07 Nov 22

Yoga & hiking in the heart of Japan’s Kiso Valley

Chris Kavanagh Japan Yoga and Hiking

Delve into the sacred tradition of yoga and follow in the footsteps of the Shogun on the Nakasendo Way on our Japan Yoga Hiking trip. With stunning autumn colours, daily Hatha yoga sessions, a silent meditative nature walk to Karasawa Waterfall, soba noodle making, soothing local hot springs (onsen), traditional Japanese style accommodation and exquisite Japanese food, it is an exceptional trip that will leave you feeling inspired, energised and rejuvenated.

Our fully qualified English-speaking yoga instructor is skilled at teaching mixed classes, challenging those who already have their own practice and supporting those who have just begun. Our expert local guide Ukky will lead you on an extraordinary hiking journey. His knowledge of the history and culture of this walk and Japan itself is extensive and fascinating.

Journey along an ancient highway

Our journey takes place on the Nakasendo Way through the Kiso Valley, one of the five main roads using during the Edo era (1603–1868) for the daimyo (feudal landowners equivalent to medieval European lords) to travel from their domains to and from the capital, Edo (Tokyo). The Nakasendo was one of two highways (the other is the Tokaido, known today as the shinkansen route) that linked the capital of Edo to the imperial city of Kyoto. While the Tokaido went along the coast, the Nakasendo was the way through the mountains – a 533km route through the heart of Japan, that was also used by pilgrims, merchants and princesses who were to be married to shoguns.

The highway was well maintained. There were distance markers, tea houses and 69 post towns – separated by an easy day’s walk and providing travellers with lodgings and meals. The well-preserved post towns along the Kiso Valley section of the Nakasendo Way (roughly half way between Tokyo and Kyoto) are dotted among forested mountains and in quiet rural valleys. Hiking this trail is a great way to experience what life would have been like back in the day. 

Traditional ryokan accommodation

On this trip you will enjoy beautiful Japanese hospitality – every act is from the heart and you will be exceedingly well-looked after. You’ll stay in traditional Japanese ryokan style accommodation that has great character, authentic atmosphere and friendly hosts. Guests sleep on futons (mattresses that are spread on tatami mats at night and folded during the day) and wear the traditional yukata (robe). You will also have the opportunity to enjoy traditional onsen bathing. Soaking your muscles in hot mineral infused waters while looking out to the sky and the mountains is a truly memorable and special experience.

Hatha vinyasa yoga

The yoga on our retreats is designed to work in perfect combination with the hiking, giving your body the opportunity to warm up in the morning, and stretch and open up in the evenings. Our classes are based on the Hatha vinyasa style where we combine movement with breath, with the evening sessions being more yin style incorporating meditation to clear the mind. Beginners and more experienced yogis will be catered for. In addition to this you will experience a walking meditation experience where we walk in silence and every step becomes like a moving meditation that really allows you to enjoy the present moment.

Shinrin-yoku forest bathing

Shinrin-Yoku is a term which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’ and this practice was developed in Japan in the 1980s. It has now become a very popular healing practice used to reduce stress, boost immunity, improve sleep and overall wellbeing. This profound experience offers a unique opportunity where a certified Shinrin-Yoku practitioner will take you on a walk into the forest to partake in activities designed to open up your senses, bring you into a meditative state and experience the forest like you never have before. Here you will truly get to experience the healing power of nature.

Hiking on ancient stone paths

Your daily walks will take you on ancient stone paths known as ishidatami, past hidden waterfalls, through stunning cedar and cypress forests, and alongside numerous wayside shrines. You’ll also enjoy the wonderful, well-preserved ancient villages. All hikes on this trip are guided and rated moderate, so you’ll need a good level of general fitness. Each day you will walk from 8–18km.

Japanese food – delicious and extremely good for you!

Japan, while very advanced in many ways, can also be quite traditional in others. There is an etiquette surrounding many aspects of life, but particularly around food and dining. Here, food becomes a work of art: the combination of flavours, appearance and seasonal ingredients is taken very seriously. You will receive an abundance of food, especially at dinner times when you will be presented with many courses (kaiseki). Your food will be served using many separate plates and bowls instead of using one big plate. It is exquisite and delicately presented. You will be eating a lot of rice and a lot of fish (raw and cooked), and you will also receive lots of vegetables, tofu, some meat, some eggs, soups, pickled dishes and food cooked at your table over a small burner. While dietary requirements and allergies may be commonplace in many countries, it is neither common nor well understood in Japan. If this is something that pertains to you, read our insight on Hiking Japan with Dietary Dietary Requirements.

Further information

See our Japan Yoga Hiking itinerary or contact Chris, RAW Travel’s Japan Hiking Specialist.

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