held during late Jan. to early Feb. of every year, slowly making its way down the Kiso portion of the Nakasendo from north to south.



The river at dusk. Notice the houses which hang precipitously over the stone wall.

The motion blur, granularity and bad composition are all on purpose.

I, like the group of 10 or so other photographers squeezed in front of this picturesque street, tried my best to get a good shot. My wobbly tripod and patience, however, were not up to the challenge.

The ice lanterns are fragile but clean up easily!

Hundreds of lanterns decorated the streets, bridges and riverside of Kiso Fukushima. The warm lights and hot sake (of which Kiso Fukushima’s two makers, Nanawarai and Nakanorisan, are especially delicious) kept the cold at bay. After walking through town and relaxing in the foot bath for awhile, we headed back to the station and made our way to Nagano.

Dog steals the show with killer pose.

For people who are interested in experiencing a lesser known side of Japan and enjoying its beautiful nature, I highly recommend the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo. Come during Spring and Autumn for cherry blossoms or fall foliage, or come in summer or winter to beat the crowds.

The locals are friendly and you’re sure to meet some interesting people along the way!

Additional Information

There are plenty of other blogs and resources about the Nakasendo if you’re interested in learning more. Check out some of these pages below!

6 Responses to “Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

  1. Wow, that looks nice :-)
    I was wondering where to find a good map/good places to go hiking near Nagano (we are actually staying a very long week end near Yudanaka Station) ? (we don’t read Japanese, and very beginner in speaking it) (and yes, we are going this week end, and I forget to think about it before)

  2. Hi Marine,

    Thanks for your question. These pictures are from Southern Nagano’s Kiso area which doesn’t have too much snow this year. As for hiking in Northern Nagano during winter, unless you have the proper gear it will be quite difficult.

    I recommend trying snowshoeing. You can join a tour or rent some snowshoes and wander around on your own. I’ve included some resources for you below:

    • Snowshoeing in Okushigakogen
      One of Shigakogen’s ski areas, snowshoeing at this altitude offers beautiful views of icy trees and the valley below.
    • Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Iiyama Snowshoeing
      The Iiyama area west of Yamanouchi is famous for its heavy snowfalls, depart from Iiyama Station on a snowshoe tour. (No direct public transportation between Iiyama and Yamanouchi)
    • Togakushi Area
      Togakushi is a very popular trekking area in Northern Nagano, known for its 400 year old cedar trees and beautiful woods, as well as the precipitous cliff faces of Mt. Togakushi. It is a spiritual place with five shrines scattered throughout, and many people visit in winter for snowshoeing. You can rent snowshoes at Okusha-mae Naosuke during winter. Please bring the Togakushi Crosscountry Map and a compass with you if you choose to go.

    I hope that helps answer your question. Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

    -Blair

  3. Marine-san, Blair-san,
    If I may add, for Togakushi, soba restaurant Yamaguchiya http://www.togakushisoba.com/ offers snow shoe rentals at their “Base” location at the Togakushi ski area, conveniently near the ski area bus stop. They can also arrange an English-speaking guide, Aki-san. I highly recommend his services, both for his knowledge of nature and getting to see places that you likely wouldn’t get to without a guide.
    -Tyler

  4. Hello! You don’t know me, but my Name is John Bomhoff and I am an app developer located in Orlando, Florida. My group is developing a Virtual Reality app called Illusion Trails. It is a hiking simulator that can be used with a VR headset or just a large screen TV. While you walk in place or on a treadmill, it counts steps and calories and moves you through exciting virtual worlds. It is an update of the Konami game “Walk It Out”. The user can select the paths and explore the worlds on their own. Illusion Trails is working with the Japanese Virtual Reality marketing company Mimir to develop a “Nakasendo Trail” world. The intent is to introduce the US and the world to the beauties of ancient Japan along the Nakasendo Trail before they arrive at the Olympics in 2020. Our development group agrees with Mimir’s theory that having experienced the VR version of Nakasendo Trail, olympic tourists will flock to the real thing. We are currently raising funds on Kickstarter. With as little as a $10 contribution, you can help make Illusion Trails and the “Nakasendo Trail” world a reality. Please share this information with businesses along the Nakasendo Trail and anyone else that might be interested. Thank you very much and feel free to contact us with any questions you might have. I hope you join our development team. John-Illusion Trails https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/199138095/illusion-trails-hike-through-a-fantastic-world

  5. Hello,

    I was wondering how long you were physically walking? I’m thinking about doing this route with my 5&7yr olds, and my 69yr old mum.

    It sounds beautiful!

    Thank you

  6. Hi Courtney,

    Thanks for your question! The trail takes about three hours total and there is a rest stop about halfway between. There are a few steep sections but overall it isn’t bad. I would recommend following the route we took from Magome to Tsumago (and not the other way around), as it is mostly downhill. If your mother is in good shape it should be okay.

    Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

    -Blair