hiking through japan's ancient roads

A few months back, we were playing board games with a teacher friend of mine, Sora. She pulled out a pretty white box and started setting up a game called Tokaido. You play as a traveller along an ancient road by the ocean in Japan, called, you guessed it: Tokaido. Tyler and I liked the game, and even bought a copy for ourselves! 

That game got me researching. Always looking for the next adventure, but especially the next HIKE! Tyler and I have a goal to make one long hike a year (long is defined as five or more days.) So far we’re three years strong. I learned pretty quickly that the ancient Tokaido has been covered by highways. However, I discovered another hike through central Japan in the mountains called: Nakasendo (aka: the central mountain road) go figure. 

We decided that this would be our trek of the year. I learned a little more about the history: the Nakasendo is an route from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) as a way between these two capitals (shogun in Tokyo, emperor in Kyoto). The Nakasendo was used most often by samurai and their company as they travelled to new assignments and cities. Only portions of the stone Nakasendo still exist, but all along the route there are old post towns (69 actually!), or stopping points for travelers.

Our time in the Kiso Valley was spectacular. For five days we travelled through the prefecture of Nagoya: winding around lush green mountains and along the Kiso river. Our favorite thing was staying at the family run inns, called minshuku, and having traditional Japanese dinner or breakfast each day. I loved that meals were served with so many options, all in small portions. A given meal would have something like ten dishes arranged across the table: a bowl of rice, cup of soup, plate of glazed cooked fish, platter of raw fish, pickled turnips or cucumber, a bowl of cold noodles, a dish of pudding cake or sweet tofu, a salad or side veggie, chopsticks on a pretty stand, and glasses for drinking. It was amazing. 

We hiked about 8-10 miles a day, and took a few trains here and there. By foot and train we travelled the whole way from Kyoto to Tokyo and walked the same stones as the samauri. Lucky for us, though it was hot and muggy in the cities, up in the mountains it cooled down a lot. That didn’t stop us from sweating our brains out, as you will surely notice in the photos. By our rough calculations, we walked over 60 miles in five days (including one LONG day where we got lost on a mountain pass…. phew)

You can find our day by day hiking guide with everywhere we stayed, how we mapped our hiking distances, and some advice + things we learned in my Japan Nakasendo Trail Hiking Guide (coming soon, stay tuned!)

Here are some of our favorite Nakasendo photos :)

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