Cycle the old Nakasendo road through picturesque juku-villages, preserved castle towns and along the pristine rivers of Gifu prefecture. Enjoy five days of road cycling from 20km / 13 miles to 55km / 34 miles per day
Located in central Japan, Gifu is known historically as a culturally rich and strategically key region, in terms of military importance, as well as transportation and trade. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), its key highways were once bustling with traffic from traveling samurai, pilgrims, merchants, and craftspeople transporting their wares between east and west Japan – this was particularly true along the Nakasendo road linking Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). In the old Mino province of Gifu, numerous historically important locations and sites still remain, such as the monumental battlefield of Sekigahara, together with 17 post towns along the old Nakasendo road, and numerous castles and merchant towns dotting the landscape.
Here you can discover traditional Japanese buildings that have been carefully preserved and protected over centuries by the locals and their ancestors. These precious historical structures convey a sense of the region’s past, up to the present. Weaving throughout the terrain are pristine rivers, expansive rice fields and rolling mountain-valleys, all of which makes for an exceptional cycling journey by bicycle through the heartland of Japan.
On this 5-day cycling tour starting in Kyoto, you’ll enjoy the timeless beauty of the Gifu region. Visit unique and historical Nakasendo post towns and castle towns such as Mitake-juku, Okute-juku, Mino and Iwamura castle town, where you can sample local cuisine, learn about regional culture, and cycle along river and countryside lanes. Stop at historic castles and well-preserved merchant homes, ride a ropeway car to the top of Mt. Kinka and Gifu Castle (or enjoy the short hike up on foot), and enjoy making unique discoveries along the way, all while sleeping at traditional Japanese inns.
Our carefully curated and easy to follow routes ride on a mix of mostly flat cycle lanes and peaceful rural backroads, with options suitable for entry-level cyclists through to experienced riders. Multiple options also enable you to tailor the ride using local transport to adjust the cycling distances on the day to match your level.
High-quality, lightweight aluminum cross bikes (GIANT Escape RX1) are provided as standard with our tour. We also provide a GPS unit, compact bike bag, spare tubes, patch kit, mini pump, low-wind resistant frame-mount bag and rear-mount saddle bag with each bike for your trip.
Read about luggage options here. Takkyubin Courier is ideal for our self-guided cycling tours, as well as self-guided walking trips.
Mino-machi (extra night)
On our Gifu and Nakasendo Self-Guided Cycling tour we also offer the opportunity to spend a leisurely second night in the picturesque merchant town of Mino-machi, partway along the tour. On this extra day, we offer an optional 19km riverside loop cycling course north of Mino-machi to a peaceful 1,300-year-old Shinto Shrine featuring unique traditional architecture, and situated along the banks of the Nagara River. As an optional side trip, it is also possible to visit the remote castle town of Gujo Hachiman further north of Mino-machi.
This tour also offers the opportunity to extend the cycling to Magome post town, and spend a final night in Magome at a comfortable Japanese inn along the Nakasendo.
The day before your tour begins, meet an Oku Japan team member in central Kyoto for a brief orientation session to receive your bike and other gear for your cycling journey. You are free to make use of the bike for the remainder of your time in Kyoto pre-tour, before departing on the morning of tour Day 1 for Gifu. If time allows, the day before your tour begins we recommend visiting Sanjo Ohashi Bridge, which marks the western-edge of the old Nakasendo road.
Early on the morning of tour Day 1, the train travels along the scenic shores of Lake Biwa and onward to Sekigahara in Gifu. Sekigahara is numbered among the 17 Nakasendo post towns in Gifu, however it is best remembered as the scene of one of the largest and most decisive samurai battles ever. In 1600, samurai belonging to the eastern forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu and western forces of Ishida Mitsunari came head to head in the epic battle that ended up deciding the fate of Japan for the next 260 years and ushered in the Edo period (1603-1868).
At Sekigahara, visit the new state-of-the-art Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum with various exhibits that enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the area before cycling around the historic battlefield grounds and old post town. The best way to explore Sekigahara is by bicycle and our cycling course takes in key areas of the battlefield.
