Winter Nakasendo Trail

The tranquil magic of winter on the Nakasendo trail

Highlights

  • Walk or snowshoe village to village on the loveliest parts of the winter Nakasendo Trail
  • Visit beautifully-preserved old post towns in the snowy Kiso Valley
  • Soak in natural thermal Onsen hot springs - indoors and outdoors!
  • Enjoy hearty, warming seasonal cuisine at welcoming Japanese inns
  • Escape the crowds of busier seasons and enjoy a magical perspective on Japan
  • Ride the world-famous Bullet Train
Winter is a terrific season to visit Japan. Most winter days are crisp, clear and cold, with brilliant sunshine. Snow falls rather rarely in the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto - but if you are lucky enough to catch Kyoto's Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion dusted by a fresh snowfall, it's a truly magical sight. Further into the mountains and towards the Japan Sea coast, snow falls deeply. There's nothing more enchanting than the winter landscapes of traditional wooden villages like Magome and Tsumago against a backdrop of snowdrifts. Imagine the comforting warmth of a steaming-hot Japanese bath after day outside. Or imagine the wonder of sitting in an outdoor Rotemburo thermal water pool as snowflakes glide gently through the air around you. There are so many reasons to choose winter for your Japan walking adventure - fewer visitors, special seasonal foods, the stunning special illumination of particular garden, temples or shrines. The Nakasendo trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo during Japan’s feudal per ... more »
Winter is a terrific season to visit Japan. Most winter days are crisp, clear and cold, with brilliant sunshine. Snow falls rather rarely in the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto - but if you are lucky enough to catch Kyoto's Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion dusted by a fresh snowfall, it's a truly magical sight. Further into the mountains and towards the Japan Sea coast, snow falls deeply. There's nothing more enchanting than the winter landscapes of traditional wooden villages like Magome and Tsumago against a backdrop of snowdrifts. Imagine the comforting warmth of a steaming-hot Japanese bath after day outside. Or imagine the wonder of sitting in an outdoor Rotemburo thermal water pool as snowflakes glide gently through the air around you. There are so many reasons to choose winter for your Japan walking adventure - fewer visitors, special seasonal foods, the stunning special illumination of particular garden, temples or shrines. The Nakasendo trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo during Japan’s feudal period. It was the ‘road through the mountains’ travelled by feudal lords and their retinues, samurai warriors, merchants, and travellers. Along the route were 69 ‘post towns’, where weary travellers could rest before continuing on the next leg. We spend five days walking on the loveliest parts of the trail enjoying the peace and serenity of the winter landscapes. Depending on the depth of snow, we may use our snowshoes to follow the route. We follow quiet village roads and unpaved hill trails through the picturesque Kiso Valley where there are some beautifully-preserved old villages. We stay overnight in traditional country inns enjoying exquisite, warming regional cuisine prepared from the freshest ingredients. We soak in natural thermal Onsen hot springs, and enjoy the warm hospitality of our hosts. A Japanese bath is the perfect way to end a day walking on the snowy trails!

 Downloadable PDF itinerary

What′s included

  • Full-time services of an English-speaking tour guide
  • 7 nights in hotels and Japanese-style inns (Ryokan and Minshuku)
  • Daily breakfast, 2 lunches and 7 dinners
  • All transportation between tour locations
  • Entrance to museums, temples and other sights on the group's itinerary
  • Forwarding of one item of luggage on 4 occasions
  • Rental gear - a pair of snowshoes, over gloves, gaiters and walking poles

What′s not included

  • Flights
  • Airport transfers
  • Pay locally for drinks with meals and for lunches
  • Entrance fees to museums, temples etc. not mentioned in the itinerary
  • A single room supplement is required for solo travellers at hotels

Meet our guides

Michiharu Namba

Michiharu Namba

Japan is a small but complex country with a long history and rich culture. I really want to make my guests' experience special!

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Day 1 Meet in Kyoto

Meet at the tour hotel in the centre of Kyoto. There will be a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

 

Accommodation: Hotel 

Meals: Welcome Dinner

Day 2 Travel to Nakatsugawa and walk to Magome

Today we travel by train to Nakatsugawa, one of the old post-towns on the Nakasendo Trail. The original main road through the town retains its Edo-Period heritage with traditional sake shops, restaurants in period wooden buildings and old storehouses. We start our walk here and head towards the next post-town of Ochiai. From Ochiai we ascend through cedar forests and traverse a section of the trail whose cobblestones date right back to the Edo Period. Over the next four days we explore the best-preserved portions of the ancient Nakasendo Trail through villages and hamlets, all set against the magical winter scenery. Our lodging tonight is a charming family-run inn in the post town of Magome.

