On our 8-day guided Nakasendo Way trek you will have the cheerful company of our local Japanese guide, Ukky. We asked him a few questions so that you can get to know him better.
Why did you become a qualified guide?
I started as a guide in the mountains in 2012 after 23 years’ service in an international organisation. When the earthquake hit Japan in 2011 it made me think about how satisfied I was with my life. I was an international business person who worked globally, but not locally. I needed to change my life, so I decided to work more closely with local people.
The first tour with foreigners I guided was in 2014, as a cycling guide. How happy I was spending time together! The tour was successful and ended with numbers of hugs and tears. This gave me my decision to live as a guide.
How helpful is it to have a guide on the Nakasendo Way?
Often you will come across local people who are nice and will welcome you but who do not speak English, so you need a good guide who can communicate with them. If you are in a group tour with me, you will have the chance to sit and chat with the local rice farmers while they have a rest, and you may be offered a persimmon from the trees. If there is a local festival, I will help you join it.
How long have you lived in Kiso Valley?
I lived in Nagoya before moving to this area with my wife and four children in 2011. At that time, like other families in the city area, we often visited this area on weekends because the of the fresh air, lovely green environment and clear rivers. While I was working in Nagoya I realised that the life of the city can be possible but here in the Kiso Valley I am rich in time.
What is your favourite place to hang out along the Nakasendo Way?
The 13 passes between Okute Juku and Ooi Juku are lovely and peaceful, and offer flatter, more ‘off the beaten track’ walking than the more popular Magome Tsumago hike. Sometimes the trail goes through the forests, other times fields. I love to walk there because it reminds me of my childhood in the 1960–70s.
For visitors to Japan I recommend Magome. It’s a picturesque and popular post town with cobbled paths, wooden shops and wonderful atmosphere. The well-worn stones hark back to a time when this route was one of the most important highways in feudal Japan.
Located on a small hill in Nakatsugawa Juku, 1km away from the Nakasendo Way, is Nagataki – one of the best accommodations along the trail. The Emperor stayed in Nagataki when he was young, which is a big honor.
There are six wooden houses aged between 100 and 300 years old. All were transferred here from other areas. Some have fire pits, so in winter time you can enjoy the warmth and firelight. The huge garden (33,000 sq m) displays stunning seasonal scenery. In spring cherry blossom and azalea; in summer lovely sunshade; in autumn colourful leaves; and in winter there is a dusting of snow.
What about souvenirs?
The Kiso Valley is well known as “root of wood’ (this is the exact meaning of Kiso). I recommend a walking pole from Magome Juku (JPY1200). Branding irons are available in most post towns towards Narai.
Masu – a small wooden square box used for drinking sake – is also recommended. It has a good smell of cypress. This box is used by Japanese people for special occasions, like marriage. It was originally used to measure rice in Japan during the feudal period.
As a variation, kitchenware, including bowls, dishes and chopsticks are available in Kisoji (after Magome Juku).
What Japanese food should our clients sample while on the Nakasendo Way?
In the Kiso Valley try wild vegetables and mushrooms. Buckwheat noodle are very common and delicious. I also recommend Hida beef [the specific name given to beef from black-haired Japanese cattle that have been raised in Gifu Prefecture], which is very soft, tasty and juicy.
Japan’s love for chestnuts goes back to ancient times. Chestnuts are a favourite autumn food in Japan. Try chestnut sweets while you are here.
If you’d like to try something new, people here eat insects: baby hornets/bees and locust.
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About the Nakasendo Way
Japan’s Nakasendo Way along the picturesque, forested Kiso Valley is an easier hike than the more rugged Kumano Kodo. It offers relaxed walking on the original ishidatami (stone paving) dating back over 400 years, and provides a unique and authentic experience of traditional Japan.
Charming and wonderfully preserved ‘post towns’ are strung out along the route, giving you an enticing glimpse into Japan’s past. The 8km trail between Tsumago and Magome is particularly impressive, and also offers delightful teahouses and waterfalls.
The average daily walking distance is a moderate 12 to 25km and there are gentle inclines that can be taken at a comfortable pace. Traditional inns provide friendly and atmospheric overnight accommodation.
Another great thing about this walk is how easy it is to get here from Tokyo.
Why you’ll love this walk
- Culinary delights: Buckwheat noodles, mountain trout from crystal clear streams, tender beef, delicious traditional sweets and, of course, local sake!
- History and culture: Learn all about the great Samurai warriors of this ancient road and explore the preserved postal towns.
- Relaxation and hospitality: Onsens, traditional inns, guesthouses and atmospheric ryokans.
- Nature: Pristine natural surrounds from mountainous forests and waterfalls to sacred trees and the beautiful Mt Ontake.
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