Leaving Sekigahara, travel by short local train to the Nagara River and ride along its shores to Gifu City and Gifu Castle, taking in breezes along the way. As you approach, the iconic position of Gifu Castle perched high atop Mt. Kinka at 327 meters comes into view, and your goal for today. Gifu Castle is another historically significant spot and a former stronghold of Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s three great unifiers during the tumultuous Warring States period of the 16th century. Upon arriving in Gifu, take time to explore the historic Kawara-machi district featuring many old preserved buildings with lattice-work, followed by the ropeway ride up Mt. Kinka to Gifu Castle, or enjoy the rewarding 60 minute / 2.3 km hike on foot to the top, where magnificent views await.
Spend the night in Gifu at a family-run Ryokan Inn, or Japanese Onsen Hotel.
Distance: 12 - 24 km / 8 - 15 miles
Elevation gain: mostly flat with a few gentle and short hills
Cycling time required: 3 - 4 hours
Accommodation: Japanese Ryokan or Japanese Onsen Hotel
In the morning, ride a few kilometers into the center of Gifu city and board a local train for a brief 30-minute ride to Unuma. Spend part of the morning cycling through the old Nakasendo post town of Unuma-juku and visit nearby Inuyama Castle - one of Japan’s oldest original castles dating back to 1537 and located on the banks of the Kiso River. Leaving Unuma, the course then cycles further along the Kiso River and old Nakasendo - with wonderful views out across the rolling pine tree-lined mountains and dramatic rock formations - before arriving in the post town of Ota-juku.
At Ota-juku, briefly visit the old Hayashi Family Residence, which also served as the waki-honjin (secondary inn for passing dignitaries), and the Ota-juku Nakasendo Kaikan to learn about local history and culture.
Leaving Ota-juku, you diverge from the Nakasendo and make your way slightly north in the direction of the Nagara River. Along the way, you'll pass through the town of Seki, once a center of samurai sword-making since the 14th century. En route, it is possible to visit the Seki Traditional Swordsmith Museum to learn about Seki’s sword making history and swordsmithing techniques of one of Japan's most respected arts.
From Seki, continue cycling along scenic rural back roads and riverside lanes, through small villages and on to the charming town of Mino-machi along the Nagara River. Mino-machi once flourished as an important place of transport and exchange of goods – in particular, Mino Washi Japanese paper. In Mino-machi you can see remnants of the old merchant townscape and enjoy scenery as it was in the past. The atmospheric traditional merchant houses lined along the preserved historic district feature a variety of unique “Udatsu” – traditional fire walls separating one house from another – with ornately decorated Japanese roof tile designs showing the sophistication of local merchants in those days. Take time to visit the old Imai Family Residence and museum, which remains one of the finest and oldest merchant houses in Mino. Numerous Japanese washi paper shops and art galleries featuring washi-inspired art designs also dot the area.
Your accommodation tonight is a charming traditional Japanese inn in Mino. Fresh seasonal delicacies sourced from the river and surrounding mountains are a highlight of tonight’s dinner.
Distance: 48 km / 30 miles
Elevation gain: 89m / 291 feet of ascent and 71m / 234 feet of descent
Cycling time required: 3 - 4 hours
Shorter Option: a shorter 20km cycling option is available by using a local train transfer part way.
Accommodation: Japanese Ryokan or Machiya Townhouse Inn
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Mino-machi: we also offer the option to spend a leisurely second night in the picturesque merchant town of Mino-machi, partway along the tour (please enquire). On this extra day, we offer an optional 19km riverside loop cycling course north of Mino-machi to a peaceful 1,300-year-old Shinto Shrine featuring unique traditional architecture, and situated along the banks of the Nagara River. As an optional side trip, it is also possible to visit the remote castle town of Gujo Hachiman further north of Mino-machi.