 

Walking distance: 8.3km / 5.2 miles

Elevation gain: 400m/1300 feet of ascent, 200m/650 feet of descent
Time required: 3 hours

 

Accommodation:  Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 3 Magome to Tsumago

From Magome, we walk to Tsumago along one of the prettiest and best-preserved parts of the Nakasendo Trail. We'll likely encounter snow over the Magome Pass with fine opportunities for photographs. After the walk, there's time for lunch in Tsumago and then an afternoon to explore the many small shops along the picturesque main street with its lovely old wooden architecture. Try gohei-mochi, skewered sticky rice covered in a sweet paste of miso, sesame and walnuts. Tsumago is a living museum, which is still home to local residents whose families might have lived here for generations. We stay overnight in Tsumago or the nearby hamlet of O-Tsumago at a family-run inn with a real sense of history.

 

Walking distance: 8.3km / 5.2 miles

Elevation gain: 325m/1,070 feet of ascent, 430m/1,410 feet of descent

Time required: 3 hours



Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 4 Tsumago to Kiso Fukushima

This morning we continue our exploration of Tsumago including a visit to the Wakihonjin museum housed in a building which dates back to the 19th century. Today's walk begins after lunch and is a short but enjoyable stroll from Tsumago to Nagiso along country lanes. From Nagiso we board a local train for the brief journey to Kiso-Fukushima, a delightful post- town which was once an important Sekisho checkpoint on the Nakasendo. We stroll through the town before heading out to our comfortable Ryokan inn on the outskirts of the community. The Ryokan prides itself on its wonderful cuisine and its terrific indoor and outdoor thermal baths - a perfect way to warm up on a winter evening.

 

Walking distance: 3.7 km / 2.3 miles

Elevation gain: 100m/330 feet of ascent, 120m/390 feet of descent

Time required: 1 hour



Accommodation: Hot-spring Ryokan (Travellers inn)

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 5 Kiso-Fukushima to Narai

On our fourth day on the Nakasendo Trail, we walk from Yabuhara to Narai over the Torii Pass. This section is likely to have the deepest snow on the tour and if the snow is deep enough, we'll provide snow shoes to make the crossing of the pass easier. This is a rewarding journey through trees to the charming village of Narai. We arrive in time to explore Narai and have lunch at one of the small local restaurants. Our overnight accommodation is in Narai at a family-run inn in the village.

 

Walking distance: 6.2km / 3.9 miles

Elevation gain: 345m/1,130 feet of ascent, 270m/885 feet of descent

Time required: 3 hours



Accommodation: Minshuku (Family-run Guesthouse)

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 6 Walk Narai to Kiso Hirasawa then travel to Asama Onsen

Our walk on the Nakasendo Trail ends today with a short stroll from Narai to Kiso Hirasawa. Kiso-Hirasawa is famous for its locally-produced lacquerware. The walk takes around an hour and there may be a chance to see the craftsmen at work. We then travel by train to Matsumoto, a castle town nestled in the central alps region. We visit Matsumoto Castle, one of four castles designated as National Treasures of Japan before boarding a local bus to nearby Asama Onsen. The spa town has a history dating back 1,300 years and we stay overnight at one of the most elegant, authentic Ryokan inns, with beautiful wooden architecture from the Meiji era.

 

Walking distance: 2.5km / 1.6 miles 

Elevation gain: negligible ascent and descent

Time required: 1 hour



Accommodation: Hot-spring Ryokan (Travellers inn)

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 7 Travel to Tokyo

After breakfast, we leave Asama Onsen and travel by train to Tokyo. We leave our luggage at the city-centre hotel and enjoy a half-day walking tour of Tokyo, visiting Hama-Rikyu gardens, located near the mouth of the Sumida-gawa river. There is a striking contrast between the gardens and the gleaming towers of the new Shiodome business area beyond. Next we visit Nihonbashi (the ‘Japan Bridge’) considered to be the ‘centre of Japan’ and the zero marker point for all Japan’s main roads since the Edo period. This is where the Nakasendo Trail would once have finished. In the evening, there is a Farewell Dinner with your guide.

 

Accommodation: Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Farewell Dinner

Day 8 Tour ends

The tour ends today after breakfast. Your guide will be on hand to offer assistance and advice for travelling to the airport if you have homeward flights, or on onward travel in Japan if you are extending your stay.

 

Meals: Breakfast