Walk Eight Miles in a Samurai's Shoes

Tour company Oku Japan launches an eight-day walking tour of the Nakasendo Way—an ancient path once traveled by shoguns and samurais.

WORDS Gigi Ragland
March 2020

Illustration by Aunyarat Watanabe

Oku Japan’s new eight-day route cuts through the most scenic parts of the Kiso Valley, offering glimpses of feudal Japan, stays at historic villages, dips in natural hot springs and emerging near Tokyo’s revamped Olympic Village.

In Nara, Japan’s first capital city and the birthplace of sake, an early stretch of the trail meanders through terraced rice paddies, pear orchards and an old-growth cedar forest revealing the Ohmiwa-jinja Shrine, a Shinto site considered sacred by sake brewers, who come from all over the country to pray for good harvests.

The old-world villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai are meticulously preserved in their Edo-period glory. The tour spends the night in a traditional onsen ryokan (hot springs inn), where you can soak in thermal baths and later feast on local cuisine such as gohei mochi—grilled rice on a stick topped with walnut miso.

Ski runs, hot springs and hiking trails are highlights in Matsumoto. In April, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom along the moat that lines the six-story Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s most well-preserved 16th-century fortresses. Walk up the narrow castle stairs to gaze out the windows towards the snow-capped Japanese Alps.



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