Take a walk through time on this 10-day Japan tour. The highlight of this journey is a self-guided walk on the Nakasendo Trail, a historic walking route that's part of feudal Japan's original network of highways. Historically, travelers on the mountain path between Kyoto and Tokyo took several days to travel the distance, staying overnight in jukus (post towns or post station villages). You'll retrace their footsteps as you meander through serene forests, dip in thermal springs, and rest in local inns by night, taking time to explore the vibrant cities of Kyoto and Tokyo at the start and end of the trip.

Highlights

    • Visit the exquisitely preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago, and Narai
    • Bathe in thermal waters at a natural hot spring
    • Visit the grand Matsumoto Castle 
    • Spend several nights in Kyoto exploring Japan's cultural capital
    • Wander through the picturesque Kiso Valley

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 2 Sightsee in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 3 Side-trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 4 Walk from Magome to Tsumago Tsumago
Day 5 Hike from Tsumago to Nojiri Kiso-Fukushima
Day 6 Traverse the Torii Pass to Narai Narai
Day 7 Trek from Narai to Kiso-Hirasawa Karuizawa or Koromo
Day 8 Transfer to Tokyo via Yokokawa  Tokyo
Day 9 Explore Tokyo Tokyo
Day 10 Depart Tokyo - End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto

Explore the old town district of historic Kyoto
A quiet street in historic Kyoto

Welcome to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan! Your tour begins with your arrival at your hotel or Japanese-style ryokan, an inn where you will sleep on a traditional futon. After dropping off your things, get ready to explore your surroundings. Pay a visit to what is arguably the most famous shrine in Japan – Fushimi Inari – is an absolute must. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has more than 10,000 picturesque red torii gates. They were all donated by Japanese individuals and businesses as a sign of appreciation to the god Inari for blessings received. 

Day 2: Sightsee in Kyoto

Take time to relax in the serene gardens

Serene gardens in Kyoto

Today you'll go on a guided city tour and enjoy the chance to see a traditional Japanese arts show. As well as offering a chance to see a performance by a maiko (geisha in training), this hourlong theatrical experience also introduces you to various skilled artists, including ikebana (flower arrangers), puppeteers, koto (Japanese harp players), and court musicians. In the evening, talk a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Right next to the Kamogawa River, this area is home to a wide range of restaurants and bars. If you prefer, you can also request a private dinner or tea ceremony with a geisha. 

Day 3: Side-trip to Nara

Old wooden architecture lends Nara a historic feel
Old wooden architecture in Nara 

Today you'll side-trip to the city of Nara, famous for its traditional landmarks and resident herds of peaceful deer. With scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, it's a quiet place that you'll enjoy exploring at your own pace. Nara also has some stunning walking trails, one of which will take you through the Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest. The Todaiji Temple, home to the giant Daibutsu Buddha statue, is a must-see before you head back to Kyoto for the evening. 

Day 4: Walk from Magome to Tsumago

The gently rolling path of the Nakasendo Trail
The gently rolling path of the Nakasendo Trail

Welcome to Japan! Start your journey by traveling from Kyoto or Tokyo to the town of Nakatsugawa by bullet train, then take a short bus ride to the village of Magome. From there, you'll walk along the Nakasendo Trail over the Magome Pass to the exquisitely preserved post town — or Edo-era rest stop — of Tsumago. Go back in time as you stroll through the village streets; cars aren't allowed on the main street and electrical wires are carefully concealed. You'll spend the night at a minshuku, or family-run inn, where you'll enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal. After dinner, stroll around town wearing the kimono-like yukata gown supplied by your hosts.

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Day 5: Hike from Tsumago to Nojiri

Nakasendo Trail bamboo forest
A bamboo forest on the trail from Tsumago

Today will be the longest hike of the trip, taking you along a beautiful section of trail from Tsumago to the post station of Nojiri. The 11.5-mile (18 km) path snakes through valleys and bamboo and cedar forests, offering some of the most unspoiled scenery of the trip. The walk should take around six hours.

Alternatively, choose a shorter, one-hour walk to the village of Nasigo. Then hop on the train to Kiso-Fukushima, where you'll stay at a traditional inn for the night. The ryokan is set in a tranquil valley and features both indoor and outdoor hot spring baths for you to relax in.

Day 6: Traverse the Torii Pass to Narai

The post town village of Narai, the mid-way point of the Nakasendo Trail
The post town village of Narai, the midway point of the Nakasendo Trail

This morning you'll have the option of challenging yourself to a somewhat steep, circular hike to a serene local waterfall. This two to three-hour walk is 4.3 miles long (7 km) with an ascent of 2,075 feet (632 meters). Otherwise, hop on the train to Yabuhara and traverse the Torii Pass on a three-hour hike through the forest to get to the village of Narai. This post station marks the center of the Nakasendo Trail. Explore the village before checking into your minshuku, where you'll enjoy another home-cooked dinner.

Day 7: Trek from Narai to Kiso-Hirasawa

Matsumoto Castle
The late 16th-century Matsumoto Castle

After breakfast, walk to the nearby town of Kiso-Hirasawa. Wander around the small shops selling beautifully crafted lacquered furniture and tableware. Then board the train to the fascinating Matsumoto Castle, which dates back to the late 1500s. Continue by train to the town of Karuizawa or Komoro, where you'll spend the final night of the trip. Both towns feature historical inns with traditional Japanese baths. Regardless of where you stay tonight, you'll enjoy a dinner prepared with locally grown ingredients.

Day 8: Transfer to Tokyo via Yokokawa 

View from the Usui-toge Pass

Your walk along Japan's historic trail network will take you through bamboo and cedar forests

The final stretch of the adventure leads you from Karuizawa to Yokokawa. Hike over the high plateaus of the Usui-toge Pass to a gentle descent along one of the most pristine parts of the trail. Take in the gorgeous mountain views on this 10-mile (17 km) trek. You can also choose to take a taxi for part of the way. In Yokokawa, you'll board the train and make your way back to Tokyo, arriving in the early evening.

Day 9: Explore Tokyo

At night, Tokyo's downtown transforms into a glowing night-scape
Tokyo by night

You have just one day in Tokyo, so get an early start with a visit to the world’s tallest tower! At 2,080 feet (634 meters), the Tokyo Skytree offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. Afterward, take a walk through the grounds of Sensoji, the city's oldest and most historically significant temple. Legends say it was founded when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River. The neighboring Asakusa Shrine also highlights the stark differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems. As night falls, make your way to Shibuya, home to the vibrant Shibuya Crossing. The area is packed with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, perfect for a night out on the town.

Day 10: Depart Tokyo - End of Trip

On a clear day, the impressive Mt. Fuji towers behind the Tokyo skyline
Mt. Fuji towering behind the Tokyo skyline

The trip comes to an end today. Head to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels! 

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Japan? Check out these other Japan itineraries, with walking tours, cultural journeys, and best-of trips to hit the highlights. 

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Map

Map of Walking the Historic Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days
Map of Walking the Historic Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days