Walk Japan takes visitors on an epic walk through the towns along the Nakasendo highway, a historic inland trail that connects Kyoto to Tokyo. // © 2014 Mark Edward Harris
It’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Before taking my first steps on Japan’s Nakasendo trail, I was certain to be prepared.
To take on the ancient inland route, I purchased proper gear — sturdy boots and trekking poles included — and joined a small group organized by Walk Japan, a Kyushu-based tour operator that focuses on exploring the land of the rising sun by foot. The company’s Nakasendo Way tour explores one of the two main routes that connected Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) for hundreds of years until trains and cars made the walking and horse trail obsolete.
The Nakasendo, which translates to “The Way Through the Mountains” connected Japan’s two great cities by a 332-mile inland trail, which consisted of 69 official government-established stations known as post-towns, while the shorter Tokaido road followed the coast and required travelers to forge several rivers. Merchants and messengers traveling on the Nakasendo found accommodations and meals in such towns along the way.
Over the course of our 11-day Nakasendo tour, our group explored the Japan of old, including the ancient post-towns of Magome, Tsumago and Narai, which were once popular stops along the route that Matsuo Basho extolled in haiku poems and Ando Hiroshige illustrated in woodblock prints.
While tour buses can access a number of the Nakasendo’s post-towns today, there is a special sense of achievement for those who ascend or descend into these hamlets in the same way it was done for more than a millennium. This is truly walking in the footsteps of history.
Walk Japan’s Nakasendo Way tour costs approximately $4,075 per person. Travelers may pay an additional $215 for a single room.