Experience walking Japan’s Nakasendo Way with Togakushi with this 7-day Highlights trip.
This itinerary is a great introduction to walking in Japan and features all the highlights of the Nakasendo Way. Explore the well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai — the most popular section of the Nakasendo Way — then travel on from the Nakasendo to Nagano and Togakushi.
- Journey through the heart of Japan following in the footsteps of the Tokugawa Shogun (Feudal Japanese military government) and the samurai during the Edo period (1603–1868)
- Walk the historical Nakasendo Way through the Kiso Valley on original ishidatami (stone paving) dating back over 400 years
- Visit the post towns of Nakatsugawa, Magome, Tsumago, Kiso-Fukushima and Narai, where travellers have historically rested
- Learn the feudal history of the Nakasendo Way with RAW Travel’s own local guide during your tour orientation
- Travel to Nagano, home to Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s most important temples
- Hike through picturesque Togakushi visiting shrines while walking amongst giant cedar trees
Japan’s Nakasendo Way – or Central Mountain Route – was one of five major routes established by the Shogunate (military dictator) during the Edo period (1603–1868). The route is 533km long and has 69 post towns, which were set up to feed and accommodate the feudal lords, samurai, and merchant travellers. This ancient way passes through the Kiso Valley which is wedged between two of Japan’s sacred mountains (Mount Ontake 3067m and Mt Komagatake 2956m) and is one of Japan’s most breathtaking and scenic areas.
Ancient paved paths known as ishidatami take you past hidden waterfalls, wayside shrines and through stunning cedar and cypress forests. Stay overnight in family-run ryokans and enjoy the wonderful well-preserved ancient villages of Nakatsugawa, Magome, Tsumago, Kiso-Fukushima and Narai, and taste the local delights of the Kiso Valley and Gifu Prefecture. Then journey by train to Nagano, before making your way to Togakushi to experience one of Japan’s most spectacular day hikes.
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DAY 1: ARRIVE NAKATSUGAWA
Arrive at your starting point in Nakatsugawa, which is number 45 of the 69 post towns on the Nakasendo Way. Spend the rest of the day exploring many of the old buildings and shops that still operate today. Head out on a 3km walk from your hotel to visit the Naegi Castle ruins. You are invited to take up an optional Backstreets Walking tour of Nakatsugawa during the afternoon. On the tour an expert local guide escorts you through the town’s narrow winding streets to help you discover the myriad of well-preserved wooden buildings, residences and warehouses (kura) originally constructed during the historical Edo period. During that time the town prospered with a population of over 1000 people and around 200 houses. This is an opportunity to learn about the town’s rich history and gain an understanding of today’s village life as you encounter locals along the way. (Additional cost applies – please enquire at time of booking.)
DAY 2: NAKATSUGAWA TO TSUMAGO (16KM)
After leaving Nakatsugawa at the ancient kosatsuba (official proclamation board) you will see the red torii gates. Expect steep slopes today before Ochiai, after which you begin walking on an old cobblestoned way. This route takes you to the entrance of Magome, one of the highlights of the Nakasendo Way. Follow the stone path into Magome. Notably, its kosatsuba features old wooden tablets stating in Japanese that: “No Christianity can be practised”. Magome is number 43 of the 69 post towns along the way to Edo (Tokyo). It is an insight into how the post towns were in the Edo period. Take time to stroll through the small shops on the main street.
The Nakasendo Way continues right through the centre of Magome past these old shops and inns. The trail begins to climb up to the small touge (pass), where there is a good rest spot. You then walk over the Magome Pass (800m) and slowly descend through peaceful woodland. Listen for the roar of the Odaki-Medaki waterfalls, the sound of which slowly fades as you pass streams and rice paddies coming into the old (smaller) village of O-tsumago. Leaving O-tsumago, the trail climbs briefly before descending into the enchanting village of the main village, Tsumago (number 42 of the 69 post towns). The street is lined with traditional Japanese wooden houses, shops and ryokan (inns). Take up the opportunity to don a traditional yukata gown (provided by your inn) and stroll through the streets after dinner.
