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!

Autumn Colors in Nagano’s Golden Season

October 24th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Beatiful autumn colors from Togakushi over the weekend.

While some of the mountaintops are already experiencing a spell of winter, Nagano’s valleys are finally enjoying the sights of autumn. Red, yellow and golden hues are descending from the highlands and a cool wind is blowing through the valleys.
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Nothing But Flowers

March 14th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Wild white flowers bloom above the green leafy brush of a mountain clearing

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing to see in Nagano, whose wide variety of climate and terrain is suitable for all sorts of beautiful flowers and plants. During Spring, fields bloom in dazzling shades of yellow, red, pink and purple as the white-capped Japanese Alps stand majestically in the distance. It’s a great time to visit Nagano’s sightseeing spots and enjoy its natural beauty.

Below are some of Nagano’s best and most beautiful orchards and gardens to visit during the Spring months. See some of Japan’s largest apricot orchards, azalea parks and more!

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Little Secrets of Kiso Fukushima

February 12th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Latticed wood buildings form a long alleyway to the gate of a buddhist temple.

A picturesque alleyway that leads to Daitsu-ji in Kiso Fukushima.

The Kiso Valley is a very popular destination in Nagano prefecture, especially for backpackers and history buffs who enjoy its beautiful forests and undisturbed post towns. Most visitors head straight for Narai, Tsumago or Magome-juku, but there are eight other historical towns in this forest valley with their own secrets waiting to be uncovered by adventurous travelers.

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Winter 2016 Illuminations and Festivals

January 29th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Areas of Nagano prefecture are getting ready for a series of festivals in February, and in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of current and upcoming events for the Winter season. Tear yourself away from the ski resorts for a night and visit some of Nagano’s other scenic spots!

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The Nakasendo: Narai-juku, Suwa and beyond

October 30th, 2015 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Information, Sightseeing

Princess Kazunomiya in the post-town of Narai.

From Kyoto, the Nakasendo passes through the Kiso valley and continues into the Eastern area of Nagano prefecture. There are 15 more post-towns along the way up to Karuizawa, many of which have preserved parts of their history. Recently, there has been resurgence in interest in these less-traveled areas, particularly in regards to one of its travelers.

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Kiso Route Hiking

March 21st, 2015 by
Category: Information

waterfall along Nakasendo

watermill along the way no more in use

accommodation still in business

The temperature has become much warmer recently, and we ventured to go on a hike along an ancient Nakasendo lane.

 

Nakasendo Lane is now paralleled to the state route 19, and some parts of it are preserved as they were during the ancient times from the Samurai Period.

In the Edo Period, this lane was one of the main official routes which ran between Tokyo and Kyoto al the way for more than 600km.

All through the route, there used to be altogether 69 post station towns to cater for travelers.
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Ancient Post Station Towns along the Ancient Highway

June 4th, 2014 by
Category: Information
Narai-juku

before the Edo period, most travels are on foot

One of the many tourists attractions in Nagano is to stroll through some ancient post station towns along  one of ancient highways.

 

Among some ancient travel highways through Nagano , the longest is Nakasendo-highway.

Nakasendo-highway was designated as one of the 5 government official highways by the Tokugawa-Shogunate government.

So it explains the palanquin above.

There have been 2 highways conneting Edo( the present day Tokyo), where the Shogun resided, and Kyo( the present day Kyoto), where the Emperor resided.   They were Tokaido highway and Nakasendo highway.

While Tokaido highway became the base of the present national route No. 1 and thus changed its appearance to a much  busy road, the other Nakasendo highway , which trailed through Nagano, has retained its ancient atmosphere here and there.

Especially in Kiso area, there are some post station towns where the locals try to preserve the historical touch .
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Snowboard like a pro

January 25th, 2010 by
Category: Outdoor Activities
Image courtesy of www.dmksnowboard.com/

Always wanted to snowboard like a pro?  . . .here’s your chance.

This weekend, January 30th and 31st 2010, Burton snowboarder Michiyo Hashimoto will be rippin’ up the slopes of Otaki Village’s Ontake 2240 ski resort.

The event is being organized by the Tokyo NGO, Gaia Initiative, through their “+1 Forest Program”.  The group has partnered with Otaki to help raise awareness about and support for the village and its forest environment.

Details about the tour, which leaves from Tokyo, can be found here (sorry, Japanese only).  In addition, individuals who are not part of the tour can have a chance to ride with and learn from Hashimoto.  The cost for this is ¥5,000.

Those interested can contact me at otakimura@gmail.com