8 November, 2023
While we were in Nagoya venturing out to Gifu to meet factories, we found ourselves with a free day. In Nagoya there’s only so many Beams and United Arrows stores we can visit. So, we decided to hop on a few trains and a bus and head out to trek the famous Nakasendo Trail.
'If you’re unlucky (or lucky depending on the type of adventurer you are) see a black bear.'
During the Edo Period, people travelled between Edo (current Tokyo) and Kyoto through the Nakasendo trail. Today you can hike some parts of the trail, visit a few cute towns along the way, see some waterfalls and if you’re unlucky (or lucky depending on the type of adventurer you are) see a black bear.
The Nakasendo trail stretches about 526km and because of the restrictions made by the shogunate, travellers had to make their trips on foot. As a results, “post towns” or “juku” were developed every few kilometres to provide travellers with places to rest, eat, and accommodate during their journey.
The section we walked is roughly 8-11km and connects two of the best-preserved post towns, Magome and Tsumago. There are gentle elevation changes on the route and it takes roughly around three hours to complete.
We turned up in Megome in normal clothes and Converse, nursing a bit of a hangover from one too many highballs the night before. We had a backpack, which we filled to the brim with hand carved spoons, chilli powder, Shiba Inu figurines and brooms from the little shop that begins the trail. Little did we know we’d be sweating and walking for three hours while carrying said knick-knacks (no regrets though). We’d recommend wearing some kind of runners, light clothing in the warmer months and packing a hat.
During our walk we noticed bells on the path with signs saying, “ring loud to deter the bears”. During the walk when we passed other people, which wasn’t very often, we also realised they all had a small bell on their proper hiking backpacks. Never did we think our time would come to an end in Japan from being eaten by a bear…and thankfully it didn’t.
While no bears were spotted, we really enjoyed all of the old Machiya houses, cats, waterfalls, fresh air and the Hinoki trees. Walking through the forest was a magical, dreamlike experience that we didn’t want to leave. But alas, we made it to the end to find a few cute dogs, more brooms and knick-knacks and very sore feet.
From Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, the rapid train takes 1 hr 15 mins and costs about ¥1,320, while the “Wide View Shinano” train takes 45mins and costs roughly ¥2,500 if you book a non-reserved seat. You can then catch the bus to Magome, which takes about 25 minutes and costs just over ¥500.
For the return journey, there’s a 15-min bus (or 45-min walk) from Tsumago to Nagiso, from which you can catch a local train to Nakatsugawa and then change to an express back to Nagoya.