Meals: B D
DAY 3: HIKE TSUMAGO TO NOJIRI (17KM) THEN TRAIN TO KISO-FUKUSHIMA
Leave the old town of Tsumago at the ancient kosatsuba. The trail then ascends steeply up the valley. Continue through the forest on what our local guide refers to as the Yogawa Forest Route to Nojiri, passing through cedar forests and farmland. This is one of the most scenic sections of the walk. The forest walk joins the Kiso River at Nojiri. After a late lunch in Nojiri, make your way to the train station for a 40-minute ride to Kiso-Fukushima. Located halfway on the Nakasendo Way between Kyoto and Tokyo, Fukushima was an important checkpoint during the Edo period. The barrier station is situated on the hill overlooking the river as well the Yamamura Daikan (a previous official’s mansion). Both are open to the public and have weapons and other artefacts on display. Kiso-Fukushima is also home to the largest stone garden in Japan, and there are a number of Zen Buddhist temples to visit, the most famous being the Kozenji.
Meals: B D
DAY 4: TRAIN FROM KISO-FUKUSHIMA TO YABUHARA AND HIKE TO NARAI (8KM)
Today a leisurely start lets you spend some time in Kiso-Fukushima before catching the train to Yabuhara, where your trek resumes. By doing this we avoid the highway walking from Kiso-Fukushima. From Yabuhara, the Nakasendo Way climbs up to the Torii Pass, named after the Shinto torii gate, which marks one of four protective sites surrounding Mount Ontake. At 1197m, the Torii Pass is a great vantage point for views of Mount Ontake on a clear day. The descent takes you along narrow mountain paths until you emerge at the outskirts of Narai, the wealthiest of the post towns along the trail. Explore and relax in the cafes and shops of this well-preserved and atmospheric town.
Meals: B D
DAY 5: TRAVEL TO TOGAKUSHI VIA NAGANO
Make your way by train to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics. There’s time to explore Nagano in the afternoon and visit Zenkoji Temple and the surrounding shops and restaurants. The Zenkoji Temple is considered one of Japan’s most important and popular temples. It was founded in the 7th-century, and the town of Nagano formed around the temple. You then board a local bus for a scenic drive through the mountains to Togakushi. After arriving, make your way to your traditional accommodation and enjoy relaxing in the onsen. This area is famous for its soba noodles, which will no doubt form part of your evening’s gourmet meal.
Meals: B D
DAY 6: HIKING IN TOGAKUSHI (12KM) THEN TRAVEL BACK TO NAGANO
Today, your final day of hiking, is a day of exploring shrines and ponds in forested mountains. After breakfast, make your way up the steep stairs to the Togakushi Middle Shrine. There has been a shrine of various forms in this location for over 1000 years. While walking back down the stairs look out for three sacred 800-year-old giant cedar trees. You then hike through the forest towards Kotorigaike Pond. Keep an eye out for native birds as you make your way around the pond. Togakushi is one of Japan’s most famous bird sanctuaries with more than 40 species. Continue on up towards Suzuriishi Lookout for a view of the mountain range before making your way down towards Kagamiike Pond. Locals call it the mirror pond as on a still, clear day it reflects Mount Togakushi like a mirror.
As you walk around this pond look out for native mushrooms and wild boar tracks before making your way to the Zuijinmon Gate, the iconic entrance to Okusha (upper shrine). Walking through the gate you will be in awe of 300m-tall cedar trees planted over 400 years ago that border the trail leading to a shrine. After visiting the shrine, make your way down and stop for lunch — we highly recommend the duck soup with soba noodles. After lunch, you will pass by the museum (place a nut in a box as your entry fee). The museum offers a great insight into all the flora and fauna in Togakushi. Afterwards, make your way back to the middle shrine, before boarding the local bus back to Nagano.
Day 7: DEPART NAGANO
Your journey ends today after breakfast.
Self-guided trips offer flexibility, independence and choice. Set your own agenda while someone else worries about the logistics. Our self-guided walking holidays are fully flexible which means you can normally start your walk on any day during the season and customise by adding extra days for resting or sightseeing. As you’re walking independently, you’re free to follow the trail at your own pace. You set your own speed as you are not limited by the constraints of group travel.
