I could hear footsteps behind me and they were approaching at a rapid pace. Knowing that all my fellow hikers were in front of me I was wondering who else would be walking in a remote Japanese forest on a cold autumn morning? As the steps got closer I tried to concentrate on the beautiful autumn colours of reds and yellows. I was hoping these footsteps were of the human kind not the bear kind. A cheery hello came from the woman who walked past me at a brisk speed and off she went leaving me with a rapid heartbeat. Welcome to the Nakasendo Trail an ancient walking route where your imagination runs wild.
The Nakasendo Trail or (the Nakasendo Walk) was one of five walking routes created during the Edo period. It linked ancient Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). However, there is evidence that some of the Nakasendo Way was created much earlier, most probably around the 7th century.
In the early years of the Edo period, Japan went through a kind of renaissance with many cultural, political and legal exchanges taking place across the different regions. This is how the rejuvenation of Japan’s thousand-year-old highway system began. The Nakasendo Highway was used by the Shogun and other feudal lords to help stabilize and rule the country. Now the Nakasendo is used for more gentler pursuits.
Like most ancient highways, the Nakasendo Trail has been modernised. However, there are a few stretches of the trail that is still in its original form and luckily for me that is where we started our walk.
We started the day in the town of Nakatsugawa just a 50 min train ride away from Nagoya City. Nakatsugawa is what the Japanese call a post town. There are 69 stations or post towns on the Nakasendo Trail where travelers used to rest for the night and have dinner washed down with Sake. We did it slightly differently. We popped into a beautiful Sake shop just to admire the interior when the owner asked us if we would like to sample some of his Sake. We all duly obliged (for research purposes only mind) and left the shop with a bigger spring in our step.
The local authorities of Nakatsugawa have done much to preserve the Edo period heritage (which is not always the case in Japan) with restored wooden shops selling Japanese sweets, cloth and sake. Make sure you pop into them before heading to Ochiai.
Ochiai is the 44th post station along the Nakasendo route and is considered an important heritage spot for its traditional homes, terraced farming plots and ancient walking paths which is why we were there. This area of Japan is seldom visited by foreign tourists and as it was a Monday we had the trail to ourselves.
As we headed into the cedar forest I felt a sense of calm descend on to the group. We all went into our own worlds and walked at our own pace. This section of the trail had the best preserved stone paving and is the most atmospheric.
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