During the Edo period (1603–1868), 'Five Routes' connected the capital of Japan with the outer provinces and extended the control of the ruling Shōgun of the time. One of these routes traversed the central mountains on Honshu island and has since become one of Japan’s most famous hiking trails. Translating as "Middle Mountain Way", the Nakasendo route follows an historical road from Kyoto to Tokyo, with a total distance of about 534 km (332 mi), and today attracts anyone from hardened hikers to urban ramblers.
Some 70 post towns could once be found along the route and there's still a number of excellently preserved ones that provide weary travellers with accommodation and hearty farmhouse-style cuisine in traditional Japanese inns. The best preserved, and some would argue most attractive, among them is Tsumago where telephone poles and electric lines have been banished to ensure picture-perfect views.
Following the trails between these centuries-old post towns, the scenery is characterised by pretty mountainous countryside, petite waterfalls, paddy fields, bamboo forests and wooded valleys. Some sections feature traditional stone paving known as ishidatami while others merge with modern highways. Overall, the route is gently undulating but does also include some short, steeper climbs.
To follow the full length of the route between Kyoto and Tokyo would require 11 days though it's possible to sample the historic trail on a day's excursion from Kyoto, walking the popular section between Magome and Tsumago. For those considering the hike, the best time to walk the Nakasendo Trail is between March and June or September and November when the temperature is moderate.
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