Note that if booking for a trip that leaves in 30 days or less, please be aware we cannot guarantee that your departure will be possible unless we have confirmed this via email first.
2020 Pricing – Twin Share $2895 per person / Single supplement $1100
- 4 nights accommodation along the trek (traditional Japanese guest houses – shared bathroom facilities)
- 1 nights accommodation at Togakushi (traditional Japanese guesthouse)
- 1 nights accommodation in Nagano (western style beds, private bathroom)
- Daily meals as listed in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers on all trekking days on the Nakasendo
- Digital map (wifi required) for Nakasendo portion
- Briefing in Nakatsugawa at the start of your trek
- Pre-departure pack including track notes, maps and a Japanese phrasebook
- Bus and train tickets
- Luggage transfers to Nagano and Togakushi
- Single supplement
- Travel Insurance
- Drinks other than water at meals
- Expenses of personal nature
- Dinner in Nagano
Map & Guide
See below our customer experiences from our Nakasendo Way trips.
Shauna Grant, Fairlight (NSW) – October 2019
We loved being in a country with a totally different culture and cuisine and not being disappointed on any level.
Phillipa Marshman, Tathra (NSW) – October 2019
We spent 4 days on Nakasendo Way. It was seamlessly organised by RAW Travel and our traditional ryokan accommodations were really good. Thoroughly recommend this walk to experience a different aspect of Japan.
Ambra Smarrelli, Balwyn North (VIC) – October 2019
This was my partner and my first trekking experience and we were a little apprehensive. After arriving at our first destination and having our meeting with a RAW Travel employee, we were instantly put at ease. The whole experience was wonderful in every way. The traditional accommodation choices were very clean and spacious. The food was absolutely delicious and plenty of it and the surroundings peaceful and picturesque. The trekking was heaps of fun and achievable. We loved it!
Lee Hilton, Dee Why (NSW) – September 2019
Your guide, Ukky, is the man who made my walk possible. I left Sydney without my asthma medication and as my asthma is exercise induced, it was really important to replace it. Unlike Sydney, Japan requires a prescription for this medication. During our meeting with Ukki on our first night in Nakatsugawa, he assured me he would arrive early next day and drive me to the first township, Ochiai, where there is a medical centre. He was so friendly and accompanied me during my consultation with the Dr who spoke Japanese and Ukky translated. The centre staff were ringing nearby pharmacies to track the medication. So unbelievably helpful and kind. We joined up with our friends as if nothing had ever been wrong. Ukky’s guidance about our walk was spot on. Highlight for my husband and I was staying in the same house the Emperor once stayed at – Nagataki Ryokan. Beautiful house and inn. Great bathhouse, excellent food and very hospitable chef and family. The walk to Tsumago was breathtaking – especially the forest and the ceaseless running of water wherever we walked. The postal towns were marvellous to behold but the quiet warmth and desire to help displayed by the Japanese people is my lasting memory. Stunning trip and enjoyable beyond our expectations.
Jennifer Bryant, Cape Otway (VIC) – June 2019
We had such a great trip. The itinerary was perfect – with a mixture of forest walking, exploring villages and open farmland. The accommodation was excellent and the meals a real highlight. The planning by RAW Travel was excellent – thanks so much. An exceptional experience overall.
Helen Newbiggin, Alexandra Headland (QLD) – June 2019
Loved the traditional accommodation and exquisite Japanese food. Loved walking through the sensational scenery and meeting the Japanese people. Everything was well mapped out. A truly exceptional experience.
Lynette Payne, West Beach (SA) – May 2019
We loved that everything was organised for us and everything went smoothly. All we had to do was walk!
Graham Schultz, Killarney Heights (NSW) – April 2019
The meal on the first night at Nakatsugawa was probably one of the best I have ever had anywhere in the world. It was superb! The overall experience for the night was also great. The hot tub and food in Kiso Fukushima was also very good and the people in general along the way were so wonderful.
