Once upon a time in pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, people who wanted to travel between the two important cities of Edo and Kyoto would walk or ride along one of two trails. The trail along the coast was called Tokaido, and the inland trail was called Nakasendo, or “central mountain route”. You can walk the Nakasendo today, but as the complete distance is over 500km most people only do a small section, between two villages called Magome and Tsumago. We walked it this week. A network of ever-smaller trains and buses will get you to one of these two villages and then you can trek to the other one. We decided to start in Magome.
The walk isn’t very difficult and the path takes you past classic wooden houses with wide tiled roofs, lush forests and flower gardens, bright green rice paddies and sweeping views of the Kiso Valley.
Along the way we stopped at a small “rest room” where an older gentleman served us tea and cucumbers.
We stayed in an exquisite traditional inn called Maruya, just out of Tsumago, run by a family who served us dinner and breakfast. Mats on the floor, thin sliding doors and green tea on arrival: it was the real thing.
The walk was around 8km, and we did the last 1km in the morning to get the bus from Tsumago proper. It was some of the loveliest scenery I’ve ever seen, and the adorable Shiba Inu that came to say hello was a bonus.
All you need to experience a slice of life in pre-industrial Japan is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.