This is What a Hike in Japan's Edo Period Nakasendo Trail Looks Like

17 Aug 2023

There is something liberating about being in the middle of a Japanese forest, walking along, with no other soul in sight. Our hearts pump at an accelerated rate but our minds are elevated, breathing in the fresh air and absorbing the lush green trees and bird sounds all around us. We're hiking in the Kiso Valley.

What is the Magome-Tsumago Route?

The Kiso Valley is in the Nagano prefecture, between Tokyo and Kyoto. One of several routes during the Edo period, the Nakasendo Trail connected many towns along the way between these two cities. Today, the Magome-Tsumago route is a great choice for those who want to experience off-the-beaten-track Japan. We want to share with you a little bit of what that hike was for us in photos, to see if it sparks your wanderlust!

Hiking in the Kiso Valley

We've arrived by car, as we're been visiting a few towns in Nagano, but many people doing these hikes come by coach or train. We use Google maps to drive into Magome and park there and it's only by a miracle that we avoid driving straight into the main pedestrianised old road - Gmaps is not our friend today. We slowly reverse through someone's farm before we enter the correct details for a car park.

Once in Magome we take our time to stroll through the main road. Magome is an old post town that has been completely restored to look like its former Edo-period version. It's lined with cafes, tea houses, restaurants, souvenir shops and small museums.

It's a sunny day and we take our time to observe people coming and going, pensioners painting, groups of families enjoying being outdoors together. The town is small but perfectly formed.

When we get to the end of the road, we bring up a self-guided walk to Tsumago on our mobiles and start walking through fields. It's an 8km walk from Magome to Tsumago, so we don't want to start it too late. After about 10 minutes of walking we realise we are going in the completely wrong direction. We turn around and start over.

We retrace our tracks back through Magome and up to the carpark where we left the car. Past the carpark and further up the hill there's a nice resting place with a great view of the fields below.

As we continue up we begin to pass little shabby country homes, lush fields and pretty roads that lead us deeper into the forest. Every now and then we pass country fields and more little villages with little homes pop up.

Now we're walking past rice fields, and suddenly the forest gets thicker and prettier. Throughout the trail there's streams, birds singing, bells to ward off bears (yikes!) and nothing but nature. It's a reinvigorating walk full of changing sights of the Japanese country.

Finally we arrive at Tsumago. It's quarter to 5 so most people have left for the day and most shops have already shut. We just take a little stroll before hopping on a bus to take us back to Magome, where we walk to our carpark and to our car.

Where to find more information

If you're planning a trip to Japan and want to include something different, this hike is great for beginners and experienced hikers alike. Extensive guides have been written and are being regularly updated. Check out this article on which also points out up-to-date accessibility information.

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