From Mino this morning, you first take a scenic local train journey through to Mitake-juku, where your cycling course begins. Today the journey takes you further along the Nakasendo and into the depths of the mountains, passing through numerous villages and four juku post-towns: Mitake-juku, Hosokute-juku, Okute-juku and finally Oi-juku to end in Ena – your base of exploration for the next two evenings.
Views along the way range from mountain valleys, winding rivers, Japanese red pine forest and quiet farming villages - here you’ll get a feel for the rustic atmosphere of life in the countryside. The ride features a few steep but short, manageable climbs before giving way to enjoyable downhill paths and mostly flat cycling along quiet back roads. Along the final portion of today’s course, the Nakasendo remains unpaved and at its original width, much as it was in the past. This short section runs for a few hundred meters and makes for enjoyable walking with the bicycle along well-maintained path. Splendid views of Mt. Ena and the Central Alps are just off in the distance, and nearby is a wonderful nature park dedicated to the Heian period poet-priest “Saigyo”, where over 100 varieties of cherry blossom trees bloom in the spring from early April to early May. From here, the course then returns to smooth paved road and an enjoyable gentle descent into Oi-juku in Ena.
Your accommodation will be in Ena this evening where you'll receive a warm welcome at your inn.
Distance: 39 km / 24 miles
Elevation gain: 688m / 2,256 feet of ascent and 537m / 1,763 feet of descent
Cycling time required: 4.5 – 5.5 hours
Shorter Option: a shorter 15km cycling option is available by using a local train transfer part way.
Accommodation: Japanese Ryokan
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Today’s ride is relatively shorter and will allow ample time to thoroughly explore the various locations visited. After breakfast, make your way to Ena station and ride the scenic Akechi railway line further into the countryside to the historic castle town of Iwamura, Todays cycling course begins from Iwamura castle town, which has over 400 years of history and is lined with traditional townhouses, many dating from the Edo period, including a 200-year-old sake brewery. The town still retains its original layout and appearance of what it must have looked like all those years ago. While at Iwamura, enjoy an optional gentle hike of 25 minutes up to Iwamura castle ruins and explore its grounds. The ruins remain in excellent condition and the site is considered one Japan’s best mountain castles, with excellent countryside views from the top.
From Iwamura, the route gives way to more beautiful countryside, vast rice fields surrounded by hills and bamboo groves, and continues a gradual downhill path through several Satoyama villages and onward to a beautiful stretch of riverside country back road before arriving back in Ena. Excellent views of Mt. Ena can also be seen along the way.
This afternoon, take time to visit the Hiroshige Museum of Art in Ena and experience up close the Ukiyoe woodblock prints of renowned artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). The museum houses a full collection of the series “Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido (Kisokaido rokujukyu tsugi no uchi)”, containing Edo-period woodblock prints of many of the post towns which have featured on your cycling journey up to this point.
Return to your inn in Ena for a second night in the area.
Distance: 20 km / 12 miles
Elevation gain: 340m / 1,116 feet of ascent and 575m / 1,887 feet of descent
Cycling time required: 3 hours
Accommodation: Japanese Ryokan
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
After breakfast, wave goodbye to your hosts and cycle your final leg of the tour from Oi-juku along the Nakasendo through to Nakatsugawa-juku, and end at Nakatsugawa station. From Nakatsugawa station, we also offer an extended 12km loop cycling course to visit the scenic Naegi castle ruins nearby (the cycling takes about 1.5 - 2 hours). Naegi castle ruins sit atop impressive boulder formations, with excellent views out over Mt. Ena, surrounding valleys and the Kiso River down below.
In Nakatsugawa at the end of your tour, an Oku Japan team member will meet you to collect your bike and other rental equipment. We provide train tickets for you to board a train travelling onward to Nagoya or Nagano city, arriving in the afternoon.
If time allows, a side visit to nearby Magome post town via local bus is also possible.
Distance: 12 km / 8 miles
Elevation gain: 150m / 492 feet of ascent and 120m / 393 feet of descent
Cycling time required: 2 hours