Used by Japan's Imperial warriors, the shogunate, since the 17th Century, the Nakasendo Trail is still a picturesque mountain walk between Tokyo and Kyoto.
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The Nakasendo Trail is a 533 kilometre walking track that linked the Imperial capital Kyoto to the political capital of Edo (now Tokyo). It was established more than 400 years ago as one of five major routes of the shogunate to travel in order to pay homage and taxes to the Emperor. Nakasendo, meaning ‘central mountain route’, runs through the mountains of central Honshu, and along the way, 69 post towns were established as stopping places for meals and rest. Today, many of these are painstakingly conserved, and traditional inns, such as ryokans and minshuku, still provide travellers with food and beds, and often, the essential ‘onsen’ bath, with hot water direct from the local mineral springs.
I travelled the Nakasendo route for four days during the Spring, passing under many cherry blossoms, weaving through tiny farming hamlets, past fast-rushing emerald coloured rivers, and through pine-needle softened forest floors and high snow-laced mountain passes.
Many of the post towns are beautifully preserved, some still have ancient tea houses. Their small, intricately presented shops sell wares of prized lacquer, handmade combs, and many seasonal sweets. Food in the inns is a simpler version of the multi-course kaiseki feasts, often using the owners’ home-grown ingredients of herbs, vegetables, local river fish, and even honey drawn straight from the hive. Sleeping on futons on tatami mats is a treat for sore limbs.
Thanks to Oku Japan for your great maps and guidance!