Home of the fabled ‘Nakasendo Way’ walking trail, Kiso Valley feels a world away from modern Japan with its enchanting mountain landscapes, picturesque postal villages and Edo-era ambience.
Kiso Valley lies in the south-west of the Nagano Prefecture, enveloped by the beautiful Japanese Alps. During the Edo period, the valley linked Tokyo and Kyoto via the narrow Nakasendo highway which was trodden by feudal lords, merchants, pilgrims and the samurai alike. A bustling thoroughfare in its heydey, today the route is a major draw for hikers as well as those looking to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese scenery.
Nakasendo, literally the “road through the mountains”, leads through pretty countryside deep into the Central Alps. Dotted along the trail are charmingly preserved old postal villages that look near enough as they did when they served weary travelers of old. Free of visible powerlines and empty of cars during the day, exploring these areas will make you feel as though you’ve stepped right back into old Japan. Spend the night at traditional ryokan inn to complete the experience.
The most walked section of the Nakasendo runs from the village of Magome through to Tsumago. Well signposted and fairly gentle in terms of elevation, the 8km walk will lead you through verdant forest past rural farmhouses, green tea fields, waterfalls and Edo-era shrines.