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Traversing the Nakasendo Hiking Trail

Between the two towns

Stretching over a distance of 500km, this ancient trade and pilgrimage route has become one of the most famous hikes in Japan – and rightly so. The full route stretching from Tokyo to Kyoto will reward the avid traveler with luscious landscapes, sweeping views, and plenty of historical towns along the way. Two of these Edo-period towns are Magome and Tsumago, and hiking from one to the other forms the most popular part of this route.

Starting out in Magome, you will immediately notice the historic beauty of this once vibrant trading town. It feels like taking a step back in time to the Edo era, as all the buildings have been painstakingly preserved and have managed to keep their extraordinary historical beauty intact. Although it feels a bit more “touristy” here, it is still very easy to see why it has become such a popular hiking/sightseeing destination in Japan. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here:

From there, you’ll walk next to rice fields, small farms, and into forests. Eventually after about 8km, you’ll end up in the town of Tsumago. This town feels more “authentic” compared to the tourist trappings of Magome.
The main temple was built in the 1500s, and the town grew around it.

The beautiful wooden Edo-style houses, cobblestone streets, and the many craft shops really do make it feel like you’ve just taken a step back to a simpler time. The forested mountains provide the perfect backdrop for this pristine piece of preserved Japanese history. If you’re lucky, you will even see some mysterious fog rolling off the mountains, which just adds to the ancient, feudal atmosphere here. You can almost imagine how life in feudal Japan must’ve been like in the days of yore.

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought.

The aforementioned Haikus from the famous Poet Basho Matsuo (16th Century) illustrates the journey perfectly.  It’s about natural beauty and quiet reflection, about the timelessness of nature and the escape from modern trappings.  About the bliss of traveling along an ancient route steeped in history, and the outer and inner journey.

The Nakasendo, with its natural beauty, historical significance, and easy accessibility is one of the quintessential hiking routes in Japan and should not be missed. Whether you’ve lived in Japan for a while or are just visiting, this gem should not be left out of any bucket list. With the relatively easy accessibility from Nagoya station and the Shinkansen, there really is no excuse not to include this in your itinerary during the summer or especialy the Autumn season. Happy traveling!

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