Kim Elise Brodie, Bulimba (QLD) – April 2019
Our ‘Highlights of the Nakasendo Way’ self-guided walk was everything we could have hoped for. The local accommodation and food were exceptional. The immersion in local culture fabulous and the mixture of trails through small villages, forests and farmland kept us stimulated and intrigued. What a wonderful experience. My only complaint would be that we didn’t want it to end! Thank you RAW Travel – our walking tour was definitely the highlight of our Japanese sojourn.
Peter and Helena Coon, Turramurra (NSW) – March 2019
The 5 day self-guided walk organised by RAW Travel provided us with all the highlights of the Nakasendo Way that we were seeking. Three days of beautiful mountain, rural and urban walking was complemented with the unique experience and high levels of service in the ryokans. Overall, a wonderful journey that is highly recommended.
Sharyn Bailey, Preston (VIC), December 2018
What an amazing trip my son Patrick and I had on the Nakasendo trail. The journey took us through the mountains and villages of Japan, with beautiful inns, amazing hosts, and traditional food. The trek itself was breathtakingly stunning, but the real highlight was the places we stayed along the way. All the accommodation was truly beautiful and the hospitality shown by the hosts was sublime. The food they all provided for both breakfast and dinner was beyond our expectations. This was a truly memorable trip. Thank you for providing such a well-organised, stress-free experience.
Beth Gales, Byawatha (VIC) – November 2018
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip on the Nakasendo Way. The organisation of the trip and the notes were very helpful. We met like-minded people from our country and walked the whole way with them. Loved the local cuisine at each destination and enjoyed walking through the local farming areas, trying to guess their processes. The weather was perfect and the local people very helpful and friendly. It was good to have everything organised and paid for before we left home.
Geraldine McDonald, Mullaloo (WA) – October 2018
Absolutely loved the whole experience, from being picked up at the station in Nakatsugawa by courtesy vehicle and being dropped off the following morning to start the walk. With suitcases taken care of, my husband and I just had to don our daypack and set off for our new destination each day meandering through beautiful forests, villages and historic towns, arriving at our traditional accommodation where we could enjoy a well-earned shower then hot bath or onsen followed by the most amazing Japanese dining experience dressed in our yukatas then retiring for the night on beautifully made up futons. Breakfast was another culinary delight and there was so much food that we could manage the rest of the day with an apple, banana, nuts and muesli bar. The walk is very well signposted and the detailed information and pictures provided by RAW Travel make the self-guided walk a breeze. The helpful hints from Ukky (our tour orientation guide) and having his number as a contact if needed gave us confidence in our ability to manage the hike by ourselves. We loved it so much we were sad when it ended and we had to say goodbye to the peace and tranquility of the forest as we emerged from the path into Narai.
Dianne Averis, Kingswood (SA) – October 2018
Fabulous experience in a unique environment. Everything worked liked clockwork. Had two stupendous dinners that required photographs of practically every exquisite dish. It was great to enjoy our private onsen in Kiso–Fukushima looking across at the mountain range. The walks were wonderful, accompanied by gushing streams and waterfalls or the silence of tall, dark forests. Except for the Magome–Tsumago leg, which was full-on, there were very few other walkers around. And even the weather was perfect. The only downer was the accommodation in Tsumago, where the stairs were nearly vertical, but the other places were great. We enjoyed the little cultural insights too – the kimonos to wear for dinner, special socks and slippers, the procedure before bathing in the onsen. Such an interesting experience from a cultural, environmental and culinary viewpoint!
Aimee Scurr, Scarborough (QLD) – July 2018
I loved the service that was provided – the RAW Travel team and the hosts went above and beyond expectations to make sure I was comfortable and well-equipped for the experience. I experienced a side of Japan I would have missed if I had only visited the major cities.
Heather Buxton, Lenah Valley (TAS) – October 2017
The organisation and information provided were top-notch. Japan is very safe with lots of natural beauty and is a wonderful cultural experience. Thank you.
Sally Goodchild, Sydney – September 2016
We loved the peace and the beauty of the walk and the Japanese culture. The accommodations you booked were delightful, and amazing food was provided each evening.